Thursday, 12 February 2009

Righty angles and pallarel lines at Mushubati!

February 11th

Into the office and a hard working hour spent catching up with myself. Manage to get the invite to my party worded and sent to most VSOs but there are a lot of other people not on the VSO list who I need to contact.

I manage to get Claude to commit to an inspection at Remera tomorrow morning, and I decide to do two schools today and catch up on myself as far as work goes. So I ring the two schools and book us in.

Then at just after eight I amble down with Soraya through a cool and sunny Gitarama morning to the town’s main primary school. Hormisdas, the Head, is expecting us and have a very good business-like session looking at both his exam results and the problems he has experienced in adjusting to the new system

In many ways this is the flagship school of the District. It is big (1400 pupils) and vey central to the town. Its exam results are consistently excellent, which is all the more impressive in view of the school’s size. To be fair, it is drawing in pupils from surrounding schools in yrs 5 and 6 because savvy parents know that the chances of their children getting a secondary school place after attending this school are very good. So its results ought to be good. It has just started a Tronc Commun section with three classes (140 pupils), and thankfully lessons have already started. There is another one of these young graduate headteachers appointed with Hormisdas, but I still can’t get to the bottom of whether she’s the overall head and Hormisdas has been relegated, or whether she’s just running the tronc commun section. I really must clear this up with Claude tomorrow.

Somehow Hormisdas has managed to get hold of MINEDUC yrs 4-6 Science textbooks in English. This is a real turn up for the books – we had no idea such things existed. Apparently there are a few – a very few – schools in the Eastern province which have so many Anglophone refugees returning from Tanzania and Uganda that they teach in English, and Mineduc have translated the textbooks into English. Now wouldn’t you think that Mineduc would have known that and made all these books available to all the francophone schools in the country – it’s just a case of doing a quick print run. But no. Mineduc actually tells the schools that “they have to seek their own salvation”. What a way to run an education system!

I observe a yr 6 English lesson which turns out to be rather a waste of time. The teacher is very good, and the lesson cracks along at a fair old pace, but he is doing ridiculously simple work (simple plurals of words) for a yr 6 class. And, as usual, the range of vocabulary and examples he uses is very narrow. In fairness to this teacher he is about to launch into non-standard plurals in his next lesson, and intends the one I’m in to be a revision session, but I think he could have been more challenging and imaginative. He has, in the recent past, done English dictation with the pupils and you don’t tend to get them very often. I tell him, amongst other things, to get the children speaking more. I explain about the “vox pop” interviews I saw going on in an equivalent English lesson at Munyinya, and he takes the hint.

Then its yr 5 maths and we’re deep into geometry – angles on a straight line, right angles, acute and obtuse angles and so on. The teacher’s English is very clear and his accent is good. The children’s maths is good, too – here is a class which seems to have adjusted effortlessly to a switch from English to French. There are a few understanding difficulties with the pupils in terms of the maths concepts – opposite angles always seems to be an issue, but my only beef with the teacher is he keeps saying “shut up” to the children. Someone has told him it’s a cool, hip way of quietening them, but I explain to him that it would be politer and more acceptable to use “be quiet” instead.

Finally I go into a tronc commun lesson. This is in French because they’re still waiting for English textbooks to arrive. They’re doing Physics, and launch into International Standard Units of length, so everything is being written in forms such as 75.10-3. It’s unbearably dry and reminds me of why I hated the mathematical side of physics when I was at school.

The teacher is calm and gentle and he explains very carefully how to do the calculations – even I can keep up with him. Some of the children are up there and well into it, others are struggling and it must be only the second or third lesson of physics since the start of term.

This is the very first time I’ve been into a TC lesson as an inspector, so it’s something of an achievement for me. I occurs to me that I’m getting towards a score of dipstick inspections gathering information about the progress in teaching in English and the problems of the new system, and it might be worth my while to spend a week or two visiting all the new TC sections of local schools and to see how they’re settling down. I’ll run this past Claude tomorrow.

Meanwhile Soraya has been watching lessons in yrs 1-3. Together we debrief with Hormisdas and the hew headmistress, and set off back to the office. There’s time to write up my report before lunch, while it’s all fresh in my mind.

In the afternoon I leave Soraya and take a moto out to Mushubati. I notice in my last year’s blog that I say I liked the feel of this little school, and this afternoon’s visit confirms my feeling. Edith is on the ball, and her exam results are pretty good (21/94 in the district. Gitarama is 8/94). I see two lesson with the same yr 6 class (this sounds pretty lame but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to find classes in English at the exact time you visit!). The Maths lesson is – guess what – geometry and angles on a straight line. This means that, during this week, every single primary school yr 6 across Rwanda will be tackling the same topic and I can visualise every lesson in the country…..). This teacher is very energetic but a bit shrill, and her pronunciation isn’t as good as I’ve been hearing elsewhere. How do you keep a straight face when she solemnly tells them about “righty angles”, and the class repeat the phrase over and over again? I can’t intervene to correct her right there and then; it’ll have to wait until the end of the lesson. Things get even funnier when the children have to start using the phrase “parallel lines”. The dreaded “R” and “L” confusion comes all over one young boy who talks about “pallarel lines”. Bless them!

The class have exactly the same problems in getting the concepts of opposite angles and interior angles as at Gitarama. Isn’t that funny? And might it be telling me something about the way everybody has to teach in this country?

Then it’s staying in the same room for Science, which is in French. The male teacher is the same one who produced an excellent geology lesson when I came here last time, and he comes up trumps again. He’s going pulleys, and has made some home-made equipment with which he can do a demonstration. He has two pulleys made from banana branches threaded on sticks, with a groove cut into each to hold a rope. The rope he has made himself from banana fibre. The weight is a house brick. This guy has had no time to conjure up something in honour of my visit; it is very much a case of me dropping in on his normal lesson. All his equipment is home made, and it works! The kids, of course, are riveted. For almost the first time in all my school visits you can feel a sense of excitement and anticipation, just as you might in an English science experiment.

First of all we revise the previous lesson on levers; the teacher puts good, large, well labelled diagrams on the board. Then he makes sure that all technical words for the new lesson on pulleys are written on the blackboard and explained at least twice, in different ways. It’s a true mixed ability class and unbeknown to me I have plonked myself at the slow end of the class. The teacher divides the class into groups for exercises, and I have to a lot of prodding with the girls and boys around me.

At the end of the afternoon I praise Edith and her staff, and just as I’m leaving I notice workmen putting up an electricity pole. Edith has somehow found the money from her budgets and her parents’ committee to bring electricity to the school (as opposed to Munyinya where they’ve sent me an Electrogaz estimate and are waiting to see if I’ll magic up the money for them). Mushubati is starting a ratrappement centre (catch-up centre for older pupils who’ve dropped out of school) next week. There’s absolutely no chance of them having tronc commun unless there’s a substantial building programme this year, and it’s difficult to see where they could put the rooms unless they demolish an existing block and start putting up a two-storey block.

As I leave the school (at well after five o’clock) I’m surrounded by scores of children on their way home. They all want to walk with the muzungu and see what he does, so we look like a demonstration making its way up the main road. The little kids are all out in the road trying to keep up with me; there’s pushing and shoving to get closest to the muzungu and one little girl goes flying into the gravel. I have to flag cars and motos to send them out into the middle of the road to avoid the children. Gradually, gradually the entourage subsides as one by one they yell out “goodbye teacher” and veer off through the banana trees and maize fields into their houses.

Back at the flat I’m really, really tired, and so is Tom. We cook up a refried beans recipe from the VSO cookbook, and it’s all we can do to get the washing up done before tumbling into our beds.

Best thing about today – everything. It’s been a thoroughly good, productive day. But I’m beginning to feel the pace. You’d think that visiting two local schools in one day wasn’t particularly demanding, but it’s really surprising how much it takes it out of you.

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