Tuesday, 3 March 2009

How not to teach ICT with no computers or electricity.

March 2nd

A generally stressful day today, but a very successful one in the end!

Down to the internet café by quarter past seven to try to print out this CV I have done for Didace, the bank clerk. I’m sure the Office won’t have any electricity, and I want to leave my computer at home when I go to inspect Nsanga school. But, of course, this is Rwanda and nothing works out as you expect.

In the internet café their computers are so old that my Vista isn’t compatible with their ancient version of Windows; it screws up the columns and layout in the CV and looks a mess. I try to correct it with a computer of theirs, but all their equipment is second hand from Dubai or somewhere else in the Gulf; all their keyboards have got Arabic layout (not our QWERTY ones), and all the letters are “in the wrong places”. I’ve promised Didace he’ll have this CV by eight o’clock, and I’m running out of time.

So I hoof it to the District Office, and sure enough they’ve got no power in our block. I can’t get into my own new little office because I left the key with Soraya on Friday, and she, being helpful, left it somewhere in Beatrice’s desk on Friday afternoon for me to find this morning. But with all the change in offices Beatrice can be using any one of three desks, and I have to move Innocent and Mugabo and Claudine aside while I ransack their drawers (so to speak). I spend a good five minutes trying to work out where Soraya has hidden they key, and try out at least half a dozen identical looking ones, but eventually manage to find it. That’s the first good thing to happen today. But I still haven’t got Didace’s CV printed, let alone given to him. By now it’s about five to eight.

I have to go into the other block and beg to use a computer and printer; the woman in the planning department looks down her nose at me and makes excuses about viruses on my flash. I explain that I’ve already checked it this morning, and I’ll check it again in front of her. She’s still very reluctant – how dare she!!! If all her stuff is clean she’ll be the first Rwandan with a computer not infested with viruses! Fortunately she has to dash off to the Monday morning staff meeting, so I’m free to take over her machine whether she likes it or not and print off the CV. I hope to God that nobody else uses her machine while the team meeting’s in progress – if they leave viruses on her computer she’ll assume it was me and come gunning for me tomorrow!

By now it’s starting to rain hard outside. Just what you need when you’ve got a day up in the mountains ahead of you. I decide to lock my computer in my office and take a moto in the rain down to the bank and deliver the CV. Didace is all but pawing the ground when I arrive there at about ten past eight, and I get daggers looks as he waves me to the front of the queue, and daggers again when we part as best friends.

He damn well should be grateful – Tom tells me that local secretarial services charge RwF5000 for what I’ve just done for him, and probably less well laid out and certainly less fluent in English. The reality is that I’ve been stitched up by this bloke, but then he is the cashier at my bank and you never know when it might be useful to have someone you can ask to pay you back a favour….

I squelch back to our flat, and I’ve not been inside more than five minutes when we have a massive thunderstorm and very heavy rain for two and a half hours. Honestly, where’s all this rain coming from?

I’m marooned in the flat. I can’t do any proper work at home because my computer’s at the Office; I can’t work at the office because there’s no power there. So I sit down and relax and read a book for a couple of hours, making endless cups of tea.

By lunchtime I’m bored to tears; the rain has stopped here in the town but I can see the mountains are still swathed in cloud and no doubt rain too, and my school for today is deep in the mountains.

Eventually I drift down to the bus park at about mid-day. I decide to catch a bus up the Ngororero road to Nsanga; it’ll be much cheaper than a moto. Unfortunately it looks as if a bus has just gone, and the next bus only has one other passenger in it at the moment. It means I can claim the best seat at the front but I’m waiting an hour - a whole hour- in the blasted bus park before we get going. Every single beggar in the town comes past me at least once; the one legged old man who’s getting confused comes past three times and each time begs as if it’s the first time he’s seen me. There must be at least a dozen boys selling bread, three selling hats; one selling socks and shirts, and endless women selling little plastic bags of Japanese plums. You can see them take one look at the muzungu and think “oh hell, he’s never going to buy any of this stuff” and off they shuffle to wherever the next taxi bus is loading up.

I have to pay the full fare to Ngororero even though I’m getting off half way there, but its only RwF800, whereas the moto would be at very least 1500 and more like 2000 in wet weather. All the passengers gawp at the muzungu – very few white people go this far up the Ngororero road, and those who do are usually in posh NGO vehicles with private drivers. What poverty stricken white idiot, they think, needs to use the taxibus to get up into these hills?

So by the time I reach Nsanga it’s after two o’clock and I’m going to have to be careful with my time or there’s a real risk I’ll get stranded overnight in the mountains. Very few vehicles indeed will come this way after dark, and the chances of any of them stopping for a hitch hiker – even a muzungu one – are vanishing small.

But as soon as I get out of the taxi bus it’s glorious – beautiful scenery, total silence except for the noise of streams and birds and the distant noises from goats and cattle. It’s rustic Rwanda in all its grinding poverty, ragged clothes, and smelly people, but boy, is it beautiful to look at. In the very far distance I can see one of the volcanoes; I’m not sure whether it’s Karasimbi or Muhabura because I can’t tell them apart unless I’ve got some of the others to orientate myself.

Charles, the head of the tronc commun section of the school, is a charming man, and we get on well. He comes from Kibungo and is delighted when I tell him I know it. A large number of pupils from the school – primary and secondary – are off for a sports fixture this afternoon, and what with that and the rain the two head teachers and assumed I wasn’t going to arrive. They’re both pleased to see me – Nsanga gets few visitors and they enjoy showing off their nice buildings to an outsider.

Nsanga’s problems are the same as all the other TC schools, and I’ve already listen them in the blog, so no more on that score.

They’ve decided at the TC section to run a “continental day” but parents have complained, so they’ve done a compromise. There are very short breaks morning and afternoon, and a condensed dinner hour, but the school finishes early in the afternoon. I’m also the very first “official” visitor to the Tronc Commun School!

The only lesson I am able to observe is ICT. This turns out to be a farce. Faces with me and Charles in the room, the teacher tries to do the lesson in English, but while her pronunciation is good she’s struggling with her vocabulary and I ask Charles to tell her to give up and use French. The language of instruction is the least of our worries.

Here we are, in a school with no electricity, and no computers, trying to teach ICT. I get Charles to ask the class how many of them have seen a computer. (Answer: about a third). Then I get him to ask them how many have used a computer. Answer – none. They laugh nervously at the very thought that any of them might have had a chance to use a machine.

By now I’m really kicking myself for not having brought my laptop with me. What a difference I could have made to this lesson – it would be a lesson none of these lovely children would ever forget!

Now I know many people find ICT boring, but it takes a quite special talent to make a lesson as useless and boring as this one. Firstly the teacher does this wretched thing about repeating previously covered work in the hope that I’ll be dazzled by all her students’ right answers. I’m not – I’ve already checked in their exercise books to see what they last week and the week before that.

So how do you teach ICT without a computer, and to children who have never seen one? Answer: you make lists of facts about computers; you write out detailed instructions on how to switch them on or off.

I tell Charles to get her to draw a computer. She won’t, but we get one of the boys to draw one. Fortunately this child knows what he’s doing and does a good drawing of a desktop machine.

After another ten minutes of listing the different kinds of computer; listing all the peripherals you can run from a computer; listing the different kinds of connections for these peripherals, I’m getting close to murdering this teacher and suggest to Charles that we leave her to get on with it….

She’s in her first term of teaching and the lesson serves to remind me that the teacher training colleges need a bomb up their backside if they think this is the right way to teach ICT. It’s no good gunning for the young girl teacher; what’s at fault is the whole culture of “there’s only one way to teach and don’t you dare risk trying anything else”. Unfortunately wading into the TTC system is outside my remit as a VSO so I’m just going to have to swallow my fury. Aah; now then, take a deep breath and look out of the window. Far below is the Nyaborongo river, bursting its banks in places, is wriggling northwards towards Nyabinoni. There are at least five separate successive waves of hills over towards the western horizon. And a young mother is giving me the glad eye as she glides past outside the school, baby on her back and bowl of maize on her head.

In my report I’m going to point out the futility of teaching ICT in this way, and also that while the District is going to get some laptops for its schools, they won’t be used for very long unless they get solar panels into the schools. And then we need to get rid of all this cloud and rain and get some strong sunshine to power the solar panels. But I can’t blame the District or even Mineduc for the rain!

I debrief with Charles (despite all the ICT farrago I’m going to give him a good write up because he’s got all the right ideas and given some financial backing I think he’s got the makings of a good head. He’s already persuaded the primary school’s English teacher to give up her Sunday mornings, and all the rest of the staff to come back to school on Sunday for staff English lessons).

Next it’s off with Jean-Claude, the primary head, to talk about his problems. We sit in on year 2 who are learning their Kinyarwanda words beginning with “kw”. And there are a lot of them in Kinya. This is the tail end of a lesson, and next we have maths with the same yr 2 class. The young teacher is really good. Even with children this young she does the whole thing effortlessly in English. The kids have learnt their numbers, too.

Rugendabari is another very poor secteur; two boys can’t afford the little exercise books these children use; they are working on slates. The teacher needs to get some of the function commands more ingrained into them (speak louder”; “come and draw on the blackboard”; “put your hand up when you want to answer” – that sort of thing. But her maths is good; she’s doing lots of drawings to illustrate numbers, and she is using things outside the classroom. We’re drawing nine cars, eleven balls, seven flowers, instead of the everlasting chalk/book/door/desk vocabulary that we usually get. Jean-Claude is chuffed to bits when I tell him to congratulate her and tell her to carry just as she’s doing.

We do a quick debrief and I’m introduced to the head of the parent’s committees for both schools. The primary person is an elderly farmer who can’t speak anything else except Kinyarwanda; the secondary one is a woman who looks about twenty five. She can’t possibly have a child in the secondary section – or can she? She speaks French so I make a fuss of their importance and ask her to explain what I’m saying to primary Papa (who has left his hat and stick outside the office door in deference to the two headmasters within). We shake hands and I say I really have to leave immediately.

Charles says he’s coming with me; he lives at Buringa on the way to Gitarama and like me he’s going to catch a bus. The sun is setting behind the distant mountains and the light is already starting to fade. A bus stops for us and we get jammed in - there are at least 23 people n the bus and it is so overloaded it can barely make it up the mountain.

At Buringa several people get off, including the convoyeur, which is very strange. Round the next bend we discover why – there’s a police checkpoint. I think someone has tipped off the police that we’re overloaded, and we get pulled over. But someone else has tipped off the convoyeur, which is why he got off and ensured we were just legal. (The driver will collect our fares and the convoyeur will come behind us on the next taxi-bus). The police seem very reluctant to let us go; they open all the doors in case someone is crouching down on the floor (fat chance – it’s full of shopping and other luggage), and eventually we’re allowed to pass.

Back at Gitarama I pick up my laptop (I’m paranoid about not leaving it in the offices overnight – you never know if the guards have got a spare key and are running some sort of racket with local thieves), and go home.

Tom’s frazzled; he’s got a group of ten visitors come from America and as the FHI logistics bod he’s run off his feet getting everything organised for them. We eat late, but well, and get to bed absolutely whacked.

Best thing about today – all of it, really, especially the afternoon at Nsanga. For anyone thinking about volunteering, this is a pretty good example of the kind of life we lead and all the little excitements that happen during an “average” day.

Worst thing – ICT with no computers and no electricity. It sucks.

No comments: