Monday, 4 May 2009

Gasave school

April 30th

“Mr Inspector Man” is back on the trail. This time I’m off to Gasave school in Rugendabari secteur, and I’ve got Moira from the teacher training college coming with me for the experience. Gasave is one of our better schools; it came about tenth overall in last year’s concours exams and it’s one of the schools I made a certificate of merit for. It’s also notorious to me in that it is the school I mistook for Gasovu a few weeks ago when I had an epic day up country and nearly had to find a ferryman to take me across the river.

We zoom off in a matata and get overcharged for the run, but it’s still a lot cheaper than taking a moto. The school is close to the main road and easy to find. The head welcomes us, and we have a full scale reception ceremony. All the teachers are pulled out from their lessons and summoned to the staffroom. The head formally welcomes us in front of them. The senior teacher (i.e. the deputy) welcomes us in English. All the teachers have to stand up and introduce themselves. (And why do all Rwandans, adults and children, swallow their words when they tell you their Christian names – after all, it’s the Christian names we want to try to learn). We introduce ourselves; I also have to explain why we’re here; that we’re not here to find fault but to support and so on. Happily, I can start my visit by congratulating them on their school good performance last year. These young teachers all glow with pride, and you can tell straight away that this is going to be an easy inspection and a pleasant day. Having done all these formalities we can at last let the staff get back to their classes, who are milling about all round the school yard, and lessons can resume.

We begin, as usual, with a tour of the site. Gasave is on a sloping hillside; the views, as always, are gorgeous. Today is yet another of these very beautiful spring days in the rainy season, with clear visibility and enough sunlight to bring out the vivid greens of the vegetation without being so bright as to bleach all the colour out of it. The school has a modern block of around eight rooms, arranged in steps down the hillside. You need calves of steel to be up and down the steps all day because the risers are of uneven height and going from one end of the block to the other is like an exercise in step aerobics. There are about six old mud brick classrooms out of use and awaiting either demolition or conversion for another purpose, and four mud brick rooms still in use. The old rooms house years 1 and 2; year 2 in rooms which are just about acceptable (high ceilings so not too hot); year 1 in tiny, cramped accommodation. I find I get annoyed when the teachers have taken one new, brick room as a staffroom, and the head is using another as his office – in my Spartan mind I think they should be basing themselves in the old rooms and let young children be taught in the brick rooms, but Rwanda doesn’t seem to operate in this way. The oldest children always get the best rooms; first and second years almost invariably get the roughest, most cramped, leaking, draughty and termite ridden accommodation.

Gasave doesn’t keep animals (yet), but has some beautiful vegetable plots right in the central courtyard. Cabbages and carrots grow on artificial compost mounds; it is a textbook example of the latest thinking on how to grow high yielding vegetables.

Outside every classroom is a little flower patch; the flowers seem to be respected despite 630 sets of little feet stampeding around all day; we soon discover why. In a stroke of genius Alphonse, the head, has planted pineapple bushes in rows at the entrance to each room. Not only are some of these starting to bear fruit, with mini pineapples standing upright like tiny versions of the carved stone ones you get on country house gateways, but the leaves of pineapple plants are so prickly that only the dimmest or most desperate child will attempt to crash through them and onto the flower beds. So Alphonse gets to protect his flowers, plus a harvest of pineapples he can sell, plus having a nice little practical test bed for teaching agriculture to the children. I think this idea of planting pineapples is wonderful. And how many other schools do any of you know which have avenues of pineapples as an approach to classrooms?

The admin inspection is a doddle, and with Moira and I on the job we visit at least four lessons. There are no great problems with the teaching; a social studies lesson is simply an exercise in copying from the blackboard, but in fairness I was only in it for the last ten minutes. A year 2 maths lesson is impressive; children are adding up large numbers in English and the entire lesson is conducted in English with no fuss by the teacher. I go round and help her mark books; children are trying to do the arithmetic in their heads without writing down their working, and a lot of them are making mistakes. The teacher sees what I’m saying to each child whose book I mark, and tells the children to do what I’m saying to them. I never thought I’d be the one to keep saying “show your working” to a maths class!

When we finish we have a “pearls of wisdom” session with the entire staff. I go first to give Moira a chance to think, and I give a lot of praise and a few suggestions for improvement. (You have to be careful with pronunciation of numbers. Rwandans tend to pronounce 6 as “sickis”, and eight as “eighty”, which is going to cause trouble when they try to distinguish 8 from 80). But these are minor faults; Gasave is a thunderingly good school despite being right out in the countryside.

Moira is taking loads of pictures; I’m too busy on the job to take any despite bringing my camera. (And that’s a reflection of how much more focussed I have become since this time last year). We end up with group shots of us and all the teachers, then head back to the main road and wait for transport home.

We only have to wait ten minutes or so, and a matata pulls over for us. It is already full. However, the lure of muzungu money is strong, and at first we are a bit worried because it looks as if they are going to bump two Rwandans off the bus to make room for us. We try various ways of fitting us all into the vehicle. We try fitting three passengers into the front. Won’t work, and if we pass a police checkpoint they’re bound to spot it. Someone decides it’s my long legs that are causing trouble, so I’m despatched into the front seat and Moira is squished into the back along with the two fellows we almost replaced. It’s a sweaty and uncomfortable ride for Moira back to Gitarama; I’m in relative comfort in the front!

We eat at “Tranquillité”, then split up. I need to go back to the Office and pick up my computer, and the post for today including a parcel from home!

There’s no time to write up my inspection report. Jenny and her friend Priya have arrived in Gitarama and are waiting for me at “Tranquillité”. Jenny is a VSO who has just finished her term in Eritrea and is travelling in East Africa before returning home. Priya is a medical student from Liverpool University who is spending six months or so working in palliative care (cancer and AIDS sufferers) in Kampala. She is a very beautiful girl with Indian mother and English father. What with Jenny’s VSO experience in the horn of Africa and our recent experiences in Kampala we’re not short of common experiences to talk about.

In the evening we eat out at Nectar, and the rest of the Gitarama gang come and join us, so Jenny and Priya rapidly meet all our extended circle.

We firm up our plans for the weekend (see tomorrow’s blog entry) and finally retire to bed.

Best thing about today – having a really good time on a school visit. Meeting new people. Knowing that tomorrow is a holiday….

Worst thing – nothing at all. If only every day was as enjoyable and productive as this one.

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