Monday, 18 May 2009

Scaling the academic heights with St Augustine

May 13th

Into the office on a glorious day – fresh, clear, blue skies and warm sun. I can’t go out to Mushishiro school today as I had planned because there’s a secteur meeting for the heads. So I’m determined not to waste the day and arrange to go and look at St Augustin instead. St Aug is our top performing school. It’s a private school, very small with only 230 pupils (most of my primaries have more than that in each year), and sits only a kilometre away from the flat.

I spend the first hour in the office. Claude’s forgotten the internet modem, so I find the census sheets for today’s school and tomorrow’s, and get the statistical section of the reports for both written before I even go out to visit.

There’s newspapers for me and for Hayley, so I walk back to the town centre. I haven’t gone more than a hundred yards when my moto driver stops for me to see if I’m going anywhere up country and want a life. “No, not today” I say. Whereupon he tells me to get on board and gives me a free ride back to the town centre. My God, I must be spending a fortune on motos to get this treatment for free!

Back at the flat I drop off some stuff and go to see Hayley and Charlotte in the YWCA office, giving Hayley her “Guardian”. The two girls are surrounded by piles of fruit (Charlotte’s on a special diet to try to settle some of her allergies), and both are typing furiously at their computers. They’ve had a really busy time lately and are writing up minutes or reports for funding providers.

Then its time to head up past where Cathie and Elson used to live and drop down to St Augustin. The school shares a campus with Gahogo primary and a little private maternelle – a real education corner. There are no fences to separate the three sites, and no signs of any kind to tell you where you are – in typical Rwandan fashion you just have to get to know these things by trial and error.

St Augstin’s buildings are OK – brick, glazed windows on both sides, but I have plenty of state schools with much better provision. The school works a funny sort of day – they start at 7.30 along with every other school, but they only work mornings. Everyone goes home at 12.45. Classes are small – their biggest is their yr 6 with 34, but that’s because they’re getting a lot of savvy Gitarama parents transferring their children in at yrs 5 and 6 in the hope that their children will do well enough in the concours to get a place in one of the best secondary schools.

I go to a yr 1 Maths lesson where children are at least a year ahead of their state school counterparts (they’re adding 9+5-3=) and doing greater than/lesser known work in number boxes. It’s a pity the teacher isn’t doing any games with them – the “atom” game doesn’t need any kit and would go down a riot. I promise to collect the “snakes and ladders” game from Raina at Ahazaza and let them have a go with it.

Then I visit a yr 6 English lesson. You would have to go a long way to find this many differences from a state school. The children have relatively long hair; the girls’ hair is elaborately braided. None of them are wearing a uniform. They chatter incessantly as they work, sometimes so much so that they’re not listening to the teacher and I bring this up with him at the end of the lesson. In most Rwandan schools the kids are so cowed that there’s not a sound in class; you wish you could gee them up and get them less passive.

This teacher is doing dialogue practise with his pupils, and soon we’re deep into mock telephone conversations. I switch my phone off and give it to the kids to use as a prop; this spurs the teacher to do the same thing. Suddenly the dialogue and role play has become much more real – the children are using real phones as props, and we all have a good time. The range of vocabulary and idiomatic constructions these children are using are streets ahead of any other yr 6 in the District, and the work is that much more imaginative. You see – you pays your money for private education here in Rwanda and this is what you get. Small classes, great teaching, and a 100% pass rate in the exams.

In truth I don’t need to visit this school at all but I’m glad I have because it gives me a marker to judge others by. It’s not all perfect – the rooms have virtually nothing on the walls at all.

The head has very little of his documentation with him – no budget, no annual plan, no strategic plan, no records of lesson observations. The school is run by its committee of parents; doubtless they have all the paperwork secreted away somewhere.

I tell the head he’s got to make sure the parents are planning strategically – if this little school is going to extend up to nine years basic education then it will need new buildings putting up as soon as possible. And with his middle class intake with their pushy, high expectation parents, he ought to be thinking of doing more extension work and possibly even of starting up a gifted/talented unit at St Augustin. (Do we still call these children the “G & T” crowd in England?)

First and foremost he needs electricity, computers and modems – it’s ridiculous that even this top rate private school doesn’t have any electronic experience at all.

Back to the flat and by mid afternoon my report is written and ready to print. I can’t believe I’m so ahead of myself. I’m feeling really smug. Becky arrives mid afternoon as well; she’s staying tonight and coming out to Kirwa with me in the morning. We catch up on all the news about her job and her accommodation (not sorted yet at all); then I need to do the market. I leave Becky on my bed to catch up on some rest and go to town. When I come back I have almost all the evening meal sorted – a three course feast. The whole flat is full of the aroma of fresh pineapple where I’ve carved it up ready for pudding, and there’s a fresh vegetable salsa marinating in the fridge. I’ve even got time to write this blog entry in the afternoon (unheard of)!

After tea we all three of us go round to the girls’ house and chat and drink and gossip for a couple of hours. It’s the first time Becky has met Hayley and Charlotte. The girls are planning “Gitfest”. They are very conscious that this year they will be missing the summer festivals such as Glastonbury, so their plan is to have our own festival at Gitarama with attractions like welly wanging, twister and so on. Visitors to bring their own music and each get a time slot on the sound system. We’ll see. We’re shown Hayley’s pride and joy from the clothes market- a huge wall hanging, life size, of the Spice Girls. It’s so tasteless it’s really impressive, and demands a huge wall to be displayed in all its tackiness…..

Back home under the stars just after ten, and straight to bed.

Best thing about today – going to a school where the academic standard is really high.

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