Tuesday, 29 September 2009

One of my favourite schools

September 16th

Hooray, it’s still dry and I’ve got two new schools to visit. I’m woken at 5.30 by a phone call from Joseph, my moto driver. He’s misheard the phone call I gave him last night and has turned up at the District Office at daybreak. I tell him to come back in two hours’ time. I’m sure I gave him the right time. His English is nonexistent; his French isn’t up to much, and I could hear his wife in the background when I rang him. I think he was a bit distracted.

Anyway, eventually we set off through the morning cool and cross the mountains into Rugendabari. I’m off to Kirwa Adventist School. This was the one I tried to get to with Becky when she first arrived here, only to find the earth road up the valley had turned into glue.

This time there’s no problem. The river winds below me, and beside the road are gangs of prisoners preparing the surface for a layer of earth to level it. (They’ll just about get the earth spread in time for the rains which will turn it into glue again, and the first truck that tries to go up the valley will dig deep ruts, and we’ll be back to where we were last month). What a total waste of time and effort. Come on you Rwandans – you need to tarmac this road!

Kirwa Adventist is a very successful school. Its number ten out of 94 in the exam result league table from last year. It’s perched a long way up on a hillside; the approach road is steep, bumpy and unforgiving. There’s a big brick Adventist church, and the school buildings make a “U” shape with the church closing off the fourth side. Some of the buildings are very nice structures in brick, light and airy and welcoming, but the rest are mud brick. A water pipe, its tap long since removed, is pouring a thin stream of water down the hillside when it’s not being used by the school or the surrounding villagers.

Gervais, the head, is a lovely guy. He’s also a good manager, a man with vision, and he is leading the school brilliantly. There’s a well thought out development plan with performance targets, a lively budget, and the ability to harness his Adventist parents. The school gardens are harvested, but have banana trees, and the remains of cassava and bean plants. Cow grass is already sown and growing because the school plans to have a cow as a money making venture next year. They need to rebuild the toilets, one block of which is spectacularly derelict, smelly, and looks about to career down the mountainside and deposit its loathsome contents on the villagers below!

There are three mud brick classrooms nearing completion, and I assume they are ready to start a Tronc Commun section next year. But no; one is for the nursery, one for the head to give him a permanent office, and the other will be the staffroom. That will give an older, full size classroom as a store.

In Gervais’ current office, in an empty classroom, prominent on the wall, is a certificate of achievement for good exam results from the Adventist Congregation of Rwanda, and another one done by me and presented to him last May by the mayor in return for his school’s excellent performance.

We do the admin inspection – needless to say, Kirwa’s paperwork is in excellent order. Then I watch three classes. In a social studies session in year 6 the teacher goes at a cracking pace, and manages to sustain his pupil’s involvement throughout a session on “protecting important public places”. I think that’s more than I would have been able to do! I go through his planning book and copy his name onto my official observation sheet. But at the end of the lesson I discover his real name isn’t the one on the register, but Jean Bosco somebody. According to the head, the previous incumbent has fled the school and probably Muhanga District in disgrace, after having raped one of the year six girls in his class earlier this year. Well, the school has gained from his departure, because our Jean Bosco is a cracking good teacher and gets a really good write up from me!

Another teacher with a year four group is doing the past continuous (“I was going to the market” etc). One little lad makes me laugh out loud when he accidentally comes out with some broad Dorset and shouts in response to the teacher’s question “the nurse were looking after the patient”.

I do a “pearls of wisdom” with the whole staff, and then Gervaise asks me to speak to the entire school, assembled on the playground. Fortunately the weather has clouded up and it’s breezy and pleasant rather than baking hot. The children here are simply delightful; as Joseph drives me down the hill (we have to go at not much more than walking pace because the ground is so uneven) we are surrounded by dozens of pupils at the start of their lunch break. Not one of them asks for money; every single one wants to talk to me and many of them very politely say “thank you” to me for coming to visit their school. What a lovely place. Definitely one of my top half dozen schools for achievement, ethos and general pleasantness.

There’s no time for lunch today; I’m off to another school for the afternoon and I’m already late. Nyamatete school is very different from Kirwa. It is new, and this is the first year it has had all six year groups present, and qualified to be an independent school in its own right with its own head teacher. Christine is alarmingly pregnant, and I worry for her on the way to and from school because of the state of the approach “road”. Nyamatete turns out to be one of the most inaccessible schools in the entire District. I would definitely not want to try to reach it in very wet weather. There is no proper road into it; you have to follow a little footpath down a steep hillside; it’s more a scramble than a walk and with lots of bare earth the path would be treacherous in rain. Then you have to jump across boulders to cross a stream. (I’ve long since given up with the moto and told Joseph to go back up to the main road and wait for me for a couple of hours). The stream would be positively hazardous if it were to be swollen with a flash flood, and because it’s literally backing onto the highest part of the Ndiza Mountains I bet the rain comes down this valley like a tidal wave.

Then I have to walk the best part of a mile down a little, steeply sloping path until I eventually come out at a depressingly grubby hamlet, and finally the school. The school is one of the poorest I’ve ever seen in terms of construction, despite being new. It’s a carbon copy of Busekera school in Cyeza, which really shocked me last year by being so appallingly built as a new venture. Nyamatete isn’t quite so awful, but runs it pretty close. Uneven earth floors, mud brick walls, but at least they’re all plastered on the inside. There’s an enormous grassy playing area, with a football pitch. However, there’s such a dip in the middle of the football pitch that the little boys playing in the dip almost certainly can’t see either of the goals because they’re over the horizon of the dip! One good thing about Nyamatete is that they’ve spend what tiny capitation grant they get on making sure all pupils, even in yr 1, have proper desks to write on. Consequently their letter formation is better than some of the Nyabinoni schools’.

There’s a “succursale” being built in one corner of the playing field, and it looks as though some of the neighbours are also trying to encroach onto another corner of the site. Most Rwandan primary schools have lots of trees planted round the perimeter to give lunchtime shade to pupils, and eventually to sell for firewood or as roofing beams for houses. Nyamatete is unusual in having just about no trees at all. This gives it a forlorn, open, bleak aspect which the mud buildings don’t help. From one angle it looks as if the first heavy rainstorm will melt it back into the hillside whence it came!

Despite the general grottiness of the buildings, Nyamatete gives me two good lessons, one of them very good indeed. The year 1 teacher is almost too active, but her class are absolutely riveted by her and they’ve got all the body parts learnt off pat. They think it’s really cool when she tells them they’re going to sing to the muzungu in his own language, and we spend half an hour shaking our heads, arms and legs and pointing to various bits of our anatomy. Some of the weenies are so desperate to be chosen to answer questions that they get up out of their seats and rush to the front of the class. This teacher’s got a sense of drama in her gestures. She gets pupils to repeat phrases row by row rather than that tiresome one-pupil-at-a-time business. Her classroom has got plenty of posters, as has the year 5 room I go in. And some of them are copies of the rice sack posters we showed them at a training last year! And the year 5 teacher actually asks pupils to be creative and compose examples of prepositions of place for her: that’s unheard of in most Rwandan schools.

There is a “school clap” which Nyamatete uses for every good piece of work or right answer to a difficult question. They clap, clap, clap, stamp, stamp, stamp, and then all do a Rwandan clap and shout out “yes, class!”. It’s lovely. At the end of the lesson I say “thank you” to teacher and class; I tell them they have a really good teacher and we do the Nyamatete clap for their teacher, Valerie. The little ones think this is even better and they’re all buzzing with talk about it, and me, as I walk out of the school fifteen minutes later!

It just shows you that the buildings aren’t the paramount thing; it’s all about the quality of teaching. I don’t spend very long in the school; the head teacher isn’t there when I arrive and I can get most of the information I need from Brigitte, the “responsable”. I decide I’m too tired to do the full admin inspection, and since this school has never had year 6 pupils before, there aren’t any past exam results to discuss.

I slog back up the steep path, over the stream, and emerge perspiring onto the mountain road where Joseph is propped up against a tree snoozing, while the wind is blowing a gale down the mountainside. I can’t be bothered with the tremendous views this afternoon; I feel really tired and just want to get back home.

I call in at the office to say I’m back, and tell them I’m off on my travels for the next two days. Claudine is still in the office at well after four o’clock, and still surrounded by head teachers from the up country schools have are evidently not going home tonight and will have spent two whole days and night in the fleshpots of Gitarama! Claudine warns me that Monday is a public holiday (Eid ul Fitr), and that all schools will be closed. So, knowing that, why on earth did the heads of Butare and Ngoma agree to me yesterday when I said I was coming to see them on Monday? Honestly, this Rwandan inability to say “no” or to contradict a muzungu is driving me crazy!

In town I meet Léonie, so I can tell her the pickup arrangements for tomorrow morning, and explain that we can’t go to Nyabisindu “B” school because the bridge that leads to it is down and is being mended. I’ll try to get us into Kaduha instead; I ought to give it another look over.

Back at the flat I decide to cook up a pasta meal, but I’m so tired while I’m doing it that I get some of the quantities wrong and it doesn’t taste as nice as it should. Oh well, just got time to try to write up a school report. And if all else fails it looks as if I’ll have all Monday to write reports and compile the missing blog entries!

It’s been another good day. Two more new schools done, and some good lessons seen.

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