Tuesday, 29 September 2009

When being a headteacher means negotiating with your neighbours to buy more land.

September 17th

Off to Nyarusange secteur today with Léonie. The main purpose for the day is to show her how I operate so that when she starts looking at schools in Kamonyi District she’s got an idea of what to expect, and with a bit of luck we’ll have a degree of compatibility in how we look at places. We meet Claude just before leaving, so now he can put a face to the name, and we ask him to have words with her Directeur when he next sees her and explain how he works with Soraya and I so as to make things easier for Becky and Léonie.

Nyarusange is a school I’ve inspected before, but only the tronc commun section, so I feel justified in spending time looking at the primary part. But to show Léonie how I operate, we do the tour of the site and the Inspection Administratif as well. Nyarusange is a huge place, with 1800 primary pupils, plus 150 in the TC section and another 300 expected to come over the next two years. By about 2015 it will be at least 2500 strong.

The school is busily mobilising its parents to build more classrooms for January. They need four, but are only getting enough money to create three. That means either Prudence is going to lose his head’s office, or the staff their staffroom. Watch this space! And for 2011 the problem is even more acute. The school has a narrow, “L” shaped patch of land, and it is now all built over except for the playground. The playground is already inadequate for around 2000 pupils and must not be nibbled at; it is one of the very few playgrounds which is both flat and virtually big enough for a full sized football pitch. Prudence is committed to negotiating with one of the school’s neighbours to buy a plot of land so that he can enlarge the site and build. But even that is not simple, because the site is very steeply sloping and there will need to be a fair bit of earthmoving before any bricks can be laid. And they need more toilets. It’s a sign of the times that even one of the two school cows has been sold off to bring in some badly needed revenue!

The admin inspection is different from virtually any other school. Prudence is deep into ICT; he has his own computer and every document is neatly word processed. His strategic plan is really excellent and I pinch a copy to have on my flash drive to use as an exemplar elsewhere.

Nyarusange is a good school. It came 18th out of 94 last year, and 10th in Science. But it has problems – there is no water on the site. Imagine – a school of 2000 without water. And there aren’t (yet) the jerrycans of water, soap and towels for hygiene that you see in many other schools. The toilet hygiene is well under way to being put right, but the place really needs five or six Afritanks; their needs are way beyond my capacity to meet.

We watch three English lessons; an excellent one in year 6 where the teacher even asks pupils to be creative and write their own sentences using prepositions of place; and two other very reasonable lessons in which pupils are always applauded for right answers; where the teachers know and use their names; where the pace is fast and pupils are purposeful and want to learn.

The “pearls of wisdom” session at the end is a happy affair, and Nyarusange is a school we’re congratulating but suggesting ways of becoming even better. (Rwandan teachers almost never differentiate lessons so as to stretch the brightest pupils. This is something we’re suggesting to the Nyarusange teachers, and they seem receptive to the idea).

Nyarusange has lost two teachers at the moment and is struggling to find replacements. One teacher is off ill and may be away for quite a while. The other, a man, was arrested last week and nobody is expecting him back any time soon. If he is found guilty he won’t be able to teach ever again. Nobody is telling us what his crime is, which suggests it’s serious.

It’s hot and stuffy, and we need to move on to Kaduha. Prudence has gone to a meeting in Gitarama so Gaston, the former head, takes us in hand and insists on taking us out for lunch at a local bar. Here we dine on rabbit (complete with the head), ibitoke and a sauce with no spoon or method of using it. I’m not expecting to eat at all at mid day, and we’re rather caught off guard; not least when we realise we’ll have to pay for both ourselves and the four staff who’ve come to eat with us. Nice one!

All very well, but it means we’re very late getting to Kaduha. I’m not going to bother with another Inspection Administratif, so we settle for a quick tour of the site and visit two classes. The contrast with Nyarusange is profound. Kaduha is small (600 pupils) and has performed badly, coming 88th out of 94 last year. Unfortunately, as soon as we start watching lessons, it becomes evident that it won’t be doing much better this year.

We find year 4 pupils who can’t do their four times table (6x4= anything from 12 to 32), and yr 1 pupils who even at the end of year one can’t draw their numbers up to ten.

I feel for Eugène, the head, too. He’s a thoroughly nice guy and yet I know that if he doesn’t raise the standards here pretty quickly he will be held responsible. As we’re leaving we notice the old church which use to stand in the school grounds, and which we thought the school was going to convert into an all purpose room, has been demolished. But the news is good. The Catholic Church is going to rebuild the premises (which dated from the 1930s and thus counts almost as a historic building out here in the countryside) with a new church, a catechism room for the youngsters, and some sort of all purpose room (which may or may not include part of the church floor space). That’s good news for Kaduha.

Back home, too tired to cook tonight. So out to Nectar for a mélange and then settling down to write up today’s reports. I’m so looking forward to a quiet weekend and the prospect of a public holiday on Monday!

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