Monday, 26 October 2009

Frustrating Friday

October 14th

Frustrating day today.

Into the office early to try to nobble Claude about a whole series of things, but he isn’t there. I do manage to get the modem and spend an hour catching up on the world. I also manage to finally put into the post a CD of data for Ken, my successor. (So, Ken, if you’re reading this, it should be with you by mid November at the latest). There are a couple of interesting news stories to put on the blog, including the hot topic of the moment here in Gitarama, our local council’s campaign against urban bananas. The gossip is all about one old man who tied himself to his banana tree and told the council workmen that they would have kill him if they wanted to cut down the tree. It’s changing the way I look at bananas!

Today all the secondary heads, from both established and new tronc commun schools, are converging on the office, and there will be one of the late starting and long-running meetings in the “Centre Culturel”. I think I’m due to present my upper secondary census statistics, and also we need to grab all these heads to talk about teacher training placements.

While they’re waiting for the meeting to start the heads all come to me to ask for their English test results. I only have the results on my computer for three secteurs. Béatrice and Claudine between them are doing the official transcribing, and they don’t want to get involved with giving individual results until they’ve finished the “saisie” for the entire District. Cue a lot of frustrated heads from nine of the twelve secteurs!

Jeanne from Gitongati comes to ask me if I have found money to finish her admin block (no). Mugabo from Mata comes to say his new toilets are up to eaves level and he needs RwF 60,000 to finish them, and can I help him (possibly). Odette from Butare comes to ask me if I have found anyone with five million francs to get water into her new secondary section (no). Would that I were Bill Gates…..

On the bright side, I have managed to get Michael and Kersti in touch with each other because K has some contacts coming out to Rwanda next week and they want to bring scientific equipment for Shyogwe school. (They had a link with Shyogwe a long time ago). As a result of all this to-ing and fro-ing on the telephone Shyogwe is definitely going to get a decent supply of scientific equipment. You win some as well as losing some….

Well, the meeting occurs but Claude isn’t there, and neither the census nor the teacher training placements get a mention. Now that Claude is in his new role as director of everything he’s much less in the office, and when he’s there he seems very distracted. Personally, I think the job spec is far too wide and I worry for his own health in trying to cover everything.

Étienne comes in from Cyicaro so I can get from him the details of his school bank account to pass on to Moira, and the money for his water cistern repair project (RwF504,000) can be sorted out. Prudence is also in from Nyarusange and his face lights up like a beacon when I tell him that Beaminster St Mary’s has money for a water tank for him. I try to impress on him the necessity of moving fast on this one; I only have six weeks left in the country and for two of those I’ll be in Zanzibar (I hope).

Soraya’s gone to Kigali today; with any luck she’ll have been able to book us places on the bus. (You book in advance but pay 24 hours ahead of actually travelling).

The head teachers’ meeting is tedious and I needn’t be there. V. is very thorough but he doesn’t have (yet) the same flair for public speaking as Claude. He’s the ideal “back room” man and I’m beginning to see how Claude and he together, if they were both to stay within the education system, would be such an efficient combination. C., the chief executive, is there for part of the meeting. He always looks so smooth and immaculate; I try to envisage him having to leave his office and defuse confrontations over banana trees……

We have people from UNESCO talking to us about money coupons so that people can buy books or ICT equipment or pay for training courses in any country in the world. It’s all very well, but what these schools need is cash to spend here, not fancy systems to enable them to spend money they don’t have. They’re very polite but I can catch the undercurrents now, and I’m sure they feel their poverty is just being rubbed in their faces by this kind of scheme, however well intentioned. (Sorry, UNICEF, if you’re reading this, but if you’d been able to accompany your presentation with, say, enough cash to enable each school to buy a solar panel, you’d have had the entire contingent worshipping you for the next year)!

Next we have a long talk about exam centres and numbers; it’s very confusing this year because for the primary concours exams schools have been able to opt to do them either in French or in English, so there’s twice the usual amount of administration to sort out. Pupils have to travel to neighbouring schools which become exam centres; in Gitarama town me might have groups of children passing each other on the way to each other’s schools depending on which language they’ve chosen. (This is the last year when they’ll have a choice of taking exams in French; at the moment it’s also the last year of the P6 “concours” unless the government announces a last minute prolongation for 2010).

We have a head teacher from Ruhango come to talk to us about forming a national association for secondary headteachers. This seems a great idea; one of the problems at the moment is that individual heads are powerless to influence national policy. A powerful professional association, speaking as one voice, would be a potent antidote against the sort of last minute, poorly thought through curriculum change which was imposed on schools last Christmas. Such an association shouldn’t be seen as a threat to the political authority of Rwanda’s rulers; if we value education in this country then we need to be able to listen to those whom we charge with its delivery. You can’t create a world class education system if you only allow top-down, autocratic decision making.

Jeanne is at the meeting; it’s the first time I’ve seen her since her wedding. No longer in a power suit, she’s wearing married women’s robes. Anyway, we chat and I tease her as usual; it’s nice to see that married life seems to be suiting her!

At the end of the meeting we have a mélange lunch provided for us, and a good one, too. I’ve been sitting next to Emmanuel, the head of Ndago school, because he’s such a good translator for me. He looks at what I think is my full plate and laughs at me. His plate, and those of many of the other men, is cantilevered and pyramided to the max with food. He must easily have half as much again as me to get through. He explains that In Rwanda people who try to fit the maximum on their plate are called “engineers”, and it has become something of an art form. I explain that when I was a student there were pizza bars in England where you could the same thing with salads, and it was a favourite way of filling up cheaply at weekends.

In the afternoon I go back to the flat. I feel deflated – There’s very little proper work I can be going on with, at least not before I’ve cleared some protocol issues with Claude. Tom still hasn’t got his rent cheque through the Kafka-esque bureaucracy of the District Office. I can’t go out on a final day’s worth of visits to schools tomorrow because both Buramba and Kibyimba are doing revision rather than teaching. So I relax and read.

My stomach’s still not 100%; I start looking through my travellers’ health guidebook and that’s a big mistake. I manage to convince myself that I could have bilharzia, malaria, typhoid or all three judging by how I’ve been feeling these last few days. On the other hand it could just be a dodgy tummy cause by drinking too much beer and some undercooked sausages in Kigali on Saturday…. Not to worry; wait and see.

Best thing about today – getting the CD of information off to Ken

Worst thing – having all the secondary heads in one room but not being able to get them to fill in the information about teacher trainee placements.

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