No longer a moto-taxi novice!

No longer a moto-taxi novice!
No longer a moto-taxi novice! It can be exhausting but it's great fun!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

It's not all holidays and beaches!

I guess I ought to try to write a bit about the everyday life of a volunteer in Rwanda otherwise people will think it's all holidays and beach fun.
Typical school site with buildings around an open area. You can see the lakes in the north of the district in the distance.

Primary class learning Social Studies (geography here).
Nursery class singing a song.
Since I got back in January the school term has taken long time to get into the swing of things.  At first the head teachers were busy making sure they had enough teachers.  Some teachers were trying to get a transfer to a different school.  Pupils transferring from primary to secondary were waiting for results to see if they were eligible.  Some secondary pupils were trying to change to a different school for advanced level studies. Then in early February the ministry of education announced that head teachers without degrees could no longer be head teachers so the Districts had to cope with arranging changes of head teacher and giving the deposed heads some kind of appropriate post.  I'm still not clear about how that went…. I don't like to broach the subject with the one friend I know is in that position.  As well as all that some heads were moved around either because their school results were not good enough or because they were good and they have to move to a school that needs sorting out.  Many pupils in Secondary 1 just started school this week  (mid-February) and of them many find themselves in old classrooms because the new ones are not yet finished.  The transition to nine years free basic education in schools that have 1-6 primary plus secondary 1-3 is resulting in a lot of logistical problems. Many primary schools are finding themselves becoming 9 year basic education schools (groupe scolaire) step by step as their pupils move up into secondary education.  Because of all this change, the District Education office is generally crammed with head teachers, teachers and students trying to sort out any one of the above problems or get a signed contract. It was the week of February 14 before admin. staff went off to Kigali with finalised staff lists in order to set up salary payments.

This week text books have been delivered to the District office and head teachers are arriving in taxis to collect books for their distant schools. There have been meetings of head teachers, sometimes called at a day's notice, meetings of youngsters applying to become teachers and many others.  At the end of three years secondary education students can apply to train as primary teachers. They spend years 4-6 doing the normal curriculum plus education studies and some teaching practices.  After that they can start teaching in primary schools, at very lowly pay of course - less than £30 a month!!   Most teachers are studying at the weekend in order to get a degree, which gives them a better salary and promotion prospects and I've met head teachers who are studying for their masters degree, also at the weekend.

Many head teachers are young like this one and very hard-working and enthusiastic.

 In January I attended a wedding celebration in Kigali.  A VSO volunteer had married a young Ugandan man, who works in Kigali.  After the wedding in Kampala they also celebrated in Kigali for friends in Rwanda. That is the second wedding celebration I have been to and like the first it had a buffet meal, traditional Intore dancers and music and the usual long series of speeches so beloved of Rwandans. Almost everyone who has anything to do with the married couple is called upon to make a speech - parents, family friends, brothers and sisters, school friends, work friends, brides maids, best man and so on for a couple of hours! After that there is music for dancing and more drinks.

I was also invited in January to join a working group in Kigali at the National Curriculum Development Centre to help revise the secondary ordinary level curriculum.  Other volunteers had worked last October to revise the primary English curriculum and the work was to continue.  The group consisted of two VSO vols, two secondary English teachers, two teacher trainers, an exam board person and the curriculum leader.  The old curriculum was based on the fact of all normal teaching being in French and English being taught as a foreign language in a very traditional French or Belgian way with a heavy emphasis on grammar.  Now of course, as all lessons are taught in English from P4 onwards (a very recent u-turn on using mother tongue for the first three years at school and having English as a foreign language), when pupils reach secondary stage they should be very fluent already and have covered most English grammar in primary school.
This classroom is typical, though most have un-painted, cemented walls as well as a bare cement floor. This one may still be under construction! The number of pupils per bench depends on their age and size, but they are almost always cramped close together.

I was able to start visiting schools using the English revision as a way in  - I need to see how secondary English is being taught now using the old curriculum.  An interesting experience - teachers and student can talk really well about grammar - probably much better than most UK students, but they have great difficulty in having more general chat or discussion, certainly up to S3 level.  Having said that I met some S5 students at a local school in Nyakarambi, where I re-started the English Club - they were really good!  The English club is a sort of free community service - the people who come range from young professionals from the District office, through teachers and moto taxi drivers to boarding pupils from the school who are welcomed in to make up the numbers.  The students actually make a big difference to the club as they are keen to quiz any adult newcomer on his/her  profession and qualifications in a really polite and interested way. Going back to the curriculum revision - when I explain this to the teachers and show them the new primary curriculum they are generally very approving of the move towards a topic-based approach and all the methodological help included in the document.  However, when they ask for a copy I have to say, sorry, you need to collect one from NCDC in Kigali next time you go there.  They print thousands of copies then do not distribute them even out to the districts, never mind to schools or teachers!
Lunch time at a UNICEF school feeding programme school

Some schools in very poor areas are supported by UNICEF to provide school feeding. That means that the entire school population has a hot meal every day - usual very simple- umugali or corn meal with kidney beans.  The morning and afternoon classes cram together in their shared classroom to eat at the same time.

I should also explain that schools have two shifts at primary level.  Because the population is growing rapidly and the schools had neither enough teachers or classrooms to cope the government imposed the shift system.  Primary schools pupils attend alternately morning or afternoon each day and the teachers teach their classes twice each day.  School starts at 07.00, lunch is from 12.20 - 13.20 and the afternoon finishes at 17.20 - a long day for the poor teachers! They are really tired after such a day - and then they go off and study at the weekend!
Here you can see the lake near the school and the Rwandan flag flying
I also visited some schools simply to observe lessons generally mainly in primary.  The classes I have seen range from an unusual 34 pupils up to a more common 66!  The differences between UK and Rwandan schools are so numerous it's hard to know where to start.  The classrooms range from old mud-brick, earth floored, tin-roofed sheds, sometimes with built-in concrete benches, to newer ones built with concrete blocks, steel roof beams and sheet steel roofs, guttering to collect rainwater in huge tanks above the ground.  Very few have glass in the window frames, the room is open to the roof covering with airy vents everywhere, through which birds and a variety of insects whizz in and out completely ignored by everyone except me! Very few have electricity unless they are near a town or village with a supply, odd ones have a solar panel, but that will barely recharge the one laptop each school has for administration. Science classes rely on local materials, plastic containers, many re-cycled from household goods packaging, and the odd battery.

Science club activities demonstrated for visitors wanting to emulate this good practice.

The classroom walls are not painted - just bare cement, usually splashed with the ubiquitous red mud or dust.  The chalk board is a coat of once smooth cement on the wall, painted black, usually cracked and scratched and needing a fresh coat of paint.  In some cases I don't know how the pupils read the teachers' writing among all the other marks.  The floor is bare cement, regularly washed down but always very dusty during the day.  The learners sit on old-fashioned school bench-desks, anything from three to five per desk depending on their size or more usually  the number in the class.The school grounds make no attempt to deal with changes of level or to create smooth walkways between buildings - you really have to look where you are going!
See the bumpy ground even outside the classrooms and the path to the toilet block - that's it for about 900 pupils!
On the other hand most schools have an environment club and a policy of one tree per child.  So there are areas which have been carefully planted and laid out in a pattern of brick edged borders.  Much of this work is done by pupils voluntarily, but I did see some older students working in school grounds for money in the school holidays.  Every school has a flag-pole with the Rwandan flag and each morning they line up to sing the national anthem.

These are head teachers in a training session - you can see that even for them conditions are not always ideal!

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