Tuesday, October 30, 2007

School Days

Last week I decided to visit one of the area primary schools for the day. The pictures I took were probably the best set of pictures I’ve taken here, so if you get a chance, check out the photos on the flickr.com badge on the right. I’ve spent over a year and a half here and I don’t know a great deal about how the primary schools function as a whole. Mutanoga Primary School is one of the primary schools where a number of our Compassion children attend. It’s approximately 4 miles from the Compassion center and my home and it’s a well run school in large part because they have good leadership from their head teacher (principal). They have 746 students and 15 teachers with 3 ‘helper teachers’. (50 students per teacher.) They currently have 12 classrooms for the 8 grades (including nursery school kids) and are constructing 3 more classrooms. The school is free for the students, the government pays the teachers salaries, but parents are asked to pay 8,000 Ush ($4) for additional projects, such as the new construction. The following are my observations from the day:

I begin my visit with the Primary 7 (P7) students. 7th graders. These are the oldest students in the school. They can be anywhere from 11 to 19 years old. The students all rise upon my entering. They are all wearing their school uniforms: pink shirts with navy blue shorts or skirts. The head teacher is teaching and they are doing graphs. No text books. The teacher is teaching in English. There are just under 60 students in a smaller than normal (by US standards) sized classroom. The students sit 3 to a desk. A blackboard is in the front of the class with a large paper taped to the board with a graph, x & y axis and grid. The students are learning coordinates (3, -2). Around the room several other graphs are taped up to the walls. They all read “distance vs time”. There is also a hand drawn map of Africa and a hand drawn picture of 2 simple machines. Most of the kids have shoes on here, which has come to be my observation of their age and poverty level.

“Who can calculate the area of this figure? Giftee?” As Gift goes to the board the teacher uses a piece off a foam mattress to erase another section of the blackboard. “In ½ h(a x b), what is h, class?” A few students blurt out the answer. “ah, ah…” the teacher says then mumbles something in Runyankore to the extent of, “You should raise your hands instead of speaking out of turn.”

There is no ceiling in this classroom, only an aluminum roof which means when it rains it’ll be almost impossible to teach due to the noise. Even a light rain creates a heck of a lot of noise on a metal roof!

The students don’t have text books. They take meticulous notes in small notebooks. They use newspaper to create covers for their notebooks for decoration and protection.

“Who can name the shape?” “A triangle,” a student replies. “It is a special shape. What shape is eeet?” Class, in perfect unison, “A right angled triangle.”

The students are asked to draw the graph in their notebooks. A flurry of notebooks and metal math sets shuffle. The math sets include a ruler, protractor, compass and eraser. The students rush to copy the graph from the board.

I then shift to the P4 classroom. I can smell the multitude of kids upon entering. It’s a musty smell of mud huts, feet and bodies. It’s a smell I’m accustomed to from living here for so long. As I enter the kids again stand and I’m greeted to the all too familiar clap clap clap-clap-clap, Clap! I immediately notice several of our Compassion kids I’m seated again in the back of the classroom next to Immaculate Harriet, one of my favorite little girls from Compassion. She has severe burns over 90 % of her body from a house fire where she hid under the bed while the blaze burned. Despite her disfigurement she has one of the most beautiful smiles of any child I’ve seen in Africa and she’s a good athlete to boot. Her little hands are misshaped and her fingers curl up. She has to hold her pen in a special way between her fingers just to write, but she’s worked hard to overcome her limitations.

This room has around 80 students in it and is a little bigger than the previous classroom. Far less shoes here. I greet the class and tell them I’m happy to visit them.

“Reproduction in bads. Reproduction in what? Bads (birds). How do we call a male bad?”

Class, “A cock.”

“And a female bad?”

“A hen.”

The teacher is a man called Frances. The students are learning science. He teaches mostly in English but often repeats himself in Runyankore.

“The incubation period of a bad takes 21 what? Days. Which is equal to 3 what? Weeks.”

After class I spend some time talking to Frances. He tells me that as a teacher he makes 200,000 Ush a month. $114. Less than $4 a day. That’s 1/3 of what I make on my very modest Peace Corps salary. There are times when teachers will go months at a time when their salaries are delayed. He also tells me that teacher’s pay is supposed to increase with experience, but to get that raise you have to submit forms to the local government. So far, he tells me, none of his forms have been approved for a raise in his 5 years.

Next it’s on to P1A class. The larger classes are divided into 2 groups, A and B. They are divided randomly, not by smarts. “Hello Saa. You ah wel-o-come.” My nostrils are again greeted with the same aroma. It’s a small classroom. The desks seem to be bigger but maybe that’s because the kids are smaller. 60 kids. 1 teacher. Same uniforms. The alphabet is written in chalk across the top of the blackboard. Upper and lower case. The door is labeled with the word “door”. The only poster in the room is one which says, “Days of the week. The first day is Sunday. The second is _______. The third is ________. “

This class is taught in Runyankore. I recognize some of the words on the board. Enkoko = chicken. Omwana = child. Taata = father. Ente = cow. If I started attending P1A regularly I could definitely improve my Runyankore. Every time I look up from writing there are at a minimum a dozen pairs of eyes on me.

Earlier, as I was sitting in the office waiting to begin my school day visit it was the P1 kids that crowded around the doors and windows to see the Muzungu. I was told that they would be ‘very happy’ to have me in class with them today. The head teacher invited the kids into the office and what felt like 100 kids (though it was probably half that) crowded around me to shake my hand and touch my skin. It’s a little overwhelming. It always reminds me of scenes of Jesus walking through crowds of people wanting to be touched and healed.

The P1A teacher is called Jolly. It took me 3 times before I understood. John? Joann? Jolly! She was patient enough for me to get it right. A sign of a good teacher, indeed!

The teacher asks for any student to come up and read a simple sentence in Runyankore. A wave of hands go up. A few students stand and others grunt, “mmm, mmm…” trying to be called upon. If you have taught elementary school then you know what I mean by, “mmmm, mmmm….” Nice to know that wasn’t just your class, huh? Young Boaz approaches the board, points a stick high to what he’s reading. “Mariira nebigambo byawe.” They read it just like any 1st grader would read it. Sounding it out with mistakes in phonetics all along the way.

When a student goes to the board and fills in the blank correctly they receive the ‘universal reward’. Clap clap clap-clap-clap, Clap!

The classroom is located immediately next to one of the school’s 2 latrines (out houses). When the wind picks up I’m smacked in the face with the odor. No doubt this is why P1 is at this end of the school and not P7.

The teacher smiles a lot. It’s as if she is amused at some of the student’s responses and she is pleased to teach them. There is a lot of repetition in what they are doing. The teacher reads something and the kids repeat it. There is a lot of audible learning. Maybe that’s how 1st grade was for me, I can’t remember. “Ente zituha amate. Aha! I know that one! “Cow’s give us milk.”

“Who can erase the board for me?” I think is what the teacher says. 2 boys sprint to the front and grab pieces of foam and rub the board as if the winner gets a prize. They erase as high up on the board as they can reach. The teacher finishes the job and writes “English” across the top. “Now go to number 2. Go to number…? Two.”

They all take out a worksheet that says, “Primary One Term III Examination” across the top. They’ve all been graded in red pen. Simple English. Fill in the missing letters: s_n (son and sun were accepted), sc_ool, b_ok. Then it went to a picture section. “Fill in yes or no. Is this a box? Is this a chair?” I look around at the student’s papers and see scores in the 70’s, 50’s, 40’s, and 30’s. Ellenah scored an 88%. The kids in upper and middle primary generally score in the 50’s on average.

When teaching English the teacher speaks entirely in English. “We say one boy but two _____.” “We say one house but six _____.” When a student is incorrect the teacher says, “Is it? You are lying.” Which may sound harsh but it’s a common thing to say in the local language.

On to P1B. Tuwensye Maud’s class. I pretend to understand her name when she said it but she was on to me so she wrote it out for me. P1B meets in a structure built of mud bricks. It’s an older, deteriorating building with mud floors, not concrete like the other classrooms I’d been in. 70 kids this time. 3 to a desk, sometimes 5. They’re small so they can fit. Not many shoes on any that I see. The whole room has a brown, earthy look. Brown walls, brown floors. Around the room are posters of Jesus. Fairly well drawn either by the teacher or an upper primary student I suspect. Jesus with kids, Jesus with a larger than life sized loaves of bread and fish, Jesus healing a man. There’s also a poster with the upper half covered in pictures of a chair, a book, a blackboard, a teacher, etc and the bottom half with the corresponding words.

The teacher is asking questions. Kids have their hands raised. More of the “mmm, mmm…” responses but this time accompanied by “Teachah! Teachah!”.

The students begin a song. Clapping and singing. The song is about the Creation Story. I hear the word Adam (Adamu) and the word for ‘man’ and see hand gestures of making or creating and pointing to their ribs. 3 kids are brought to the front of the classroom to act out the story. The story is about Adam and Haawa (I have no idea why) but it of course also involves the ‘enjoka’, the snake. They perform a drama. I hear the snake saying things like “God is lying. You won’t die.” Eve or “Haawa” picks an imaginary apple from the tree and throws it at Adam. The kids laugh. The boy then produces a real fruit that he brought for lunch from his pocket and pretends to eat it. Nice touch! Clever for a 1st grader. The students again laugh. Louder this time.

As I’m leaving I see the kids eating their lunches. A number of kids run home for lunch. That or they’re skipping eating to play for an hour. Many of them have brought small plastic buckets with leftovers from supper the night before. They share lunch with either friends or siblings. I see mostly starchy foods, potatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes, without much, if any protein.

And that concluded my day at the primary school. It was a neat thing to experience. Eye opening. Very different than the States, obviously. Much larger classroom sizes, textbooks used only by the teachers and not by the students. No lunch provided by the school. It’s not a one room schoolhouse. Way too many kids for that to be a possibility. Underpaid teachers. At least that’s the same as in the US. All in all it opened my eyes to the need for aid in their education services.

12 Days of Christmas. How to save money for Christmas by living like a Ugandan.

#9 Grow your own food. OK, so this will be a little difficult to do in the winter but it would also drastically reduce your weekly grocery bill. Grow your own beans, corn, tomatoes, cassava, millet and pumpkins. And while you’re at it, raise 5 goats. The meat is excellent and they don’t require much care. Just tie their hind leg up to a tree and let them graze all day.


At 01 November, 2007, Blogger Lucas Miles said...


Hey man - Lucas Miles from Campus House. Came across your blog and thought I would say hello. Hope all is well. (I tried to send this the other day, but was having computer issues...just ignore if its a repeat message.)

At 02 November, 2007, Blogger Brian R Dunn said...

Hey Lucas! Man, long time! I have no way of contacting you. Send me an email. brianrdunn@gmail.com


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