I guess I should talk about my brief experience with the schools. I only got to spend a day at each but I got a lot out of it I think.
My first assignment from Peace Corps was to interview the teachers. I think the intention was to get everyone to know one another better and for me to learn what the teachers' views were and what their lives were like. It may have come off as a very official (dry) way to become more personal but I think just having them all have to come talk to me was a good thing. Otherwise they probably would have just ignored me until my 2 years were up. It’s not that I think they don't appreciate someone coming to help, I think they just don't know what to say or maybe are a little embarrassed.
So I had my outline of the interview prepared and was ready for my first school. I was primed and ready to go in there, ready to interview like no one has ever interviewed before.
My first school is a short distance to my house about a 5 minute walk. It is two long building divided into several classrooms. Theoretically it is supposed to have the administration room and grades R-2 (R=K) in one building and then 3-6 on the in the other. There are however, two overflow classes that had to be made to accommodate the extra kids in the community. An extra grade 1 and 3 I believe. One of these classes is a standalone unit, probably the nicest class in the whole school (brand new at least) and the other is a shack with corrugated steel for its walls and ceiling. The rest of the facilities are very bare bones and extremely worn in.
There are about 300 learners (students) and 12 educators (teachers) including the principal. This was my second visit to the school so everyone had at least seen me before. I don’t automatically receive smiles but inquisitive looks from the kids. If I smile at them they always crack, even the toughest looking ones which is certainly reassuring. I have to initiate conversation with the teachers but that is ok I am willing to get the process going. My plans for the day were kind of thrown onto the principal, my supervisor and main liaison in the community, but my agenda was simple enough that it would work. My idea was to talk to as many of the teachers as possible in their free time that I could. The key part there is “in their free time”. During training, the principal I worked with would often pull teachers out of class for the most trivial detail which easily could have waited. Can’t help the education system if teachers are not teaching, this may not sound like a problem but just you wait until I get to the second school.
Anyhow I just went through my outline, trying to make it sound as unthreatening and unofficial as possible but it could not be helped I guess. I think people everywhere just don’t like being asked questions and then seeing their responses written down. The language barrier was yet again a significant problem. Patience was the only way to get things done. Say it once, wait, rephrase, say it again, wait, rephrase, and interpret. At one point I felt like I was answering questions for them but then I realized that that would be missing the point, I am not filling out a worksheet. This is supposed to be for my benefit, no sense in putting words in anyone’s mouth.
One of Peace Corps recommendations is to take all the teachers’ picture and then make a poster of the school staff. A good idea I thought, it would at least give me something to do, and match the name to the face. The picture was definitely the best part of the “interview”, they aren’t the best at taking pictures but they liked it. I had to get them to look at the camera and then say something to make them smile. I think it left them happy. People’s memories are short; perhaps they thought the interviews were fantastic based on the picture alone.
Since my village is divided into two major sections, my second school is about 4 km away. I am using the metric system while I am here; it is a better system anyway. The walk is nice, I just have to wake up a little earlier on the days I go to that school. The second school is brand new. It has a whole building devoted to the staff, a classroom for each grade as well as spare classes. It even has a library, computer lab with about 30 computers and multiple storerooms. It also has about 100 less students than my other primary school (8 teachers). Quite the disparity and it is within the same town 4 km apart.
While my day at the first school was more freeform, my day at the second school was a little more rigid. The principal there, while supportive and a hard worker, is a little controlling and overbearing. I think his constant prodding got him a new school but I also think it makes all the teachers resent him, since he is down their throats all the time. It will certainly be different in the second school.
The interviews went pretty well in the second school as well and they enjoyed the pictures. The only problem was that the principle was pulling the teachers out of their classes to do the interviews, which I disapproved of but thought it better to just get it over with than have a battle. Overall a necessary trade-off, the interviews flowed a little faster the second day. I anticipated the problems I was going to face after experiencing the first school’s batch of interviews.
For instance one of my questions was: What is a professional goal of yours for the future? This got some responses from most teachers. Usually the replay was to obtain another certification or degree, occasionally there were promotion prospects. My next question was almost universally a stumper: What is a personal goal? The lines between what you do for work and what you do for yourself was not clearly drawn. Moreover I think the idea of self-improvement was lacking for the most part. Then again, I always have to remember they are getting an interview in their 2nd or 3rd language and something like that is a bit difficult to understand, maybe it just needs to be put in different terms.
Most people wake up ~5 to get chores done and head out the door to school. Most of the teachers in each school do not live in my village but in neighboring villages. This then requires transport on the khumbis (taxis), which have a very liberal sense of punctuality and there is never a guarantee. Both schools start at 10 till 8:00, so most teachers try to be here at 7:30 and for the most part I believe they make it. Primary schools are split into foundation and intermediate levels. The foundation classes are the typical elementary style format where it is one teacher all day; the intermediate is a period bases system. It is then their task to teach and prepare and do all the things a normal teacher would do. Closing time is anywhere from 3-5, I would bet it is more often 3 than 5 but I shall see. The teachers make the journey back then it is chores and relaxing. It was unbelievable difficult to get even that small amount of information. Very little elaboration and any mention of anything that was not cooking, cleaning, or watching t.v. was absent.
After living here for a week though I can see that there is very little to do. If there is no work to be done then people just sort of sit around with each other. That is all well and good but come on. I shall bring hobbies to my village, they shall rejoice.
Now back to my day at the second school. I had mentioned that the principals sometimes take teachers out of their classes for meetings. Well I was lucky enough to witness one such meeting. It was for the SGB (School Governing Body), which is the rough equivalent of the PTA. Well that meeting was called during school hours which brought in about half of the teachers. The meeting then carried on for the last 3 hours of the day. I will spare you the actually content of the meeting because very little got to me. The principal would occasionally translate but I missed most of the content, very little got done it seems. It was in my opinion and immense waste of time.
There is a problem with holding the meetings after school I have been informed. Things just don’t carry on after dark. There is a narrow gap between when school ends and when it starts to get dark, moreover it would only delay the time until teachers to go home. Since they mostly rely on the khumbis which also don’t run after dark they would be stuck. A bit of a stumper, first order of business though would certainly be to shorten the meetings.
That was all about a week ago now. When school starts again I will complete my interviews and start classroom observations to get a view of what the teaching is like at the schools.