Thursday, 11 November 2010

Grim Realities!

1st November 2010
My first day at Pakata High School. I was greeted on arrival by the whole school, lined up and singing a welcome.After a few words from the head teacher, who kindly told the pupils I was freely available to meet them and be questioned during my break - also that I wolud be assisting them with their maths (Don't think so!), I was invited to address the congregation. My words clearly went down well as I was treated to a round of applause and much cheering.I was introduced to my office, which I share with a deputy head, and during the morning observed two lessons of Geography - both of which would send an Ofsted inspector into paroxysms . It was like turning the clock back to Victorian times in terms of discipline and rote learning. During one lesson a couple of goats wandered in, must have sensed the uninspiring and somewhat fearful atmosphere and promptly left to scavenge a meal outside.
Most classes I have observed have between 80 and 100 pupils, sitting three to a bench and clearly at risk from splinters. In a science class of 100 there were only chairs for 80 - the rest knelt on the floor or shared chairs while they copied from the board. The girls remain in their form room all day apart from a half hour breakfast break around 10am and a short break of 10 minutes around 12.30. By hometime (no lunch hour) at 2pm, they will have had 8 x 40 minute lessons identical in terms of teaching methodology. Any misdemeanour merits being sent outside and\or being breaten or slapped on the head with a stick or knotted rope. Toilets consist of an outside classroom wall at the far end of the site. The lack of proper facilities is a major factor in the erratic attendancee of girls generally in Nigeria.
Up to now I have seen no resources other than the blackboard. Class SS2 were studying Lord of the Flies but the only copy is possessed by the teacher who won't read it to the class because the chapters are too long and he is under pressure to complete a syllabus. So plot and characterisation is done through copied notes culled from the West African version of Brodie's. Other set works, including The Merchant of Venice and poems by Wordsworth are similarly treated. This is a situation virtually imposed on a young teacher who is doing his best against a host of difficulties. He clearly loves literature and feels the frustration of not being able to impart this enthusiasm the way he knows it could be. 
The teachers are all very friendly and welcoming but it seems they can only teach the way they were taught themselves - they know no other way, and the big stick is their only stand-by for when the pupils show lack of application. It was well over 30 degrees in one class this afternoon. I was feeling drowsy and so were many girls, some of whom had barely eaten since the previous evening. Only the sight of a monster insect flying about and frequently in my direction, kept me awake - until that is, my white knuckle car ride back into the city centre at the end of the day.
I then had to meet the very pleasant, well-groomed and suited Commissioner in his nice plush office with air conditioning and a carpet, while I felt like a bit of chewed string.
One of my national volunteers made my day when I showed him how to do a mind map, how to set a lesson objective, and how to manage a minor discipliary matter better without recourse to a piece of wood or rope. He has been struggling with no training whatsoever and his face lit up when he actually believed I was here to help him and could show him a better way of doing things. Matthew is enthusiastic and determined to be the best teacher he can be even with all the frustrations that afflict his chosen profession. If any of you have spare copies of Lord of the Flies, The Tempest , Animal Farm or The Importance of Being Earnest, please send to GSS Pakata Girls School, c\o Mrs Comfort Adeoti, Ag.D/SC, Room 22 Block C, Teaching Service Commission, Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria. Matthew and the girls will be thrilled.
5th November
I have observed in a great number of lessons this week, across most of the subjects being studied in the school. There is a great and obvious need to reform teaching methodologies and classroom management, but when you sit down with teachers here and discuss with them the reality of teaching huge classes in cramped conditions with virtually no aids or resources, you have to admire them for their sheer persistence. I don’t think a lot of time or thought is spent on lesson planning, and there is certainly no differentiation of task – rarely a task, in fact! I really hope that in the months to come I can persuade the national volunteers and at least some of the staff to break out of their mould and attempt to use some of the strategies which have been in long use in the developed world – even without resources. That is my goal and my challenge –  I hope I am up to it!
I discovered that each pupil has funding to the tune of 40 Naira (16 pence) per term, and some of that has to be paid back to the Ministry of Education!
I wonder if I will ever get used to the traffic. The amazing thing is that I have seen no accidents. Cars swerve past each other with the slimmest of gaps, and pedestrians – even primary aged children crossing the roads on their own or in small groups- are risking their lives with every passing vehicle. They, the goats, sheep and chickens must all be living charmed lives, If I had been a driver, I’m sure I would be dead by now.
On the domestic front, we received a new desk and chair today, so we have somewhere where we can work. NEPA is still erratic but it seems to be improving – famous last words – its just gone off again!
Tuesday 9th November
Observed a class today where boys were sitting on makeshift seats put togwther from pieces of wood and broken furniture heaped up at the back of the room. Two others were sharing the frame of a stool – there was no seat. I asked why the caretaker had not at least  contributed the odd nail to hold it all together and was told it was not his job – so nothing is done.
By way of greeting, the children called out numbers 1 to 20, spelling each one in turn.  Once the  lesson got under way, the teacher seemed more concerned that the boys could spell ‘numerator’’ and ‘ denominator’ rather than understand the concept of a fraction. Even with my limited mathematical prowess, I knew that what the children were being taught was actually incorrect but I did not feel that it was my place to interfere – not yet! There are times when you just don’t know where to begin to address the problems there are in secondary schools I have seen. I am hoping there is good practice somewhere. The kids are delightful and eager to please / avoid being beaten, but no sticks today, thank God.

Wednesday 10th November
General strike – no schools open – and no electricity. No ceiling fan but at least we are on LPG so we can prepare meals.
The motto of one of my schools – GSS Omu-Aran – is ‘No sweat, no sweet’. There are certainly no sweets in evidence – and definately no chocolate – but plenty of sweat! This school is on a rise on the edge of town with nice views across the forest and a breeze blowing from time to time which reduces the temperature a bit, but even so I can feel myself turning into a crisp whenever I go outside.
Yesterday’s journey home took 3 and a half hours – a distance of abot 120 km. I was in the bus for nearly an hour before it finally over-filled and left. About 1km down the road it stopped, the driver got out leaving the engine running and went into what I assume must have been his or a friend’s house and came out ntwenty minutes later, having left us to cook and choke in the vehicle. A few vkm further on and it stopped again for a very thin, ancient, religious looking man whom I had unsuccessfully tried to engage in conversation, got out to ‘ease himself’ in full view of the other passengers and all passers-by! – When caught short, that’s what you do! As loo roll is scarce, you quickly come to remember not to shake the left hand of people you meet!
We were stopped at two police check-points and I thought we would be in trouble – state of the bus, no seat belts, overcrowded, belching exhaust – you name it; but they just wanted their ‘dash’ – a token for not disrupting your journey any longer. I don’t think they would have been any more bothered if there had been a row of people sitting on the roof – I haven’t seen that yet, but give it time!
On entering Ilorin the bus finally gave up and we chugged to a halt. We were eventually squeezed into an even ropier looking vehicle and, as the last one in, I went to close the sliding door and realised there wasn’t one – just red dust and deisel smoke between me and the stream of traffic jostling for space on the road outside .
If I have to make such journeys on a regular basis – and it seems I do, at least three times a week - I am going to be a quivering wreck by Christmas. You certainly see and meet interesting people but its not that easy to appreciate this when you are concerned about geting to your destination in one piece!
Went for a swim in the pool at the Kwara Hotel this avvo, where the manager, a South African called Lance, lets VSOs in for free – and lets his staff know why. Good bloke!   

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