Thursday, 17 March 2011

Out in the Sticks

My job has once more morphed into something unexpected: As I cannot work at the College because the lecturers are on strike – and look set to continue their industrial action at least until June – I have been found alternative duties, one of which is to assist with the training and mentoring of the team responsible for the training of the support team who go out into the field to train the teachers! Sounds a bit over managed but it is necessary and it works, by and large.
So today I have been out in the field – literally – miles off the beaten track on tracks that have definitely never been beaten, to visit remote primary schools to see what goes on. Most of what goes on we sort of knew we would find, but to actually witness it as an experienced teacher from the west, really shakes you up and leaves you gobsmacked.
Olokota-Setu school is reached –eventually- by dirt track that winds through cassava and yam fields, through groves of mango and cashew and through small and unkempt villages. It is a one-room school – a large  mud-walled building with a new corrugated iron roof. The only window is a large hole in the wall where the daub has been eroded from the wattle. Yet inside it is cool and your eyes soon adjust to the dimness. There is a mud-walled partition separating Primary 1 from everybody else – possibly because they along with their teacher, do a lot of loud chanting and singing. All other children are arranged in small groups by year group, each with their own teacher and each doing something different – well not quite: Primary 2 and 3 were both practising ‘Letters and Sounds’ but different ones, and a lot of repetitious choral chanting was being created which basically meant that neither group could properly hear the sound being practised. Primary 4 was doing Arabic while Primary 5 and 6 were both being taught Numeracy. Sitting, listening, copying and waiting for their turn to be taught occupied the pupils’ time. Those I spoke to were quite shy and clearly unused to being asked questions or else were being dazzled by the colour of my skin; at least they didn't cry! When their teacher started to get rather angry with them for not answering me I decided to back off.  The staff were all very welcoming and friendly and I suppose most of them were doing the best they could given the circumstances but there is such a long way to go before teachers and children in rural schools get a fair deal.  
We then visited a school in Pakata - basically an urban slum. Shaban LGEA School is a primary school of over 1,000 pupils. There are not enough classrooms so two classes are put together with two teachers. In comparison with what we had just seen in rural Asa, this was progressive. The pupils were responsive and had clearly been taught with thought. There were still many lost opportunities to involve the children actively but overall the rapport was good and the staff willing to develop their skills.
There was one heart pumpin moment when a teacher who was teaching antonyms ordered a boy and girl to the front as 'visual aids' I was waiting for something revelatory to develop and then he said to the class, 'She is beautiful',  which they dutifully repeated a few times. I knew what was coming as he turned his attention to the boy. 'You can't say that. You can't say what you are about to say!' I had to intervene. He looked a bit nonplussed as I shook my head. He'd got the message and we settled for 'the gorilla is ugly' - apologies to any primates that may be following my blogs!
After an impromptu photo session and a singalong with primary 1 we returned to base with a lot to think about concerning future teacher training needs.

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