Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Day in the Life

Learn to Fail or Fail to Learn

The time has come for the form 3s to take their final exams along with the form 1s and 2s who will be taking their end of month exams. The students seem to always be taking exams without much classroom teaching. As I walk by teachers correcting exams, I look at the papers and sometimes see… 6%! The only tests that really count are the final exams that are taken at the end of form 3. The final test covers everything on the syllabus since form 1 and will determine whether the student will make it to progress on to Senior Secondary school. Sometimes the syllabus is not completely covered, so much of the time, kids are taking tests on topics they’ve never been taught.

I went to school last Monday thinking the kids would be taking exams. I would not be teaching, but once I got into school, plans had changed because no one ordered paper to print the tests on. Suddenly, my day went from having no classes to having four. As I sauntered along to my first class, which would take place in the pavilion, I was taken by surprise by a group of children standing outside the classroom. They were form 3s waiting to take their exams. On the other side of the pavilion, there were more students coming and going in and out. There was no divider up today to separate the pavilion into two classrooms-it was just one big open space. I entered my classroom to attempt to teach, but soon realized it was an impossible situation….now mind you…I try not to use the term impossible loosely..but this..I have to say... WAS an impossible situation! I exited the pavilion and saw a teacher who directed me to go to classroom # 4, where he said, my class would move to. As I walked to the classroom, I noticed what looked like, an African version of Woodstock. Kids were everywhere…carrying chairs and desks over their heads, socializing and creating lots of noise. There were no teachers around that I could see.

I entered classroom# 4 and there was my class sitting around the perimeter of the classroom without any desks. ‘Ok,’ I said to myself, ‘this is where being flexible and creative comes in.’ So I asked one of the students to read out of the Life Skills book. As she read, there were mobs of students walking all around outside of the classroom. Many students were still coming into the classroom late. Other students were knocking on the windows. Being the stubborn PCV, I had the girl continue to read, but all of a sudden, a group of students started knocking on the door wanted to come in. My students said, “they want to use this classroom.” I said, “no.”With this response…everyone stood up and exited classroom! This is when I said to myself….’I’m going home.’ And home I went to take a nap.

Tuesday the students were scheduled to resume writing exams, but were told once again that they would have regular classes and take tests on Wednesday. I had planned to go to an appointment that day which I had previously made at the District AIDS Commission (DAC) to apply for funding for the school, but now I was supposed to teach because of the last minute changes. I decided to stick with my original plan and went to the appointment. Maybe this is part of the reason why teachers are missing classes so frequently.

I won’t get into too much detail about the confusion that went on for the rest of the week with the day changes and so forth. The way the schedule works is by scheduling the same classes on day 1,2, 3,4,5,6. So if Monday is day 6 and Tuesday is a holiday, Wed will be day 1. If tests are given, the day will also be skipped. So when I came in on Monday, I thought it was day 3 but it was really day 5, so I missed another 2 classes!

All of this confusion got me thinking about the student’s perspective on all of this. If I was confused and frustrated…how must they feel? So on Monday when I finally made the last 20 minutes of a class, I decided to ask the students that very question. I explained to them my whole experience over the last week and asked them if it was confusing for them as well. I asked them to write an anonymous comment on a small piece of paper, what makes it difficult to learn. What can the Ministry of Education do to make it easier to learn? I continued this activity with my classes for the rest of the week and these were some of the responses:

*It is difficult 4 me 2 learn because some of the teachers here are mean and this becomes difficult for us to be comfortable in class. We are always asking ourselves, “What will she to this time around?” We live in fear and discomfort.

*I am really concerned about the time that we are given to write tests. We write test two days which means that we are not given enough time for a single paper and as a result we do not have time to finish up the test and fail the tests.

*How can we learn when there are no chairs, tables and even teachers for some subjects in school? Sometimes we spend the whole two periods of our lessons with the teachers absent. Where is the teacher? We really don’t have a clue coz we are not being told but at the end of the year expected to pass with flying colors. Even the teachers at times are the ones who make us if the teacher who teaches you a certain subject hates you there’s no way you can pass. TEACHERS HATE US PEOPLE!!

*I’m afraid to ask teachers questions when I don’t understand

*The food that we eat at the kitchen is not good sometimes when we eat we find cockroaches, small warms in this food and this lead to some certain disease and we cannot also concentrate on our education. Why can we do can we stop eating school food

*There is no need for Saturday study, we just come and sit here and go home empty brains and sometimes get beaten. What worries a lot is that some students didn’t ever manage to come to the study and no punishment is given to them, but those who come are beaten by the teacher just because they talked during the study but that doesn’t make any sense because you can’t study with out getting help from other student, for example, mathematics you can’t study math without getting help from friend (you don’t understand a maths problem during the study you ask someone behind you, you get beaten) HELP! Masa we are abused we are looking up for you now. What can we do?

On Nov. 5, I had no classes to teach, but planned to go into a classroom during extended registration to do a Life Skills activity. The school is still in mayhem from writing exams. What is supposed to happen is ---I go into a class during extended registration to co-facilitate a Life Skills activity with the class teacher---but what actually happens is-- the teacher is no where to be found, so I administer the activity by myself-- so much for capacity building!

As I begin my lesson, the students are hard to manage. They continue to talk while I’m explaining the lesson. Kids are outside the classroom coming and going. The reason this happens is because the kids are left unsupervised much of the time. A good portion of the class teachers are not in their classrooms, the kids are left ….helter skelter. The teachers and administration wonder why the kids are misbehaving and try everything except supervise them. I continue to attempt to teach this Life Skills lesson, but suddenly, a group of boys enter the door of the classroom located next to a closet. I see a teacher out of the corner of my eye. Something is going on in the closet which is distracting my class. I look over and see a metal object flailing around attempting to hit a student. My assumption is that the students are fighting, so I walk over to take the metal object away from the student…..but when I look in……it’s a teacher who is hitting the students with the object! The only thing I could do was exclaim….”oh, it’s a teacher!” With this, I walked over to my belongings, gathered them, and decided once again…. to go home. And home I went, but this time I did not take a nap.

I shouldn’t complain about my school, though, The Junior Secondary school down the road is preparing for a riot on the form 3’s last day. The PCV who works there is being blamed because she has been trying to limit the corporal punishment. Another school I know of is planning to release their form 1s and 2s early because the forms 3are planning to beat them up on their last day. So I guess it’s all relative.

For me to get through this, I always have to keep in mind that I’m here for the kids. During one of my classes, one of my students asked, “Masa, when are you going back to the US?” “Why,” I asked. “Because we are going to miss you,” she replied in a shy soft-spoken manner. ----This is why I stay.

Never good enough...

Another project that I’ve been working on since 2008, is a mural art project that was funded by Population Services International (PSI). After about 1 year of corresponding and meeting with a man from the organization, we were finally awarded P4000 in art supplies for our school. The art supplies have now been sitting for several months waiting to be used. One art teacher was particularly enthusiastic about the project and has been working with me. She hyped up the students, telling them that Botswana television would be here to cover the story…and what a big event it would be.

After many letters written and signed by administration to request media coverage, applications for grants applied for to cover snacks for the artists, meetings held with community members, announcements made during staff meetings, articles written, requests for suggestions for the theme of the project, letters signed by the school head----Our kickoff date was finally scheduled for Saturday November 7….

…..but when I arrived at the school there was no one around except one student. I waited about 30 minutes then finally sent an sms to the art teachers to let them know I was there.

No response.

One more student arrived.

About 10 minutes later, I rang one teacher, but got no answer. Then, a woman from the Daily News arrived to cover the story, so I sms’d the teachers again to let them know and asked them to grant the person an interview about what our project was about. The teachers arrived---one (the teacher who was originally enthusiastic about the project) talking on her cell phone and the other, wearing a long face expressing that he wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t going to come. About 10 minutes later, the woman who is supposed to be acting as my counterpart approached me to remind me that whatever I do, I need to go through her first and that I didn’t tell her about the media, therefore we cannot grant the interview because the School Head was not informed (Even though I had given him the letter I wrote to request them to come and had the Deputy Head sign it). At this point, I pretty much lost it because the woman never talks to me and refuses to give me her phone number. I can never find her, and when I can, it’s apparent she wants nothing to do with me.

The art teachers, the two students, the reporter and I met in the art lab to discuss what we were to do-and to conclude that we were not to do anything that day. I did not have the letter on me that was signed by the School Head, therefore, we could not grant the interview. The other excuse was that there was another event at the school taking place later that day. During this meeting, there were grand plans regarding what will happen on Monday. Everyone is always enthusiastic while talking about what will happen at later date…as long as we don’t have to deal with it now! The male art teacher went on to describe how he will work on sketches for the rest of the weekend, put them on a large board and bring it in on Monday to get everyone’s approval [Translation: criticism, verbal abuse and disapproval of the project].

Monday has come and gone….nothing

Tuesday has come and gone…nothing

The originally enthusiastic Art teacher has not been talking to me and the other one looks at me as if someone has died.

Can’t say that I blame them when they know they are destined to fail.

This is just one more project I need to let go of…and let go of I have…

If you think your life is plagued with inconveniences…

I remember the days when I’d roll out of bed, meander over to my computer and connect to my high speed Internet. I’d check email while sipping a freshly brewed cup of coffee and have the news on in the background with a copy machine, printer and fax at my finger tips.

Things are very different in Africa. To make use of the Internet today, I first walked for about a ¼ mile from my school to the street carrying a heavy backpack to catch a taxi. The taxi driver dropped me off at the Internet cafĂ© where I had left my memory stick last Saturday because I had to make a copy of one document. Luckily, my memory stick was there, but to save money, I now got back into another taxi to use the Internet at one of the schools. The taxi driver dropped me way up on route 6, where I would begin my journey walking along the dusty-dirt path in the blazing-hot sun to the school. About 20 minutes later, I arrived at the school and walked through groups of children who often sexually harass me as I walk by. Today was my lucky day, though, and I didn’t encounter any offensive behavior by the student body.

I finally arrived at the computer lab, walked in and was informed (after the traditional formal greetings) that there is no Internet; “there’s something wrong with the modem,” they replied in their easy, laid-back tone. “It may be a few days” [Translation: It could be anywhere from a few days, a few weeks or a few years].

I accept my situation, meander slowly over to Kate’s house, let myself in and do the only thing I can think of to comfort myself…..invade her refrigerator and indulge in a trash People magazine to read what a horribly difficult life Heather Locklear has had.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Jennifer for everything you have been doing to this nation. You will never be forgotten my dear. Wish you all the best. Inshallah. Julius Moruga[Kenya]

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jennifer for everything you have been doing to this nation. You will never be forgotten my dear. Wish you all the best. Inshallah. Julius Moruga[Kenya]