Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I have now been teaching for a whole month and I can now say that I am somewhat used to the school system here. I realized after I wrote my last blog entry that it might not make since if you don’t have a clue about the education system here which took me most of my training to understand. Therefore I will try and explain things as I go about their education system.

I found out that the average age of my “juniors” is 21 which helped me better understand the problem that I mentioned earlier with them. I haven’t had any more problems with my students in that manner again and I am very happy for that. I think I made the mistake of telling some of my villagers my age before and some of my students found out from them. I now just tell my students if they ask, or anyone asks, that I am old enough to teach and they respect me for that. I have also showed some of my fellow teachers and villagers pictures of my family and postcards from home and they all can’t imagine why in the world I would leave such a “paradise” to come and live here for 2 years! They would all give anything to be able to even visit such a beautiful place as KC! I always explain to them that we have problems too they just deal with things other than obtaining food and water.

This past week someone had the bright idea to put all of the smart juniors in one class (they are currently divided into 2 “streams” or classes) and put all the other students that have problems with math, English etc in the other class. I might be a good idea in America but not here. The reason they did this is so that the math and science teachers could ignore the “stupid” class since they aren’t going to go on to university anyhow and just focus on teaching the “smart” class. My fellow teachers only teach 16 periods (of 40 mins) a week to begin with and some of them have only taught a few periods this whole month! I also might add that students miss many periods since they are made to work on the farm or mill, are being punished, or are made to do other chores. The result was one stupid class with 16 students and a smart class with the other 80 students all piled on one another. By law we are supposed to divide the juniors into 3 “streams” or classes but that would be too much work to teach that many periods so they put the students in two classes. Two of my brightest students came to me and explain everything that was going on. I quickly went to my vice principal to figure out what was going on and protest what was taking place and my “white” or mzunugu status actually made a difference! I went to teach my next period and then only after 5 minutes of teaching my principal interrupted me to inform me that it was a stupid idea to do this to the students and they would put them back they way they were before! I was so surprised that they acted to quickly!

After the above event took place and further pondering about my work here I came to the realization that if I can finish the required national syllabus and do nothing more than not skip periods like so many of my others do than I would have made a difference in the lives of my 200 students. I have been teaching all of my required periods and even offering to tutor them for FREE (which is unheard of here) or help them when they have questions after school and I think it has made them realize that I am serious about my job and about them passing the national exams that they have to pass in order to continue their studies. I can not say that I blame my fellow teachers for skipping their periods and not wanting to teach since they sometimes go months without pay but in taking these actions they are putting the student’s education at risk. Call it career gratification or whatever but it feels good to go to work everyday knowing that at least 200 students will understand science more than they would before. Before the PC sent teachers to this school they had NO physics, biology or chemistry teachers and as a result they didn’t send any students on to further studies. Six years later, they have hired only one physics teacher and a teacher that can teach chemistry or biology. This past year 10 students will go on to further studies. I still haven’t figured out what possible futures are possible for my students in this country but I know that they at least deserve an opportunity to make a difference in the world around them and they can’t do this without a decent education. I am happy to be part of their learning adventure!