A Day in the Education System (Part 1)

nsjss admin

     (Administration building Nare Sereto Junior High School)

We thought we would share some of our experiences that we are having at our respective jobs. Teresa’s was first, now mine. I amat a Junior Secondary School which is basically grades 8th, 9th and 10th. They call them Form 1, 2 & 3 andthere are 4 classes in each form of about 40 students each so 12 classes, and I think there were actually 460 students. There are about 40 teachers and maybe 15 support staff, cooks, cleaners, supply,

My introduction to school was in September when we came for a two week site visit. I have an official supervisor and counterpart. I met my counterpart during the training previous to the visit and got to know her a bit, very nice, very understanding of my lack of hearing and was pretty good at looking right at me when talking and occasionally filling me in during lectures when I missed information. During the visit I attended a staff meeting and introduced myself to the staff, there were about 20 teachers attending. The meeting was in English and I was told later that it was only done because I was there.

Since then all of the meetings have been in Setswana with occasionally a few things said in English. My counterpart is the senior teacher of the Guidance and counseling department, she is also the only person in the guidance and counseling department although one other teacher teaches a couple of the guidance and counseling classes. I spent most of my first two weeks reading the text books used and sitting in the staff room trying to get to know the staff who spoke Setswana to each other although when they spoke to me they used English, by the way they pretty much all would be classified as native speakers. The worst thing is they often use UK English and not American. I have learned several new words so my English is improving, can’t say the same for my Setswana. My only other major experience during that first two weeks was being introduced to about 25 students who are struggling in school. I was introduced as Mr. Gary and these are the “students who are failing”. “You are all failures and Mr. Gary is going to fix you.” “Would you please stand up and tell him why you are failing.” Nobody stoodup, surprise. Then I left and went back to training for another 5 weeks.

First day back on October 19th. I spent the first day making a list of all the students who received an E or U last term. They get A, B, C D, E and U. U is failing but most Es and Us will not make it to Senior Secondary school, Grades 11 & 12 or Form 4 & 5. You have to pass a national test to be able to go on to school. Big problem in the country since only about 50 to 80% pass, different schools have different levels of success. Mine seems to pass about 60%. That is a lot of kids who are out of school at the age of 16-17. There are some vocational schools and other training but most don’t go, by that time they pretty much don’t want to have anything to do with school.

I decided that I needed to get to know the system and the students so I began to sit in on the classes. They have different teachers for different subjects like we do but for the most part the students stay in one room and the teacher moves around. There are 7 core subjects. Math, Science, Social Studies, English, Moral Education, Setswana and Agriculture. Their education week is 6 days long, not scheduled Mon thru Fri but day 1, 2 and so on, evidently this is so that Monday holidays do not always happen on the same day, could be day 1 or 5 or so on. Noe really sure I understand the rational and I get terribly confused as to which day it is. Each of the classes get a different amount of time, Math and Science get 6 40 min. periods over the 6 days. The others get 5 or 4 40minute periods. They also get 1 40 minute period for a Guidance and counseling class as well as 1 period for a computer awareness class although I don’t think there is a teacher for that class. Then they get to pick two options and they have each of  those for 4-5 40 minute periods. The options are business procedures, office management, art, music, design and technology (shop), home ec, PE and religious education. A little different than ours but not a  lot except the part for the Moral education and religious education and guidance and counseling. Most of the material would be included in our psychology classes but lots more teaching of values however I was pleased to see that the values were taught as option, no one belief is put before another, here are the options and so on. Sex education; abstinence is best at this age but if you are going to participate then use condoms and etc. Much more frank about the whole sex thing than we usually do. It is possible it is more out there in the US today than I am aware since it has been a while since I took any classes and I am only marginally aware of what is being taught today. But the entire country is much more frank because of the HIV issue. Lots of billboards and advertisement for condoms and circumcision as well as not having concurrent sexual practices. Clothes, TV everywhere is the message about anything that will help reduce the spread of HIV. The country is about 90% Christian and the majority of that seems to be evangelical type, however in the RE classes they teach about different religions including ATR (African Traditional Religion) which is not widely practiced anymore except that a lot of traditions and cultural practices are based on what was taught as a religion years ago and of course there are still some of the older and more traditional people who still practice.

A little bit about the buildings themselves and then I will do another post telling you about what I learned during my observations. The classrooms look like our inner city poor schools. All of the desks are falling apart and there are not enough chairs in several of the rooms and the students share, 3 kids to 2 chairs. However, I have to say that they sit that way even if there are enough chairs. The Batswana are a very touchy close people. Even in the heat the students sit close together. The teachers always shake hands when seeing each other first thing in the morning and seem to hold the other hand for much longer than we do. They also do not have enough books to go around and so often 3-4 students will share, part of that is that the students forget to bring their books or they have lost them but in general they are short of books anyway. Most of the class rooms do not have electricity, it was there but has been torn out and a lot of the switches and outlets are gone and there are just wires visible, I am not sure if any of those rooms are live or not ( I should ask about that) and almost all of them have some windows broken, the walls look like they have not been painted since they were new and bulletin boards are torn with entire sections missing. They have green chalk boards but the teachers have to bring their own chalk with them, although I have noticed that students frequently have a small piece available when I needed it. Usually there is not an eraser but often a piece of toilet paper is used. A side note, one always takes their own toilet paper with them as it is rarely available in any public restroom anywhere. Not really sure why except people would take it home with them I guess although it isn’t terribly expensive.

Anyway, there is very little maintenance and of course there is no heat or air conditioning or fans in the classrooms. There is some air conditioning in the administration building and in the library. There is a computer room but the computers are pretty old, bulky desk tops with disks as opposed to flash drives . They are connected (hard wired) to the internet although it is very slow. Of course schools are different but so far all of the ones I have seen are pretty similar and I think this is pretty much the norm. It seems pretty discouraging to me but this is what they have and have not had anything else so I think they are pretty much accepting of the conditions. More in the next installment.

(View from Administration)njss long view 2

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