This is part two of my story about the education system, however be warned my knowledge changes daily so I may contradict myself as I learn more over the next year and a half (can’t even say two years anymore). I am going to give you a bit more background for all of this to make better sense. Teresa is writing about the funeral we went to which is an important segue into the point I want to make about everyone having a home village. This is a very solid and important part of the culture here. People are always referring to “my home village”. Everyone has a home village and in the past, generations lived there on a single compound that usually had 2-4 houses depending on size and longevity of the family. Most of the housing in the villages is still like this. In the city which is pretty much Gabarone the houses are beginning to look like Phoenix, red tile roofs, stucco walls and block walls around the subdivision although in this case there are block walls around each house. I think this is partly security and partly tradition because many of the compounds have block walls with the poorer families having simple fences but almost all compounds are fenced. Part of the reason for this in the villages is to keep the cows, goats and donkeys out.
Since independence (1966) and an influx of money from the discovery of diamonds in 67, the government has put clinics in most villages and schools either close to or in every village, They have also paved roads and put in a great deal of infrastructure (except our village which only has one paved road) . Long way to go but they have done more in the last 50 years than most countries have done it 2-3 times as much time. They have moved from a 3rd world to a 2nd world status in less than 50 years. In the past, some people would go to work in the mines in South Africa or other places and mom and kids would stay home in the village. Mines have become more industrialized so that is happening less. Probably the biggest employer is the government. They manage the clinics, schools and have other government offices all over the country. The government assigns a teaching position according to where it is needed, if you want a job you move, sometimes to another part of the country that speaks a different language but you have now left your home village and thus begins the fracturing of the family culture that has been so solid for so many years. There is some resentment, of course, to having to leave your family or uproot them and move them to a new village.
In the last few years the government decided that the teachers should be treated like other government employees and work 7:30-4:30 with vacation time. Now teachers do not get time off during school breaks, a little over 3 months all together just like home. A month in July and a little more in December then 2 weeks in April and a week at the end of September. They are supposed to sign in and be at the school if they are not taking official leave. They do get a fair amount, I think about 40 days. The teachers resent this and have reacted by not wanting to work extra for after school activities or on weekends. They also (some of them) take it as a sign that it is ok if they miss classes.
There is no substitution system here so if a teacher is sick or gone to training or anything then the class often does not get a teacher. Sometimes, and the plan is that somebody would fill in, but it doesn’t seem to happen very often. The students are used to it and do self study. They also have an hour of self study in the morning from 6:50-7:50 when the first period starts. Eight periods later school is over at 1:40 and they get an hour lunch and then have self study for 2 hours until 4:40. Then there are the extra-curricular activities such as clubs and sports. That is the general day. However the first 3 months I was here the kids were sent home after lunch or sometimes before because of the lack of water.
In the past Gabane has had adequate water with it going off for a while on a weekly basis but more on than off. Since last August it has been more off than on and for the most part it was on a few hours maybe a day every 8-11 days. Since Christmas it has gone back to old schedule and it goes off for a day or so every 3-5 days so not too bad if you have any storage system at all. They renovated the school and put in all flush toilets taking out the old pit latrines which would seem like a good idea but the school doesn’t have enough water to manage 450 kids using flush toilets so they go home in the afternoons. (Villages that traditionally don’t have water have pit latrines so it is not as much of a problem.)
Hopefully that will stop now because I basically get to do my activities and clubs dealing with HIV in the afternoons, difficult to do with no students. Currently the students are still going home a couple of times a week because of a lack of funds to buy lunch and they can’t stay if they are not fed. New fiscal year starts in April so hopefully that will change as well. My school, if I haven’t said before, is a junior secondary school Forms 1, 2 & 3. (grades 8, 9 & 10) and they did not do well in terms of passing students. They only passed 63% on to senior secondary (grades 11 &12). In a ten school district we came in # 9 in one area and # 10 in quantity failing. If you don’t pass you simply do not go on and you are out of school although there are some vocational programs but I am not sure just how that works yet. So anyway there is no where to go but up. Hopefully, I can do something to help out and improve the rate of passing.
I can’t even begin to describe all of the reasons that there are for the failure rate. Certainly the lack of teacher contact is big, missing classes and leaving the kids to self study with a teacher walking around the campus and looking in the rooms to make sure nobody is killing anybody else. However, actual studying is left to the kids choice and the teachers don’t seem to get the connection or at least don’t want to. They say they need the time but they are only in the classrooms about half of the time during the morning academics so they have, on average, 4 hours free time every day. There are a lot of meetings, there must be 20-30 committees to be on and it is pretty much mandatory and most people sign up for 2-3 or more committees. Lots of paperwork and all of the kids take notes in a different notebook for each class. Most of them don’t have text and if a class does there never seem to be enough to go around. All of these notebooks are graded and not only for content but for proper English and grammar ( I would so fail here).
One of my big projects is to set up tutoring for the kids who are failing or close to it. I have started with Form 2 (9th grade) and plan to have tutoring sessions for about 40 students which is not all of them but I am assuming some of them won’t come anyway. Needless to say I will have to have some teacher volunteers to help so will let you know if that works out. At this point I am trying to get some sort of rough assessment and then decide on how to divide them up into small groups. This seems like a no brainer that at this age, heck at any age self study is great for the motivated and ambitious student but for those that really don’t care, have poor self esteem and don’t really see a value in an education because nobody else in the family has one, it is pretty much useless. Very similar to back home but I think one difference is expectation. I think we expect more, not want more, but the expectation comes across and students just do the work because it is what they do. Not so here, education is new. Most of the parents have been to school but few of the grandparents went very far in school.
Traditionally an agricultural society and people still miss school when it is time to plant and harvest. Full time academic subject is agriculture. I have learned so much sitting in on these classes. The final test where I referred to above that failed 37% is state made. All students in the country get the same comprehensive test and I know that they had to have missed some classes because of a teacher being absent. Of course they are supposed to make up any missed information but there isn’t enough time to cover the material you are supposed to cover anyway. And that being said I am now one of the bad guys. I was given 2 classes to teach in guidance and counseling. It took two weeks to get the assignment as I got form 1 students and the first week is orientation and then they have to sign up for options and schedules are finally handed out. They have computers but don’t use them to do scheduling yet. I then had to go to Peace Corps training for 3 weeks, could have been 4 but I opted out of the last week to get back. Started my class and second time it was cancelled because of school elections. We are now half way through the term, I am on week 2 of the syllabus and I am having my second session with each of the classes this week.
They also have a 6 day week for revolving subjects so instead of my class on every Wednesday it is on day 4 which of course is different each week. I find it very confusing and haven’t gotten a very clear explanation for doing it this way, But “it is the way it is done”. Besides teaching the classes and setting up the tutoring program I am also going to start groups called GrassRootsSoccer. This is basically a high energy class using soccer strategies and ideas to talk about HIV. I just selected my first group today and will be able to start when I get the parent letters back. It is being translated into Setswana, so as soon as that gets done I will send them out. Tomorrow I am also substituting for another teacher because she has to go to the doctor. I am a little worried that I am going to be inundated with requests to cover classes. Enough, probably too much but there is more so stay tuned.