Saturday, June 06, 2009

Old MacDonald's Safari Park

Yesterday evening I decided to do some sentences in English with Elizabeti, Toby, et al (the children who come round the house and whose relationship with other people in the house I still haven't quite worked out). I was letting them come up with sentences in Swahili, as we'd been learning lots of nouns, but very few verbs.

It was a bit arduous because Toby in particular was a little bit reluctant to suggest much, presumably a little worried he'd give a wrong answer (when, of course, there was no such thing).

After I suggested, starting a sentence "Nguruwe anasema... (The pig says...)" they corrected me that it should be "Nguruwe anaalia... (The pig cries...)" and then we made lots of similar sentences using the animal names we know, and learnt each other's versions of animal noises.

This led on naturally to a rendition of "Old MacDonald's Farm", and I must remark upon how much Old MacDonald has diversified since I was a little boy. Not only does he keep a dog, cat, pig, chicken, goat and cow, but he also now has a lion, snake, elephant, giraffe, zebra, frog and bee (yes, bee) into the bargain.

Sadly, though, he still has much to learn about sensible business practices with regards to the facts of life, insisting as he does on only keeping one of each animal.

Earlier in the day Oswin, Krista, Liz and I visited Mitawa Primary School. They had requested we visit to see the resources for their special needs class, which unsurprisingly turned out not only to be very short on resources, but also a appropriate training for the teachers.

They have some good displays on the wall, and a set of Lego-type bricks, and some incredibly simple fruit jigsaws, but little else. Looking at their exercise books, we could see that much of their work consisted of spending a day practising writing a single number, and then the next day writing the next number. This could go on for weeks with no progression onto actual counting, never mind adding two numbers together.

I was not in the least bit surprised to discover that unless they are given breakfast, the children wouldn't come to school at all. I wouldn't willingly subject myself to such a boring curriculum either. Even more worrying, they all seemed to be doing the same work, despite ranging in age from 7 to 18, and with an equally huge chasm in ability.

It turns out that Krista is very forthright and immediately started asking some quite uncomfortable questions. I'm more likely to look and observe and think for a while before starting on questions, but I think even I would have been asking some questions quite early too. Pretty soon we were all asking lots of questions.

Krista (who is going to train to be a maths teacher - and whom I'm trying not to put off too much) was particularly concerned with the fact that the class do no integrate with the other children, except during one morning break and after school, and sports. That is, until the school decide they've been in the class long enough and are then put straight back into Standard IV or V.

It's not that these children would have been maliciously sidelined for any reason - despite some rather insensitive things being said about them in front of their face - the teachers are not well trained (primary school training for a long time was O-Levels plus two years training, now reduced to one year) and they just don't know how to teach children with special educational needs.

A lot of resources and displays could easily be made at zero or very close to zero cost (there is no number line, for example, and stones or soda bottle tops could easily be used as aids for counting and for simple operations). The teachers also need to receive a bit of help coming up with imaginative ways of teaching by showing the children rather than telling the children and hoping it sticks.

This is obviously a principle that applies throughout the school. We have suggested we spend a day with them making and using resources with the children, and we will leave behind materials so that they can make more of their own, which we will encourage them to use in all classes rather than just this one class.

This is something I'd quite like to do in primary schools throughout the area, not just in Mitawa. I think some kind of idea-sharing programme could work very well, if we just get two or three schools on board. At the moment, Hoja-COCO only really directly help pupils who have already done well in primary school.

After visiting Mitawa, Krista preferred to start walking down the road rather than just staying still waiting for the bus, and we all melted a little bit.

This morning's trip into town was even more fun. I missed the bus from the village by mere seconds, which ultimately cost me over an hour. I shared a motorcycle to the main road with a teacher from Kituro Primary School, and then after waiting 25 minutes by the side of the road (during which time one very full bus passed) we then walked another 45 minutes to Mshangano (durting which time another very full bus passed) and we caught a daladala from there.

Fun fun fun.

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