Sunday, 23 May 2010
Education, education, education
Sorry for the gap,it's been a bad IT week. I won't bore you with all the details, but it includes invasion by a virus or such, a computer stuck behind a locked door with the lock jammed, and today, no internet access even from the cyber cafe - who knows why! Anyway, on Friday I made my first visit to a school with a group from SKT, we went to do a story-telling session. A chastening but also heart-warming experience. The class we visited had 84 children in it; that is a small class. One of my colleagues who is a teacher says classes can be up to 350. There are several teachers. The kids were crammed on to linked benches and desks, in a concrete room with a couple of doors and windows. The windows, like most windows here, had no glass - just metal louvres. The concrete floor was badly damaged. There was a big blackboard, and a cupboard. And that's it.
The kids were great - reasonably well behaved, very keen to learn, spoke up well in French which of course is not their mother tongue. They loved the story, joined in where they were invited, and in the interactive session afterwards, asked lots of questions, which showed that their understanding of HIV-AIDS is good - they asked about where it originally came from - one theory put forward by a kid was white people, which, because of my presence, provoked riots of laughter. And if it came from monkeys, how, etc etc. Altogether they showed an impressive level of knowledge. We called on the head teacher, who works in a little office - I have seen bigger broom cupboards - with no windows, accessed via what looked like a store room. I have enormous respect for teachers who work in these conditions, and for the kids who are so keen to learn.
I haven't seen much by way of toys here. The office baby has a rattle and a soft toy, but I think he is a rather fortunate baby. The girls in the streets play handclapping games and a version of french skipping - only where we used knicker elastic, they have joined together any number of pieces of plastic bag to make their skipping rope. I did see some boys with marbles, and of course there is the odd football. But not much else. Most of the soft toys I have seen are attached to the keyrings of adults - not sure what that is about.
There are huge numbers of children, and notably few older people; life expectancy is low. Babies are routinely carried strapped to the backs of women or quite young girls, so that the first thing you see is a pair of little feet poking out under the arms of the carrier. I'll try and get a photo to show this! Lots of kids are excited to see a white person - toubabou - and come running up to shake my hand (hand-shaking, and greeting generally, is big here). A few are so surprised they cry.
Anyway, a real demonstration of how much can be done with how little, and how education can be valued.