Monday, 13 February 2017

It's a mystery

I have had nearly two and a half years living in East Africa now and I can honestly say for much of that time I have had no idea what is going on around me!  There are many reasons for this so I will try to explain.

Steve will tell you my hearing is getting worse.  I’d say it’s more that my ability to tune out what doesn’t interest me is improving.  We have a “shouty man” 500m from us on the Mityana Road who starts up at around quarter to six every morning and I don’t hear him until Steve points out that he’s started.  If I bother to listen I hear him, otherwise I remain oblivious.  There is dance music broadcast until the early hours most nights and I can successfully tune it out.  But I do find the children here speak very softly – they are shy and may not be confident about their understanding of what I am asking so they whisper and I often miss what they are saying.  I do lots of nodding and smiling.  Some of the new teachers are also very shy but I am sure their confidence will increase and my conversations with them will be more rewarding.

A "shouty man" deafening his chickens.
There is also the barrier of language.  The medium preferred by most of my work colleagues is Luganda – understandable as for most it is mother tongue and they can be more expressive.  It would be hard work to have to speak English just because I am in the room when the discussion is not for me anyway, but it can still be quite isolating and oftentimes jokes are shared and I miss out.  Learn Luganda is on my “to do” list but slips down each time I look at the myriad greetings for different classes of people, times of day, etc.  There is no “catch all” greeting like the Kiswahili “Salama” or “Habari gani”.  I usually can mange a “webale” – thank-you – but currently that’s my limit.

East Africans consider themselves to be very polite people, hence all the greeting that goes on.  There is also a strict class system that has women and youngsters bowing and kneeling to those (often men) who consider themselves to be their betters.  I suspect I often offend as an egalitarian Australian who rejects all that class nonsense.  It’s lucky I’m as old as I am as that mitigates the offending slightly but I certainly do not like it when mothers, coming in to pay fees (or explain why they cannot pay fees yet), kneel on the floor in front of the Head Teacher’s desk.  At least finding examples of Gender Discrimination is easy!

Spot the gender socialisation

As a consequence of wishing to be polite an East African will want to tell you what you want to hear even if it means presenting what we now know to be “Alternate Facts”.  Yesterday we were told that the second delivery of bread to Quality Cuts would be there at 11:30, so we thought early lunch then head home.  After a rather nice steak sandwich we went back to Quality Cuts – still no bread!  We were assured the delivery had left Kisimenti and was on its way – a distance of 2 or 3 kilometres.  It finally arrived at about 12:30 and we had our two sliced seed bread loaves and could head home to Kirimamboga about 1 o’clock.  If the shop assistant had said it wouldn’t be there until 12:30 we could have gone up to Kisimenti ourselves to pick it up and been home by 12.  The delivery driver must have been side-tracked or stopped somewhere for a chat.  Inconveniencing other people never enters anyone’s head.  (Mostly shown by inconsiderate – dangerous‼ - drivers and meandering pedestrians, bodaboda (motorbike taxi) riders, stock and herdsmen.) The bread wait followed a ½ hour wait in a queue in the bank to pay a deposit on our holiday in June and a 20 minute wait in Shoprite while a committee decided what to do about the lack of a record on the computer of the bar code on the John West Tuna and, no, knowing the shelf label said 13,200/= was not sufficient information.  (I could actually see steam coming out of Steve’s ears as he could feel the tuna slipping out of his grasp). 

The crew at Don's, Lyantonde

There are times when the African-ness of life here stops being amusing and starts to become annoying!  But there is so much that makes me happy that I shouldn’t complain.  The enthusiasm of the crew at Don’s Service Station in Lyantonde to give us the best petrol buying experience was so funny and our reception at Forest Park (our home for most of September) when we went for dinner on Thursday night was lovely.

Whose are these goats, and why did they come to visit?

After many weeks of Askari Richard telling us we would soon have neighbours we finally do.  Last weekend we returned from Lake Mburo to find people in Number 1 and today a family moved in to Number 3.  So far we have the only car but if that changes things will get interesting.  I can imagine the chaos trying to get out in the morning will become if we have 5 or more cars in the compound!  And so far I’m not convinced on the locals’ average driving prowess and powers of organisation.

The students returned to school on Monday and have settled in nicely over the week.  The new teachers have settled in too.  We have had the CEO of School for Life visiting from Australia for the past fortnight so it’s all been “go”.  Time now for me to get some solid M&E (monitoring and evaluation) strategies in place before we return to Australia for a visit in March /April.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Doing some teaching

What you must know about a car


Monday, 30 January 2017

Professional Development

In Victoria, in recent times, we’ve had two or three days of school based professional development at the beginning of the school year.  Most of our organising and other preparation we do in what the public at large see as our very generous holidays.

At School for Life we have just had two weeks of preparation and professional development before the students’ lessons start again and there is another week to go.  It has been so worthwhile! 

Our Head Teacher began the PD schedule with the Varkey Instructional Program for our eleven new teachers.  It ran over three days.  Varkey is an Anglo-Indian philanthropist, who has made his money owning and operating expensive private schools in Africa and the Middle East.  He has put money into developing training systems for teachers in under resourced schools in the developing world to encourage activity based learning and child friendly teaching methods.  I have seen the system used both well and poorly by teachers here and when used well it is very effective.  The newly graduated teachers will have been exposed to ideas that are completely missing from the teacher training they've had.  In the TTCs they will have learned the "Lecture", "Discussion" and "Demonstration" methods.

Sitting with the English group

Next we had four of the Ugandan National Examination Board (UNEB) examiners for 3 days.  I found this especially interesting.  I had to hold my tongue so often!  (Actually I sometimes didn’t and my face would have given me away anyway!)  Exams here are designed and marked for children to fail.  Children who write the correct answer in a maths exam can lose marks if they have not shown every small step in working, even when those steps are not explicitly asked for.  

A question such as
੬ is the natural numbers ≤ 10
Set A = {2, 4, 6, 8, 10}
Set B = {4, 5, 6, 7}
What is n(A ⋂ B')?    is worth two marks. 

For the mathematically challenged, it is asking how many ‘things’ are in  Set A but not in Set B.
If a student writes just 3 as the answer she would get 0 marks, even though she is correct.  If she writes n(A ⋂ B') = 3 she’ll get 1 mark.  To get full marks she needs to write (A ⋂ B') = {2, 8, 10},  n(A ⋂ B') = 3. She has to define the set even though only the number of elements is asked for!  It is asking students to read the examiner's mind!  The rationale is that the student has given extra information so deserves extra credit.  So we have to train students to guess what extra information might be worth marks. 

In the main hall

In English, Social Studies and Science students can get zero on a question because of one small spelling mistake or error in punctuation!  The question may be “Mention one of the rift valley lakes in Uganda.”  An answer of “L. Albert” may get a mark of zero because "Lake' has been abbreviated.  

It was good that the teachers had these workshops.  They will be able to train the students not to fall into the traps that are set.  They will help the students to get, not the best education, but the best marks.  It is a horrible system but we will all have to work in it and do our level best.  I showed the UNEB examiners some examples of maths questions used in Australia’s NAPLAN testing.  I explained how I do marking.  The examiners’ view was generally that giving half marks for answers that are nearly right encourages sloppiness and lack of rigour and accuracy so is not to be entertained!  

You’d think the teachers would have had enough but they have all participated enthusiastically in my workshops in the second week.  I have run four workshops, each around 2 hours, from morning break until lunch.  The teachers have used the mornings and afternoons to do their Schemes of Work and Lesson Notes.  They basically have to handwrite into foolscap size ledger books the whole year’s course for every subject they teach and all the notes they are likely to put on the whiteboard for the students to copy.  These are then approved by the Dean of Studies.  There has been a great deal of co-operation between the new and current teachers and they will know each other well before the school year officially starts, which is a very good thing. The two groups have worked well together in the various workshops.

Workshop 1

Having my workshops over four days was much better than the one full day as originally planned.  It gave the teachers more time to do some background reading.  I had given each of the established teachers “Holiday Homework” reading and some had even had a go at it.  The new teachers received their reading in the week before the workshops.  The generally poor reading skills of the teachers and the time it takes to get through even half a page of text, especially if it is aimed at the reading level of an Australian or British teacher, has really slowed things down more than I had expected.  I have tried to simplify where possible but some concepts resist using simple language! 

All the workshops were predominantly activity based and group-work oriented.  Each of workshops 2, 3 and 4 began with a review of the previous day addressing the concerns expressed in “Any other comments” from the evaluation sheets.  The two school nurses also participated in the first three workshops.  

Having fun

The workshops were

o        Child Protection Policy.  We had some interesting discussions on what constituted “Child Abuse”.  Most teachers have no problems with the policy as written and few barriers to implementation were raised.  It is the local community who may not see its value.

o        Behaviour Management.  This was a good follow on from child protection as a few teachers wanted to know how to manage behaviour when you can’t use a stick!  I needed to show it in practice the next day and I think everyone understood finally.  The rules and consequences method is such a foreign concept.

Workshop 2
o        Gender socialisation.  This was the one I thought would be most difficult but the teachers really got into it!  We had the debate on Friday because they were so keen.  The proposition was “Schools are a major source of gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping” and there was huge enthusiasm and passion shown on both sides.

o        Teaching Techniques.  This was the one that was really slowed down by slow reading, especially for those who had not done the pre-reading.  I’m planning for it to continue during Term I with each teacher doing a model lesson to show a new teaching technique.  Some may do Snakes and Ladders - the teachers really enjoyed the game.

Snakes and Ladders

The debate involved all the teachers and the nurses.  Everyone who wanted a say had a chance – it was more a free for all than a formal debate in the sense that we know debating though there was lots of Honourable So and so and Points of Order.  The Head Teacher was Chair and I was Secretary as we were the only impartial people present.  The result was close – 48 to the Proposers and 46 to the Opposition.  One of the funniest lines was Emmanuel suggesting adolescent students couldn't line up together as they might start breeding!

The Great Debate

We now have two days of cleaning and setting up classrooms and then the teachers get three days at home to get their personal lives organised, some will be sending their own children off to boarding school, before they move into the teacher housing and the school year begins in earnest.  Steve and I will be having a long weekend at Lake Mburo NP.

In other news we now have four laptops at Katuuso to use for computer lessons to up-skill the teachers in ICT.  I have devised a checklist of essential skills of general computer use and Microsoft Word.  Lessons for the teachers will run after the children’s classes finish, a couple of afternoons a week.  The staffroom desktop computer is also back in action after Liam heroically fixed it by blowing out the dust and removing a desiccated lizard!)  Steve and I will continue with small group and individual training until all teachers have at minimum basic word processing skills.

Also thanks to Baimbridge College science staff for their donation of a laptop computer to the Head of Science to help him with his studies.  Good job guys!

I hope all my teacher friends and rellies have a great start to the year!


Friday, 13 January 2017

A road trip

This is the promised rant on roads and religion – if that's likely to offend you stop reading now!

Steve and I have spent the last three weeks driving from one side of Uganda to the other and back again.  We have travelled on roads that range from excellent to unbelievably awful and seen driving that defies belief.  We have seen very little scenery en route as both of us have had eyes firmly on the road monitoring traffic, pedestrians and other hazards coming from all directions.  Steve has decided to turn the experience into a video game that can be used as training for tourists and vetting for NGO drivers.  We travelled north-west to Lake Albert (border with DRC), Masindi and Murchison Falls NP, then south-west to Fort Portal and Kibale NP and lastly east to Sipi and Mt Elgon NP which borders Kenya. You can see from the map that there is still a lot of the country we’ve yet to tackle!
Our recent perambulation

As a student of social geography the things that catch my eye are schools, hospitals and places of worship.  They’re everywhere! You wouldn’t be in the country very long before recognising ‘Eddwaliro’ as the local word for health clinic.  They often have catchy names – my favourite is “The Hope of Life”.  These small clinics offer consultations, laboratory investigations (code for malaria and HIV testing), minor surgery and often family planning, ante-natal and maternity services.  Quite a few are run by various Roman Catholic social services and we wonder what family planning advice they proffer!  On the plus side regarding sexual health there are posters everywhere promoting STI and HIV transmission prevention and condom use and also contraception (“Injectaplan – for a small manageable family”).  Regional hospitals here are sad looking places – dilapidated buildings and families milling about or waiting, sitting on the grass, for news.  USAID has had quite a bit of input – their motif is everywhere – so I guess that would mean therapeutic abortion is not an option.

There are signs everywhere for schools too – mostly private and often boarding schools, right down to Nursery School level.  I’ve talked before about the Ugandan Government ceding provision of education to the private sector.  The Ministry of Education and Sport licences the schools, for a fee of course, and administers the National Exams.  There are also some Government Aided schools run by parents committees or one of the local churches or mosques.  The MOES minister is Janet Museveni, wife of the President, and no-one gets to meet and have discussions with her because of security concerns!  The system is a shambles but is not my topic for the day.

Under resourced government school system

Take money offered by anyone

Today’s topic is Roads and Religion.  Facebook friends have had an earful already.  You can never relax while driving or even being a passenger.  Being on the road is about the most dangerous and stressful thing you can do.  The roads are crowded with mini-bus taxis, motorbikes, overloaded and unroadworthy trucks, small Toyota sedans and large, expensive 4WDs.  Drivers are impatient and discourteous – they all drive as if they are the only one on the road.  In town traffic jams are inevitable as cars, bikes and trucks fill every available square centimetre of tarmac looking for a way through and hence blocking everyone’s path.  Gridlock is common at roundabouts and intersections.  On the open road drivers take incredible risks overtaking over double lines and on blind corners to get around usually overloaded trucks which cannot reach highway speeds, often forcing other vehicles off the road or into other evasive action.  We often see the consequences for the vehicles, which end up deposited outside the local police post.  So far, luckily, no blood and gore!

Link buses are the worst offenders.

Light entertainment

So road trauma is partly due to appalling driving and partly due to unroadworthy vehicles but also due to, you guessed it, roads and religion.

We’ll tackle religion first.  East Africans are still quite medieval in belief structures.  Christians and Moslems have fundamental understandings based on literal interpretations of their respective books.  Their God is the micro-managing type and has credit and blame for everything. People are not responsible for their health, exam results, fecundity, car crashes … - it is all down to God’s Will.

I will happily put my hand up to being Christian (believer in the goodness of our world and adherent to the social justice principles of Jesus) but the Christianity here – be it Church of Uganda (Anglican), Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist or Born Again (Pentecostal Assemblies of God) is not one I subscribe to.  We have driven past so many Healing Ministries and Miracle Centres where pastors prey on people’s desire for health and well-being.  Declaring yourself a Pastor can be the road to riches but heaven help the pastored as they are well and truly fleeced.  All you need is a tent and a sound system – uneducated, superstitious and desperate people will flock for the entertainment and hand over cash in the hope of being rewarded either now or in Heaven.

Plenty of money for building churches.

There is little hope for change when the school curriculum includes Religious Education where fundamentalist principles about creation and miracles are taught as fact.

Yesterday there was a story in a local paper about a high level civil servant – presumably educated and intelligent – who wanted to be buried with all his wealth so he could buy his way in to heaven.  His wife, also a senior civil servant, went along with it. 

So in big and small ways the lives of East Africans are ruled by an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful being they may be able to influence in their favour with stickers on cars and trucks (“In God we trust”, “God is able” and “Allah Akbar” are popular), attendance at worship and gifts of money to His earthly representatives.  And their reckless driving and other behaviours are neither here nor there as God is in charge!  There is total abdication of responsibility at a personal level leading to all sorts of tragedy and religion can take the blame.

And the state of the roads doesn’t help – a pictorial essay follows.

More pothole than tarmac

Road humps
Chinese supervisor in thongs

Work in progress

Just as bad in town as on the open road

About 15 cm drop off the edge of the tarmac

Culvert works

Another of the scores in progress

Doesn't slow everyone down

Flag man ignoring mayhem

No broken windscreen luckily

Tomorrow I’m back at work with ideas for workshops on all manner of topics bubbling away in my brain.  More on that soon, Jenny

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Mopping up 2016 work-wise

The students have been finished for just over two weeks and now I am on holidays too. Steve and I have been reconnoitring possible places take any family and friends who come to visit us over the next 8 months.  I am writing this from a shady cabana at the New Court View Hotel Masindi.

The last few days have been all about birds – Steve’s life list has increased by 30 since Tuesday when we set off for Murchison Falls NP.  I enjoyed seeing the Nile River and there were very many new to me antelopes in the national park.  We have travelled to the far west of Uganda and looked at the Democratic Republic of Congo across Lake Albert (don’t tell DFAT!) from the Albertine Rift. 
Chinese slot machine

Masindi district has a large sugar industry owned (we’ve been told) by Indian interests.  I need to do some research to see if they have held it since pre-Amin or if it is more recent.  It brings employment and therefore cash to the locals in the villages around it.  We have noticed very many of the gambling machines that are causing a problem in Uganda on the verandas of the shops.  They are cheap slot machines (they cost about US$150) that are unregulated and are reported to be being used by school children who are wagging school and stealing from their parents to feed their addiction (the most lurid claims by ‘Clerics’) but at the very least are probably not ‘a good thing’.

Birding with Raymond - crick in the neck guaranteed!

Also near Masindi there is a famous forest – Budongo Forest – managed for conservation of flora and fauna by the Ugandan National Forests Authority.  We paid US$20 each today for the privilege of strolling, in the company of Raymond, a local guide, down the ‘Royal Mile’ that has a very large number of locally endemic birds that Steve was keen to see.  Apart from the driving – still legendary and not in a good way – which continues to be stressful even in rural areas and national parks (we saw a RAV4 totalled on the main Murchison Falls NP road yesterday which was sobering!) we are feeling quite relaxed after a very busy start to our 12 months in Uganda.

A road hazard

My last work task was being on the interview panel for the new teachers for next year.  Over 8 hours we interviewed 40 applicants for the available positions and then decided on to whom to offer the jobs.

The campus where I usually work will become ‘complete’ with the first Primary 7 class next year.  The other campus will go up to Primary 3 after two years of just having the nursery classes.  This has meant hiring another ten teachers to begin in 2017.

My Head Teacher does not think you can really “know” an applicant from the letter of application and wanted to interview every applicant.  I’d thought 20 would be enough so inviting 60 was probably a compromise.  (I was alerted to this when Ange told me she’d printed 60 of the interview forms at his request!)  In the end 40 applicants, mostly new graduates, presented themselves for inspection at 9:00 am and by 4:30 we had spoken with them all!  The questions on the interview script were interesting – many would not pass muster in Australia for instance: What is your religion?  Do you have any political affiliations?  Do you have any health concerns?  How much do you want to earn?  Answers were also very interesting.  To the question “What is your discipline philosophy?” we heard “I make the learners my friends then they do what I want”, “First I forgive them” and “I use the Bible” as well as “The second time I use a stick”!  One of the teacher training colleges must be a Bill Rogers convert as we also heard several times “We have classroom rules and regulations.”

Another problem was the over supply of excellent upper primary maths and science teachers and the under supply of inspiring lower primary teachers offering English and literacy as their major subject.  I’m sure though that we’ll be able to whip those we’ve hired into shape and they’ll be exceptionally inspiring users of child centred methods by February 6th when the students return to school.

The penultimate task, during the previous week, had been recording registration details at the two schools.  All the Kampala based staff with lap-top computers were involved, as was Steve, and we each had a 'local' teacher to ask the questions and interpret the answers for the spreadsheet.  Each child had sat an entrance 'interview' exam to make sure they were aiming for the right class (these I had composed, typed and had printed as recorded in the previous post!) but the answers on family income and circumstance will be what determines if they get one of the limited places.  A single mother of eight children earning about Ush50,000/= (AU$20) per month has a pretty good shot of getting her youngest in, especially as the second to last, currently enrolled in P1, has Down Syndrome and the mother is getting limited help from the child's father.  There were many sad stories told at the registration days but the uplifting thing was the value placed on education by all the families and the high regard in which School for Life is held in the communities where it works.

Registration day at Katuuso PS
In Victoria for the last several years we’ve had 1 or 2 days of preparation time before the students begin.  At my schools here we will have 3 weeks!  This time will be spent doing workshops with the teachers and preparing teaching aids.  The rooms will also be thoroughly prepared as stimulating learning environments before the students begin.  The Head Teacher is trained in the Varkey Instructional Program.  This is a system sponsored by the Varkey Foundation, an Indian/ Anglo charitable foundation that works in developing countries. (Varkey is also the owner of the GEMS private schools in many African and Middle East countries, which charge fees that make Geelong Grammar look cheap!) It promotes child-friendly and activity based teaching methods and is used by all the current teachers at my schools.  The current teachers will get a refresher course too and I guess they will be able to mentor the new teachers.  I have been preparing some workshops too.  The topics include Gender Socialisation (and how to avoid it!), Whole School Approach to Discipline (The Bill Rogers Method), the Differentiated Curriculum (or how equal outcomes for all children is not essential) and introducing the SfL Child Protection Policy.  

So, I have two weeks of holidays, then a week or so to get my activity based workshops together ready for the teachers who will start again, refreshed and recharged in mid-January.

Our askari Richard was really disappointed when we told him he'd be on his own for Christmas, but his eyes did light up when he saw his Christmas stocking.

Mossie net, new shirt and treats!

Next blog will have pics of our safari.

Best wishes to everyone for a Happy Christmas, love from Jenny.