Saturday, 11 March 2017

And on we go ...

We’ve just returned from a successful Saturday morning foray into Kampala.  Successful in that there were no serious attempts on our lives and limbs or on our sanity.  The mission was only marred by a lack of American Garden chunky peanut butter in either Game or Shoprite and still no Hastee Tastee sweet and sour sauce.  We also compromised on the bread – no wholemeal or seed bread available today but the white bread from Patisserie is edible, unlike the local loaves.  On the plus side of the ledger Steve was able to get four cans of tuna – not John West but, hey, still tuna.  Our philosophy, when shopping, is buy what you can get because you can only occasionally get what you want!

I have been doing a round of “supervisions” – observations of teachers teaching, and after each class I try to devise a small learning aid for that teacher, useful for teaching the current topic.  This week it has been word searches and sets of matching cards (e.g. occupations and tools thereof) as well as number cards and place value concertinas for maths.  One of the teachers is about to start a unit on family relationships and roles in a family.  This is what the students will learn. 

I won’t be doing a set of cards to match for that one!

This also in the students work book - makes you think!

Number cards - it's hard to get a 'straight' 9
I was told quite firmly that Domestic animals are 'animals which are kept at home'  and definitely not 'animals we keep at home'!!

Our CEO needs data for the grant submissions she is constantly writing, to get the money to keep this operation going.  So I have spent some time looking at ways to collect useable data.  Over the last month I have designed survey forms to gauge the perceptions of parents, students and teachers on the quality of education we provide.  The teacher one has just been handed out and the student one will follow soon.  The parent survey will need to be translated and read out to parents on Parent-Teacher Day next month.  Most of our parents are illiterate in English and Luganda.

The other survey I have been working on was to gauge our students’ understanding of sexual and reproductive health matters.  It was given to the students two weeks ago.  We wanted to be sure the students understood the questions so we had to risk teacher influence in responses by having them explain the questions and translate where necessary.  Steve and I could hear the Primary 5 class chanting various definitions (40 voices in unison stating “A virgin is a boy or a girl who has not had sexual intercourse”) and then later the teacher acting out each of the possible symptoms of a STI.  We couldn’t see what he was doing but the children were entertained and we were stifling giggles in the staff room next door.
As this was happening one of the kitchen helpers walked in with an eviscerated chicken for the Primary 4 science class and put it on the table in front of us.  That just about finished us off!  It’s really hard to convey what here is considered “normal”.

A teaching aid.

I spent a whole day entering data from the SRH survey into an Excel spreadsheet.  The results were really interesting.  There were very many responses of “unsure” and “don’t know” as well as a situation where one class had obviously been taught that mosquitoes spread HIV-AIDS (They don’t!).  So now the social worker employed one day a week to do counselling and teach small groups of students has a clear idea of what needs to be tackled.  We will be surveying the teachers next to gauge their understanding and taking remedial action where necessary in the next round of whole school professional development.

Whole school professional development (PD) has mostly to be done during term breaks.  Teachers are fully occupied from 7:30 am until 4:30 and then they have preparation and marking to do so it would be cruel to expect them to do PD after classes.  The weekly staff meeting has been reduced to 30 minutes so there is only time for brief communications.  Most of the PD then has to be one–on-one.  The only exception has been the computer classes, which have been running at both campuses weekly for the past month.  Teachers are learning basic computer skills in word processing and using spreadsheets.  They are loving it!  Hopefully soon they’ll be typing their own exams and reports.  (And matching cards and word searches)  Quite a few of the staff are doing further study – at university on weekends and holidays! – so being able to type their essays and assignments will also be a bonus.  Some of the teachers are keen to buy cheap, second-hand laptops so if you have one you no longer use please let me know.

Computer competency class

The science staff at Baimbridge have chipped in for one for the science  co-ordinator here.  He is very pleased with it.  He keeps bringing it to me to show what he is typing for his university studies.  He has mastered fonts and formats!  He wanted a picture with us to show his mum.

Godfrey and his laptop with Steve and me 

He was using it to show his class a David Attenborough doc on Africa the other day.  Forty kids watching one laptop screen!

Primary 6 watching 'Africa'

Steve and I will be home in Australia for a few weeks in the run up to Easter, I hope we’ll catch up with you then, Jenny.

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