Monday, 2 July 2012

It's Raining, It's Pouring

It is currently raining so hard on the tin roof that I cannot hear myself think. Over top of the sound of the rain is the occasional clap of thunder. Through the window I can see lightening lighting up the sky, illuminating the stocks of maize and the hedge outside my door. The power keeps flickering on and off, so I finally switched off the light and am just typing away in the dark. Such a cozy evening!

My day this morning began around 5 or 6 with the sounds of hundreds of children singing in Swahili. Since I don't understand the language and the children would be very conscious of my presence, I do not join them for their daily worship session. I do however love to listen to them sing! I usually get up at about 7:30 after lying in bed listening to the world waking up for an hour or so. For Africa 7:30 is sleeping in to the extreme; I count myself blessed. My breakfast is brought around 8 and I quickly scarf down a cup of tea and the occasional fried egg and scamper off to join the teachers who have already been teaching for over an hour. I feel guilty joining the staff so late, but this way my hostess does not have to worry about getting my breakfast to me earlier. Ann has been cooking my meals and I am ever so grateful to her.

For the next 8-9 hours I putter around with the teachers, often picking up a lesson here and there, marking exams and compositions, putting my two cents in on an English grammar problem, conversing with students and staff, sitting in on a KiSwahili lesson, and practicing my "habari" and "nzuri." The staff and I just finished examining all the students this week. We spent Wednesday, Thursday and Friday administering exams- 7 in total. The results were then compiled, averaged and documented. I have learned that most African schools undergo national testing on a regular basis. These are standardized tests based on the supplied curriculum expectations. In summary, I was totally amazed at the types of questions these exams asked. For example, the standard 7 math exam asked questions that I'm not sure even our grade 9 student in Canada could answer; I even had problems with some of the questions!

Another thing that I have noticed in Uganda and Kenya is that average marks are extremely low compared to those in Canada. The average in Canada is around 75%, but here in Kenya, the average mark for an exam is often in the 40% range. The average of the math exam in standard 7 was 46%. The highest mark was 90% (by a margin of about 15%), and the lowest was 8%. When I first witnessed such marks in Uganda I was absolutely taken aback. Having taught these students personally and assessed them in each class, I had witnessed their intelligence and was sure that they could have performed so much better. As such, I am trying to figure out what some of the causes of such a performance difference could be.

I have come up with some ideas:
1. there is a difference in materials and resources available. In Tata, there was only one textbook available for the teacher's use. Here at Omwabini there is at least one textbook per pair of students. But both schools average less than 50%. 

I know that it is not the ability of the teachers to teach- they are all amazingly skilled at their craft. They care about their students and do everything they can to make them succeed. 

2. Then I think about how hard they work. At Omwabini school starts at 7 AM. They study or attend lessons, with three or four breaks in between, until 9 PM that night at which time they go to bed. The next morning they are up bright and early for their service and the cycle begins all over again. Not only does school occur from Monday to Friday, but also for about 5 hours on Saturday and even for a couple of hours on Sunday. 

3. As I cannot put my finger on a most probably cause, I will give my most educated guess. These children have suffered more than most of us will suffer in our entire lives. They have lost one or both parents and even siblings. They have been abandoned by family. They may be HIV+. There are the added risks of typhoid, malaria, cholera, German measles. They sleep in a dormitory. They are well cared for physically and spiritually, but I wonder about how their experiences have effected them. And yet, they are so respectful. They carry my books for me although I'm perfectly capable of lifting my notebook. They stand when you enter a classroom. They call you "teacher" or "madam." They listen and obey the first time you ask them. If they misbehave they only need to be reminded once. They love to shake your hand and ask "how are you?" 

4. I also wonder about the youth of this country. Kenya received independence in 1967, I think. In 45 years it is difficult to go from being a colony to taking responsibility for everything that happens in your country. Canada is 145 years old. I'm sure that our students were not performing so well when we first established our school system.

Currently, there is much sickness going around at Omwabini. There are several cases of German measles, as well as multiple cases of typhoid. Malaria is so common that children and adults will simply take the necessary drugs and continue to work despite the fever and huge discomfort the symptoms bring. The daughter of James and Ann spent Sunday in the hospital with both malaria and typhoid. She's only 22 months old. It breaks my heart to hear about all this illness, particularly when I know that I am vaccinated against all such illnesses and that my government ensures that I am. The nurse here at Omwabini has explained to me that when the British were ruling Kenya, every year all the children would be vaccinated for typhoid. Then, when independence came, the president decided that they did not want to spend the money on such a frivolous expenditure. People then started getting sick but no one had seen a case of typhoid in such a long time that it took them a few months and multiple deaths before a doctor was finally able to pinpoint what this mysterious illness was. Now typhoid is back, and it's back with a vengeance

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