I have been getting out on my bike visiting schools on a much more regular basis now. I jump on, cross the river and head to which ever school I can find! Well, maybe not quite as random as that. There is one school that is eluding me. I’ve tried a few times to find it on my own without any success. I’ve finally given in and asked Malick, the cluster monitor for Wulli West to take me again! Other than that I’m getting to find my way round pretty well and even riding through the bush without getting lost and not only that but actually ending up where I plan to!!
As for the schools themselves, they are so different to the UK. Not much in the way of wall displays and those that are up are old and tatty. No electricity so no computers and the like. Old, and in some cases, furniture that is falling apart. The desks and chairs remind me of the furniture from 1950s picture books. In fact they probably are! The staff vary dramatically. There are some teachers who are really good, but could be great given the proper resources and training. The major problem, well one of them – there are many - in Gambian schools is blending. Children find this very difficult and in some cases are unable to do it, even if they know the sounds. The teaching is sometimes good, other times painful to watch. As I mentioned before, in my area we have GATE training teachers in Jolly Phonics. They do not seem to provide the teachers with any ideas of practical activities the children can do to improve blending, unlike the other NGO working on phonics in Region 6, FIOH. The lessons, no matter the curricular area, are very much chalk and talk. It has been very interesting observing lessons. In the UK, I observed my colleagues lessons as a peer, which had a very different feel and focus to it. The first time I observed a lesson and fed back was quite difficult. However, I am now passed that and the teachers are actually really positive about it and say they’ll try and work on their areas for development, so hopefully they will. After feeding back to the teachers, I then have to feed back to the Head Teachers. How different they are to the ones in the UK. For a start, they are all class committed as they have less than 750 pupils in their school. One particular school I visited, the Grade 1’s class teacher was ill and had not turned up for work. The children were sitting in the class, with the koranic teacher, doing nothing. Some of the children were fast asleep. Mind you the temperature was about 40 degrees! However, I came out of observing a Grade 3 lesson to find the Grade 1 class in its state and the HT asleep on the veranda. That was a bit nerve-wracking trying to tell this HT that it was not acceptable to leave his Grade 1 class without work, but I had to do it as there was no point in them being there as they weren’t learning anything. Attendance is a huge problem for him and this would just make their parents even more reluctant to send them. I don’t think he really listened to me though, I mean what does a female tubab know!!!!
Anyway, I am really enjoying myself and making lots of friends. I attended an FIOH workshop and was chatting away to one of the Christian teachers who was shocked that I had not been to church since I’d arrived......I know it is terrible! Anyway, she made a deal with me that if I attended her church, the catholic one, the next day then she’d come with me to mine the following Sunday. I duly took her up on her offer. No idea what was happening in the Catholic service but was very nice all the same! The next week we went to the Anglican Church in Basse, St Cuthbert’s. It is a very small church, infact there were almost as many children as adults. Our numbers totalled 14, including the minister. I was asked almost, or told really, to read the first lesson. Nothing like being thrown in at the deep end! It lasted 2 hours and although some parts were very familiar to my own, others were very different. Almost evangelical, with testimonies and members being blessed by the pastor for healing. He’s very fiery and was quite scared of him....he kept looking directly at me all the time. He really doesn’t like Basse much, thinks there’s not much love here. I don’t agree and rather like the place. I am much happier I am up here than somewhere else. We’ll see what happens next Sunday!
Today is Workers’ Day, a public holiday in The Gambia. Schools are closed so no work, although all my colleagues will likely be in the office as they always are, evenings, weekends. They’re not really working just hanging there!! Mind you they don’t really have much else to do in Basse. They are all from Kombos and that is where their families are. Kombos is about 6/7 hours travelling time away so not really somewhere you can just pop to for the day, even the weekend is not really a possibility. All over the country sports event are being held to celebrate and I’ll be off to one later myself!