School Slowly Starts
Ekulo Senior Secondary School is now open for business! With baby steps and halting lurches the 2004 school year is slowly building steam. This week we might even get around to teaching some lessons. For those of you who hate getting homework on the very first stinkin’ day of school Namibia is the place for you. I can remember being very, deeply depressed at the end of summer vacation, one day I’m free as a bird and then WHAM: 25 pounds of books, early mornings, and all the teachers saying how hard their class is going to be. Well not here, no sir, in Namibia learners are taken through a carefully planned transition period where, while they are at school and have to wear the uniforms, they don’t get slammed with any reading or note-taking. They just get to hang out all day in and around the classrooms to regain their confidence and slowly get acclimated to the learning atmosphere once again. Now doesn’t that sound nice? Instead of the dreaded and barbarous first day there is a nice relaxed first week (or two). Here is a day-by-day account of what has (and has not) happened.
Thursday, day 1 for teachers: Greeted the other teachers and met the new science teacher. Sat in the staff room all day reading and talking. I also set the staff computer up, ostensibly so that the teachers could play solitaire.
Friday, day 2 for teachers:The principal finally beats a path through the parents trying to get their kids into school and we get to have the meeting that we spent day 1 waiting for. In the meeting the principal tells the teachers to work on doing the year plan done (when to have the parent meetings etc.) and decide what job each teacher will have in the learner registration process.
Monday, day 3 for teachers; day 1 for learners:Most of the learners arrive at school; the first thing they need to do is register. We, the teachers, had a short meeting and then moseyed on over to the dining hall to start the registration process. I remembered that last year we had a problem checking to see if returning learners had lost any books (there were several unorganized handwritten pages full of names) so this time I volunteered to make a nice list in Excel. The registration went fairly smooth. The new learners (mostly grade 8 and 11) had to be registered as learners at Ekulo (their names matched to the list of admitted learners), pay the school fee and the cluster fund fee (two different lines), and finally allocated into a class. Returning learners just had to pay the fees. All learners in the hostel also had to register and pay the hostel and medical fee (three more queues). This lasted until about 5:30.
Tuesday, day 4 for teachers; day 2 for learners: Same as Monday, except less busy. The learners are getting settled in the hostel and lounging around the campus in groups.
Wednesday, day 5 for teachers; day 3 for learners: In the morning we started the great allocation battle. All the teachers have a pretty good idea of what they will be teaching this year but there is a bit of uncertainty. Every teacher has classes they know they will teach but since these rarely fill up their schedule, the teacher is also given an assortment of other classes that they are qualified for. The unfortunate teachers are stuck with a full load of teaching and/or many different preparations (a math teacher can write one lesson plan for 8A, 8B and 8C, but would have to write three if they taught 8A, 9A and 10A). Anyway, the principal sets up the initial allocation and then the entire staff meets and tries to solve any problems that they see. Everything was going well but the meeting stalled when we got to Typing. We are phasing out Typing and replacing it with Keyboarding_and_Word Processing. There was a hang up because we had to call the Inspector to see if we could handle the transition the way we wanted to. Also, since we lost two English teachers the allocation is very tight and we can’t progress if we don’t know this one piece (think of one of those puzzle games where there is one empty space and you have to slide around the tiles until they make a picture.) So the meeting adjourned without finishing and the teachers went to register some more learners that had collected. The learners wander around some more and maybe get a classroom key from a teacher.
Thursday, day 6 for teachers; day 4 for learners: The teacher’s wait all day but the continuation of the allocation meeting never materializes, I assumed that the principal hadn’t gotten a response from the inspector yet. A few more learners are registered. Learners sit in classrooms all day.
Friday, day 7 for teachers; day 5 for learners: No meeting today. I am not sure exactly how it happened but I got the register class that I wanted (12B, the class with most of the learners that Sera and I have a good rapport with). Learners talk things over and play some cards. I work on getting a timetable program working.
And so goes the first week of school. As soon as we figure out the class allocation the next step will be doing the timetable. The timetable is the document that tells the day and period when each lesson will take place. It usually takes several days to complete by hand but I think I might be able to get a program to do it for us.
I found out that I will be teaching two classes of grade 12 math, two classes of grade 8 math, keyboarding and word processing to grade 8A, and several PE classes. I am very happy about everything except the PE. The keyboarding and word processing class will be taught in the old typing lab on some Linux computers that we are getting from an organization called SchoolNet.
Sera’s grade 11 English learners that are now in grade 12 are going to be taught by Mr. Iipito in her absence. The grade 11 learners that Mr. Iipito would have been teaching now have no teacher. (In addition to Sera we also lost an English teacher named Mr. Teofelus, so there aren’t enough English teachers to go around anymore).
We did gain a science teacher though. So the learners that didn’t have a science teacher last year will now have Mr. Lazarus. He will also teach some math, in fact, he will teach the grade 11 math (which I taught last year) so I will be working with him a lot. He just graduated from the University of Namibia and he is a very nice guy; I think he will be a good teacher. The only downside is that he is constantly proselytizing -start some small talk with him at your own risk. He will bend almost any conversation towards religion and/or the bible. The teachers are all more or less very Christian anyway but he sometimes gets into a lively discussion about some detail. Actually, I was interested at first to hear Namibians talk about religion but as it turns out the conversations are about the same as they would be in the States (or anywhere else where two Christians might argue about how the other is perilously misinterpreting some part of the Good Book).
In other news, my father is on his second trip here to Namibia. He arrived on the 12th, spent a few days in Windhoek, stayed at Ekulo from Friday (the 16th) to Thursday (the 22nd), and is now in Opuwo. Last time he only brought one person to help him but his time he came with five. Three of them are students and two are technical guys from Elon to help with recording and producing sound and video. My father is the director of Project Pericles at Elon University and two of the students are in a related honors program and are Periclean Scholars. The two trips have incorporated interviews with Namibians and people in Namibia relating to HIV and AIDS. He has also filmed a lot of footage to record the culture of northern Namibia. The goal of the project, as I understand it, is to 1) produce documentaries about the impact of HIV/AIDS in Namibia geared towards raising awareness about the problems faced and what needs to be done to solve those problems and 2) produce cultural documentaries, and Namibia/HIVAIDS experts (the Periclean Scholars) that will be used to educate the students at grade schools in North Carolina about Namibia and HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The trip was paid in large part by a grant from Pfizer, which makes drugs to help HIV/AIDS patients. He flies out of Namibia on the 30th. While they were staying here at Ekulo they, among other things, they set up a laptop with a projector and speakers and let the learners watch Bruce Almighty Tuesday night and Finding Nemo the next night. The learners really liked the movies and the dining hall was mostly full for both movies.
I went with him and his group to Etosha and spent the night at one of the resorts. It was fun to go with him and I tried to guide him to where the best places to see animals were. The big news is that we got to see a cheetah! He wasn’t chasing down any springboks but he did walk across the road for us. We also got a good look at a few lionesses. The funny thing is that we saw them walking through one of the rest areas. Yes, as in, “I really have to pee, but I guess I should wait for the man eating wild animals to clear the area first.” Most of the rest areas are fenced in, but not this one.