Primary school is a foreign land, or at least it has been for quite a few years. My memories of primary school mainly involve wall-ball at recess, learning fractions, reading groups and Apple IIe computers (raise your hand if you remember Oregon Trail.)
So it has been maybe 16 years since I have spent any real time inside the walls of an elementary school, and now, here I am going back to primary school every day. I’m afraid that this time around there are no wall-balls, shame, but I am making the best of it.
As I’m sure I mentioned many times previously, I have been placed with two primary schools here in South Africa to serve primarily as a resource for the educators. My official affiliation is with School and Community Resource Program (SCRP – which reads to me like “Scrap” or “Scarp”, we could have come up with a better acronym couldn’t we.)
So what do I do back at primary school all day, well that has been my question also. Susie has put together the most excellent Girls Club Program and is enjoying planning, gathering materials, and implementing the program for the 86 girls in grade 7, but I’m sure if you have read our blog lately you know all about it, so again what the heck have I been doing? Early on I had to put together a list of all the little things that fill my days. The list is really quite long, but they all are short term projects, most of them on request by one educator or another. They range from typing exams, to helping build mini-units on the space race to aiding educators in their graduate level research classes for the University (“What research methodology should we use if we would like to determine the affect of home-language education on students academic achievement?”) Lately I have served the role as furniture mover, computer technician and National Curriculum consultant. I will talk about these three in a moment.
Just as a side-note: I have also found my way back into the local high school and am currently teaching physics four times a week, twice during the school day and twice after school (yep, the students want me to come after school to teach them). I am also working with the grade 12 Maths teacher (it has taken me a while to get used to the whole “s” on the end of math – every European) to help out during the class and to tutor after school. I have worked a handful of times with the grade 10 learners (again after school on their request) I have been recently been asked to teach maths to the grade 9 learners (they currently have no maths teacher and so they just sit during those periods, sad).
OK, back to the primary school. It was a Friday not so long ago and school was ending. I was about to grab my bag and head for home when Mam Sepolwane called me over to where she was sitting in the staff room. She told me that the principal had to leave in a hurry to go home (about an hour and a half drive away) because his wife was not feeling well. He had received a call earlier in the day with the message that a truck from Polokwane (the largest city in Limpopo) was coming this way to deliver the furniture that the School Governing Body (SGB) had recently ordered. Mam Sepolwane had no idea when exactly they would arrive, but she thought it would be soon. She needed me to stay and wait for the truck while she went over to her shop across the street (which she and her husband own). She handed me the keys to the school. I mentioned that I was a bit concerned that I might be the only one there to receive the new furniture and she agreed to stay and wait. I needed to get some food so I went home and told Mom Sepolwane to call me if she needed help when the truck arrived,
I hadn’t been home for long when a learner come to find me. I returned to the school and the movers where there. One big fellow names Abraham and three smaller guys. I jumped in to help and we off-loaded two large desks (when I saw large, think CEO) sadly they were partial board so they were heavy and I’m afraid are going to be quickly turned into a termite playground. It just barely fit through the door to the staff room with only millimeters to spare on either side. I though, “hey, that wasn’t so bad. Is there more?” Little did I know we had only begun. We unloaded item after item from the truck and carefully maneuvered them into the staff room. One of the desks we attempted to put into the Principals office, but first we had to remove all the stuff off of the principal’s existing table that served as a desk and attempt to get it through the door. Here the door was much narrower and we were blocked by the external burglar bars that sit even narrower yet. In this way the job became more and more complicated.
The long and the short of it is that we had to start dismantling desks and bringing them into rooms piece by piece and then reassembling them again. Not knowing where most the furniture would eventually go we left it stacked inside the staff room. I knew that Monday would be quite a day.
It was. We spent all of Monday rearranging furniture around the school. I think some teaching happened that day but I’m not entirely sure. The furniture as you can see all came wrapped in packing foam and when the desks and cabinets were finally arranged we had one gigantic mountain of fun. Some of the learners ran and jumped in it like a large pile of leaves, just before they were asked to haul it off to the back of the school where the burn pit is located. Sadly there is no organized waste management in the rural areas of South Africa so all is burned, glass, plastic, everything. It breaks our hearts to not recycle. In fact we have been putting all of our glass in a box in the house. I’m sure we will find a use for it someday. If I had thought about it earlier I should have saved some for use as material for a possible Egg Drop science project. I should go and check.
I have written about my computer project before, but let me recap. Jacob Langa Lower Primary received a donation of 10 computers 3 years ago from the local coal mine. These computers were locked with admin passwords on both Windows and the system BIOS. They also were missing power cables for both the monitors and CPUs. Needless to say the school discounted them as white elephant gifts, but kept them around for no better reason than they didn’t know what to do with them.
I managed to get the system unlocked and to reinstall Windows XP on each machine with all of the Microsoft Office suite. (Microsoft has a deal with South African schools giving them free software to use for educational purposes – nice.) The problem now was that I lacked power cables for most of the systems. Last year I put in a request for funding to the school to buy the necessary equipment and I waited. They said that they were interested and that they wanted the systems to work but that the money couldn’t be released without the SGBs authority. The SGB did not act so the machines sat idle once again. Finally I give up and purchased the necessary extension cables and power-strips myself after receiving a generous donation of monitor and power cables from a friend in our shopping town. Once the machines were up and running one of the educators asked if I had saved my receipt, she is under the impression that the SGB will reimburse me. I’m not holding my breath, but for now the computers are functioning and I plan to start larger computer literacy classes next term.
Finally, I have recently run a couple workshops. One at the higher primary and one at the lower. I titled them NCS Success. The goal was to help the educators understand the requirements of the National Curriculum and to help them get into compliance. Actually, the real goal was to help educators see the importance pre-planning; to go beyond walking into the classroom, opening their learners textbook and attempting to teach a lesson that they have never considered before. It was time to think about what these educators were being asked to teach and to take that next step to ask when and how they were going to teach it.
From the time I facilitated the workshop I have been working with individual educators to get their respective houses in order, planning for the next school year 2009. With a little luck, these educators will not only draft the paperwork, but will start using it to teach their classes ever day.
So what am I doing in South Africa? Well, it changes moment by moment. I am pleased to say that the majority of the time I feel useful and that my work here is meeting the needs of the community and school, but as is typically with the work of Peace Corps Volunteers we act within system that is experiencing continuously changing motion so, we too must swim within these churning currents and make the best use of our abilities to serve those with whom we tread.
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