This post forms part of the Rwanda Series after attending the Rwanda Education Summit in Musanze from 21st – 26th May 2012. Read further posts in the series here.
After the beginnings of conversations last night over dinner, the Summit begins in earnest today. We begin in the Anglican Cathedral of Musanze, where Bishop Mbanda officially opens the summit. He offers questions for us to ponder as our school visits start; “How can we improve? How can the children be better builders of their lives, their communities, their nation?
As we sit in a large circle in the centre of the imposing cathedral, Stephen Harris, introduces us to the space rules. For the 40 or so principals in the room it is the first time they have been introduced to the notion of open space learning and he explains the need for this to become a conversation space, where experience and thinking collide. It requires conversation and questioning, with no bleaking of ideas.
With this in mind we make our way to the first school on our itinerary, Maya 1. The Government school was opened by the chuch in 1939 and the original buildings still house the 364 students, of which only 46 are girls. Although renovated in 1996, the damage from an earthquake means that some classes need to shift to one side of the room during rain.
As we walk into the first classroom 50 students sitting at long stools beam at us, ready to share their work, they proudly show us their notebooks. Some of the older students are learning about the human skeleton and their books are filled with labelled pictures of the skeleton. Unfortunately the English of their teachers is also limited and they have not yet connected their words to their own bodies.
The principal tells us of the generous donation of English textbooks that are now stored in one of the building as the teachers have little english and limited knowledge to use them. The teachers give their all but the obstacles are so large there is only so much they can do.
Outside, the community is gathering to see what all the brouhaha is about, 100 people all arriving at the school in several buses has definitely created some interest. Alice is saddened by the young girl with her baby sibling on her back. One of the many issues taking away the childhoods of these innocent children well before they should. It is a thought we will take back to our discussion later today.
Before the reflection of what I have seen settles in it is off to our next school, Kogogo Secondary school, which sits on a picturesque hill overlooking Lake Burera. National test scores determine entry to this Secondary School, where both boys and girls board.
My first stop is into the computer science class where I take a seat and learn about CPU, internal and external memory. The teacher is mesmorising. His English is fantastic and you can see his use of repetition to ensure students are learning. Given, it continues to be teaching and learning based on rote but as I look around, the students are listening, wanting to learn. And there is not a computer in sight.
Next it is off to a a Swahili class, where the kids try to teach me some new words. Although not a national language, these students are looking at moving into the banking industry and it will be a great help to their career. It isn’t long before Swahili is left behind for English as the students take the opportunity to practise conversing in the language.
I am shown around by a few students, proudly sharing with me their boarding rooms, kitchen and sports areas. I hear of the ambitions of students around me, favourite subjects and of course the boring ones. Richard wants to head to university to be an education minister to bring free and fair eduction to all. Isaac wishes to travel the world and has many questions about the places I have been. Daniel moves the chat to football and favourite teams and they start to chant Man U in response to my following Liverpool. Laughter fills the air.
As we head back to the cathedral for our first discussions I try to put my two visits in perspective. I can’t help but compare it to Australia and am quickly beginning to feel that we have a lot to learn from the resilient educators in Rwanda. They accept change in the face of adversity, remain positive and offer these students opportunities beyond what I expected.
Darius, a student at the Kigali Institute of Education sums up my feelings as we return to the cathedral for our first discussions;
“Despite poverty, teachers teach with courage and students are motivated.”