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Friday, 28 September 2007

Reflections On Rwanda

Let's take a break from the long wait for DCC to make up their mind about the closure of our school, and find out what headteacher Avis Curry got up to in Rwanda.

Remember the goodbye messages that the children gave her, back in May? Here are Avis' reflections on Rwanda.

My time in Rwanda was an experience that I shall never forget. It was challenging, thought provoking, exciting, exhausting, fascinating and sad, all at the same time. So why did I go? After such a successful Ofsted report at Combs, as well as enjoying the moment, you ask yourself ‘what next?’ Some head teachers might look to ‘move on’, but I really enjoy what I do at Combs. So I saw this as an opportunity to refresh and revitalise my role as a school leader by revisiting my vision and values, whilst developing my leadership and management skills.

I was able to positively engage with capacity building at a strategic level whilst reflecting on my own current practice. Enriching the curriculum at Combs with my experiences as well as contributing to the global perspective, both at Combs and our cluster schools will be another benefit. So after all the excitement it is wonderful to return to Combs and carry on leading the teaching and learning here.

Lining up for classThe curriculum in Rwanda is not too dissimilar to our own and amazingly it is delivered without basic resources. The school to which I was attached had neither electricity nor running water, yet taught all subjects (except ICT!). From the age of about 8, all subject teaching is done through the country’s second language, French. All children from the age of 6 were taught 3 languages, English, French and Kinyrwanda (local dialect). They had few text books or pictures, no paints, crayons (etc), no formal music, but the sound and sight of the children singing, drumming and dancing was just wonderful. PE was football, volleyball or marching. Football is very big in Rwanda and English clubs are avidly followed, with the favourites being Manchester United and Arsenal. The children could tell me more about the players names and positions than I knew.

In the classroomMy remit was vast and unrealistic, but one of the foci was to improve the capacity of the school to improve, and yes, Rwanda also uses exam results to ‘league table’ their schools! Some of the problems faced were very reminiscent of the UK many years ago and from this aspect I felt most helpful as I could stop another head teacher from having to ‘re-invent the wheel’! Other areas of involvement were working with the parents and the community to improve the educational outcome for the children, training the teachers in current teaching methodology and starting up self-help cluster groups of schools, both within their own districts and across the country. So I was kept fairly busy!

Head teacher arriving at schoolI worked with my head teacher to introduce him to the computer and the internet. He now has an internet account and is keeping in touch through e-mail. Now he desperately wants a computer! It is amazing to think that in the middle of a very poor country, which is still recovering from the genocide, with an underfed and unemployed population, that you can find 2 or 3 internet cafes in the middle of a town. Where there is no electricity, people are using solar cells! The only bad thing about these cafes is that there was no protection against unsuitable sites and I often found children accessing explicit pornography and no one seemed to care, not even when I made an issue of it and threatened the police.

Living in Rwanda has made me realise that everybody doesn’t need to jump through the same hoops to develop. For instance Rwanda is very ‘green’. If you are lucky enough to have light bulbs then they are always low wattage. No plastic bags are allowed in the country, and just about anything you can think of is recycled or reused. Everyone grows food in any and every available space without pesticides (even if it is for the wrong reason - that they cannot afford them), and mobile phones are the norm. I don’t know that they will ever totally replace the landline grid and mobiles also double up as watches. It was worrying to observe the teachers picking up their mobiles in class and looking at them until I realised they were looking to see if it was time to change lessons.

Design & Technology ClassThe worst part of living in Rwanda was the feeling of inadequacy experienced when people talked of their experiences during the genocide and the thousands of children that have been left with absolutely no one to look after them. The lucky ones are orphans living with a relative, but for so many all the relatives were also killed and they are totally alone. So many children also have Aids and are not expected to become adults, so therefore are largely totally ignored.

Having lived in Rwanda I now really appreciate being able to turn on a tap and have a drink or a wash, and a hot shower is still a treat! Food was also a problem, as even when you could buy it I never quite mastered the kerosene stove, which repeatedly turned myself and the food black!

Always SmilingWhat I miss about Rwanda are the smiling faces; they have relatively little to smile about but a smile is always there. Perhaps I’d better not dwell on the warm sunny weather also (although it could be quite chilly morning and night.)

Avis Curry
October 2007

In case you're wondering, no-one from Rwanda has visited this blog yet. Of the 35 countries where visitors have come from, only three are in Africa: Morocco, Egypt and South Africa. There's lots of information on the web about education in Rwanda, so if you want to know more, start here.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Uncertainty Over Decision Day

During the consultation period, which closed on 6 July, we were told that DCC would review the results of the consultation and make a decision on what happens next by the end of September.

That became an expected date of mid October for a DCC Cabinet meeting. The reason we were given for the delay was that there was a large amount of documents and letters for DCC to process, and compile into a report.

But now we've learned that the DCC Cabinet members have not been able to set a date on which they will have finished 'gathering views' and will decide the fate of Combs Infant School, Village Hall and Chapel.

Meanwhile, our village school has opened for a new term and is operating as normally as it can, given its uncertain future.

The decision by DCC affects dozens of children, and scores of families, for a long time to come. We wish DCC would get on with their decision-making.

How hard can it be, for DCC to recognise that preserving a precious asset is the right thing to do?

A reminder of what can happen next...
Once DCC has (in their own good time) reviewed all of the input they received during the consultation period, their Cabinet, led by the member responsible for schools (Alan Charles, pictured right, defending the indefensible) will decide whether to press on (if they haven't come to their senses) and publish the formal notice of intended closure of the school. If they (stupidly) do that, there's then a further six-week period in which they will accept more input. At the end of that period, they decide whether to continue with the closure (against all reason).

So, be prepared for this to run on into (at least) 2008.

Read the post on "The Legal Framework" for more details.