Yesterday Dave and I spent the afternoon up at the school in a meeting with the School Governing body. On the agenda were a number of issues, from the new school which is being built and the new toilets which have just been put up, to teacher and student attendance. The last issue remains a struggle. Take a walk in the village, on any week day, during school hours and you will come across plenty of school aged children. The reason for their non attendance is often “uMiss akekho”. The teacher is not there. Almost as often, if not more often, it is simply because they do not want to go. The historical legacy of appalling education delivery in the village has not given the school, or education in general, a particularly good reputation. As an organisation working towards optimal education delivery in the village we face a number of massive challenges here, getting the teachers to provide the 35 hours of teaching per week they are contracted to provide, ensuring that this education is, at very least, adequate, ideally optimal, and persuading the parents of the village that education is important. These are challenges we will take on with full force next year, when we have some infrastructure in place.
The meeting went along fairly smoothly until we hit the topic of a 35 hour active teaching week. Dave and I get hard eyes when this topic comes up, it’s the law, and we’re none too keen on compromising. The teachers get sullen with downcast eyes, it is difficult to get to and from Nqileni village, and they see this as adequate reason to cut hours from their work week. The local circuit manager (the person above the principal in the Education Department hierarchy who was also attending the meeting) tried to persuade Dave and I that we need to be flexible, that in all schools teachers each less than the required time, and we need to cut the teachers some slack, which in this case, probably means accepting a work week of about 22 hours. This is a battle we’re going to have to work though with some innovative techniques of persuasion.
The topic of children not attending then came under fire. The teachers, principal and circuit manager are rather less flexible on the law that all children need to attend school, every school day. “Who is responsible for children attending school?” the circuit manager shot at Dave and I (seeing a good place for blame to be laid somewhere other than the teachers). “Abazali” we replied in unison, “The parents”. So the fire turned on the present parents (present because their children are, in fact, attending school), “Why are your children not coming to school?”
This is where the meeting took on a twist neither Dave nor I expected, “Because the teachers do not beat the children anymore” the parents present replied.
This was not quite the reply we were expecting, we were expecting something more along the lines of, “They do not learn even when they do go.” We looked at each other somewhat horrified. The circuit manager handled this situation well, explaining that hitting children was not allowed in any schools, at all, anymore. It was only later, when discussing the day back at the lodge that I realised that this seemingly horrifying response from the parents in fact signalled a victory for us on something we have been working hard to change: the switch is no longer the standard medium of instruction at NO-OFISI primary school!