By Amy Simpson
Before beginning our work on the curriculum development we did a week of advance work. We walked to the surrounding villages to interview the people and visited several elementary schools. We interviewed people in the neighboring villages about their thoughts on having a new school in the area. Everyone told us that they welcome the project but some also voiced their concern about the land on which the new school will be built. Some women also expressed concerns of sending their children to the Chilanga School. Besides the long walking distance to the school, they also worry about the dangers their children may encounter on the walk there, which include crossing a busy road and in the rainy season sometimes a river. It was the majority opinion that the project was welcome because they feel that education is important, especially if it allows their children to go on to higher education. Here it is not the family who chooses which high school their child will attend but the government who chooses based on their level of achievement.
At the end of each interview with the women, they would give us a large bag of groundnuts (peanuts) to bring back with us to Makupo. I learned that raw groundnuts taste like peas and they only taste like peanuts once they have been roasted. It was a kind gesture on their part and they gave very generous quantities. I think that it is safe to say that everyone here enjoyed them.
During our days of advance work we also visited four elementary schools. We sat in and observed both standard one and standard two classrooms for a total of four lessons. The standard one classroom at the Chilanga School was particularly interesting because of the lesson and the location in which it took place which was rather odd. In the small classroom you could see remnants of what I thought might have been desks at one point but were actually remnants of toilet bowls. The classroom used to be the school’s restroom but because of the growing number of students and the limited amount of space the restrooms were gutted to make room for the standard one class. During the lesson students were crowded together sitting directly on the ground. It was an expressive arts lesson and their task was to create whatever they wanted using corn stalks for material. Students made a variety of things such as small chairs, glasses and the most popular creation among the boys was guns. The lesson gave us an example of how local and free resources can be used in the classroom.
Another interesting lesson was in the standard two classroom at the Kapiri Elementary School. The students were learning English and the teacher was teaching them words using a whole word approach. Many people with whom we spoke with told us that they did not agree with this method of teaching students English. They say that before the government changed the curriculum students were taught English words using the phonetic breakdown which was much more successful.
The students in this classroom were also sitting directly on the floor, but what I noticed was that there was a pile of old dusty desks in the back corner of the room. I wondered why they were not being used but I figure that they must be broken and in need of repair or that there are not enough for all the students to use. However I also thought that there must be a better use for them rather than having them stacked up collecting dust.
As we walked to the villages and schools, as well as on our walk to Kasungu, a few of us kept asking our cooperative learners what the different types of trees were called. It was rather funny because we expected them to know (they knew some but not all) but if they were to come to Canada and take a walk with me and they started asking me what the names of all the tress were I think I would only be able to name two or three. It was just an assumption that we made thinking that because they are from here they must know all the names of the vegetation around.
Thinking of assumptions, it reminds me of another silly question that I asked one of the night guards. One night the security had made some fires around the village, which I had not noticed before. Out of curiosity I went up to one of them to ask them why they had made fires. I was expecting some elaborate answer, which would include some cultural tradition about who knows what and this is why I did not expect the answer that followed. Now brace yourselves for the answer. He told me that they made fires because … it was cold. I laughed and told him of course, that makes complete sense; we do the same at home.