Biting tongues

The children were left to run riot at school today. Even though they had the opportunity, they didn’t. Children here are so socialised  and used to lacking supervision that they mainly just get on with having a fun time time chatting amongst themselves. They don’t descend into chaos or violence as easily as western children do when they are able to.

The reason for the lack of supervision today at school – statistics. Unnecessary statistics. The teachers have to collate the attendance figures for the school for this term. It is so inefficiently done that no lessons happen all day except for the two math classes that I give to grades 3 and 4. It seems that head office demands that every grade’s register is written out five separate times and split up by age, sex, tribe etc. It shouldn’t take that long for someone used to bureaucracy and statistics. The teachers at my school aren’t and it flusters them. The annoying thing is that the regional office places far more emphasis on the importance of the statistics than on the importance of actually teaching the children. The teachers will get in much more trouble if they don’t complete their attendance records than if they don’t actually attend their own lessons. The priority is for making the education system appear that it is working, not on actually educating anybody. Maybe this is a problem that any large government organization suffers from, but it is somehow more pronounces and less shameless here.

The regional office came by in the afternoon to anlayse the statistics that had been collated. They were not happy, although I fell that those at head office believe it is part of their job description to be deeply disappointed in every school they visit in the belief that this motivates the teachers.

I tell a lie, they claimed to come by and analyse the results and support us. What they actually did was demoralize us and make a few absurd suggestions and offer no solutions to the real problems ailing our school.

First to their statistical analysis:

“Can you give me an idea about teacher attendance at the school – is it good? Give me an estimate?” asked the regional officer contemptuously, with a look that suggested he wasn’t going to believe a word my deputy head teacher said.

“I think it is good. The teachers are here.” Said the deputy head.

(This on a day where two out of the five teachers were not at school due to regional office prescribed trainings. These trainings are generally not that useful and along with the fact that there is no system of supply teachers, or even the chance of a teacher from another class popping into the absent teachers class and setting work, means that the class will just sit in the classroom all day bored out of their minds.)

“No I want a precise estimate. Is it 52%, is it 93%?” smirked the officer.

I bit my tongue. Now was not the time to start defining what an estimate was to a righteous bureaucrat. Whilst this analysis was going on, another officer of the regional office was inspecting the school. He came back with his findings.

“There are cobwebs in the bathrooms. This is not good enough, you must make sure the caretaker works harder. Also the grasses around the school are too long. I do not want any children bitten by snakes.”

To this I could not bite my tongue.

“The cobwebs are the least of our problems, and it seems that you have no grasp of what hinders our work here. Our roof leaks – that is an issue. Our furniture is useless and we have 6 children to a bench designed for 2 children – that is an issue. We have hardly any textbooks – that is an issue. Our caretaker hasn’t been paid for 6 months because he is in your computer wrong and no one at your office has done anything about it – that is an issue. We are a bush school, of course we are surrounded by grass. How far would you like us to cut the grass? To Janjanbureh I presume. We have better things to do.”

I said this as calmly as possible. I did not want to turn this into a battle.

“These are the issues I have noted in my inspection, and they need to be done.” He said trying to reasserting his authority in front of my timid deputy head. The regional officers are used to frightened complicity in their ineffective inspections, not accusations that they should be doing more.

“Fine. We will make sweeping the cobwebs and cutting the grass a top priority. Anything else you would like?” I asked sarcastically, I am ashamed to say.

“What would be good is if you could make the stones on the path to the school wider, it is hard for our vehicle to get in.”

Their vehicle, a humungous Toyota pick up.

I gasped and apologised, and said I had to go home. You have to pick your battles here. This conversation with these two bossy bureaucrats, I could see, was not a battle I was ever going to win.

I reiterate the things that I believe are issues are affecting our school.

  1. our roof leaks
  2. our furniture sucks
  3. our teachers don’t spend enough time in their classrooms
  4. textbooks or lack of them
  5. a school garden which is not producing anything and has no tools

Not cobwebs, not grass, and definitely not the width of our path!


One thought on “Biting tongues”

  1. You are being asked to login because is used by an account you are not logged into now.

    By logging in you’ll post the following comment to Biting tongues:
    Your frustrations are justifiable yet they’re misplaced. Of course your school is to maintain a spider/snake free environment. It says so in the Gambian Education Policy.

    HOWEVER…it says a lot more.

    Have you considered playing by the Regional Office’s rules. The next time they make note of cobwebs and tall grass point them to the following link It’s a forward looking document put out by MoBSE that cites “Policy priorities [that] are identified to allow for the growth of educational opportunity and improve the effectiveness of education at all levels…”

    Refer them to:
    Section sub-section ‘i’ (leaky roofs and sucky furniture)
    Section sub-section ‘i’ (school garden)
    Section sub-section ‘v’ (instructional materials)

    Let them know that as soon as MoBSE (and presumably the party hacks that visited you) fulfill their promised objectives, the cobwebs and grass will naturally disappear.

    Oh, and as an added bonus, let them know that once all their the major objectives are accomplished you’ll set the school janitor to painting the perimeter stones white on the path to the school.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s