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#6 Schoolday for Phil

school staff praying at the start of term





School mornings … yuk. I think the alarm goes off round 6.30 to herald a strategic game of Sleeping Lions at which the diligent, mega-responsible female regularly loses and makes a cup of tea as a fitting punishment for being so diligent and mega-responsible.

The drink eventually prompts my brain into remembering who I am; why a fan is making such a racket above my head (because I’m in Africa); what’s in the kitchen for breakfast (lately bread, cheese spread and huge water melons of the edible type) and the impending reality of school lessons.

New Nation School
School started later than normal with some teacher training days in the second week of September. The school is currently split into two sites: a more established one on the church premises for the lower primary school and a much larger area for upper primary and secondary ages. Over the summer months development work has been going on at the new site and a two storey block of about 12 classrooms with changing/shower facilities has been added, along with a separate toilet block for upper primary, a concrete base for an eventual multi-purpose sports area and, most importantly of all to many would-be prima donnas, a flattened football pitch of the same dimensions as Chelsea FC.

Financing these developments has been quite a challenge as the interest rate for loans is around 25%. So assistance has been sought from abroad for lower interest loans with some degree of success, but much more is needed. Lowestoft Community Church is taking up a special offering this coming Christmas and anyone wishing to contribute can do so by contacting the church through their website.

High interest rates for borrowers are a problem throughout the country and the end result is huge amounts of houses at various stages of building. Many plots are simply walled and gated with ramshackle huts wobbling next to concrete foundations boasting a wall here and there. The owners either live in the huts themselves, or have tenants to do so, and continue the building as and when finance allows. So unlike England there is no culture of debt.

Starting the day

We begin walking to the school new site at about 7:35 and catch one of the school buses en route that ferry students and teachers between the two sites. Tom and I go to the new site while Heather waits on a street corner for one of the buses returning to the lower primary (church) site. School begins at 8 and lessons are in chunks of 40 minutes, separated by a lady clanging a traditional bell as loud as her strength allows. At the new site, there are 2 classes per year group up to Form 3 (Year 9) while Form 4 and up have just the one class. Class sizes seem to range from around 20 to 30 students.

I always start with a double PE session for a single class from forms 1-3 and through the week take every one of them, either on my own or temporarily with Kwame who is leaving in November. PE is purely practical – none of the theory rubbish which has slithered into English schools – and I have created a routine of warm-ups (minus the ones I hate), skill activities, water-break and two games. I’ve invented a warm-up game called Tro-tros where they have to reach certain bus-stops in different ways like sprinting, hopping or walking backwards. Prison ball has been well-received and the team games are variations of netball, handball and football. I’ve decided netball isn’t such a bad sport after all – there is a decent level of skill in it – although perhaps not enough potential glory for the individual.
At break time I get hassled by little groups of hasslers invading my personal space and calling out “Uncle Phil can we have a ball?” There are only limited balls allowed out and this presents a business opportunity requiring exploitation at some point. The kids are also well aware of the situation – even the knee-size ones – and are very cunning in their attempts to gain favouritism.

After break I currently have some free-time, which can be taken up with cover lessons for absent teachers or used for preparation. On two days I have double ICT with Form 3 but at the moment it is shared with another teacher. It’s quite difficult as the ICT room is bare with no computers installed as yet. Lunchtime is at 12:20 and we get fed with hot meals such as chicken and rice. There’s always a nice tang of chilli and they’re quite filling which means students and teachers can be quite drowsy for the afternoon sessions. Bags of water are on hand to keep us going and I teach double Business Studies to Form 4.

End of day
Tom finishes at 3 and has a huge bag of schoolbags to carry plus lot of homework which is set on a rota basis – so every Thursday I set a Business homework – not something too long and not involving the internet as many students do not have access. Form 4 and up finish at 3:40 and the school buses ferry everyone back to the other site but our house is on the way so me and Tom hop off after 5 minutes or so.

Heather has to wait for the buses to return and then embarks for the home run where the buses ferry students to certain locations. This final journey meanders all over the neighbourhood before she is dropped off, about an hour later than Tom and me. Her job is to co-ordinate certain resources in the school, to do some class reading and to introduce JollyPhonics a literacy learning tool for the knee-size kids. The latter can’t be done as yet because the boxes still haven’t arrived and all the resources are in them.