Dispatch 4: Fractions and footballby kenya on May. 04, 2010, under Life
May 5, 2010
By Edouard Mattille
Naro Moru, Kenya
Yesterday was the first day of the new term, which meant there were a lot of meetings for the teachers and classrooms to be cleaned by the students. Therefore, we really didn’t do more than meet the faculty and get to know the school surroundings and the students. Today, however, was much different. We departed Batian’s View at 8 a.m. sharp and Shannon and I were dropped near a hoteli called The Blueline. From there we follow a trail that passes many small farms and homes, and crosses the same river that flows by Batian’s View. We cross a bridge made out of logs that is known as the “Indiana Jones Bridge,” so you can imagine what it is like. The walk is about half a mile and a wonderful way to see a slice of Kenya that very few visitors experience.
Once at Tigithi we stationed ourselves in the teacher’s lounge and were served chai from a massive thermos. We then worked on a teaching schedule for Shannon and me. There are eight classes in a day, 35 minutes each. After two classes there is either a break or lunch, which is a good thing. Unlike in America where the students move from class to class, here the students remain in the class and the teachers move. If I had to spend all day in the same classroom I, too, would be anxious for a few breaks in the day.
I began with a class of Standard 7 students learning math, the equivalent of 7th grade. It was a rough way to begin because the Standard 7 and 8 students take school very seriously as they need to start preparing for a big exam at the end of Standard 8 that will decide much of their future. I only had a copy of a student’s book and a teacher’s answer key. Their regular teacher had been delayed at home and would be coming later, so for 35 minutes I was left alone to teach math.
A quick note about the class length: the Kenyan school system, it seems, prides itself on its plan to teach all material within the space of 35-minute classes. Observing some signs in the teacher’s lounge, I noticed one which read “Operation Effective: Teaching students within the 35-40 minute class.” This is the quite unlike St. Gregory, where each class meets only every other day for 75 minutes. This is just another one of many differences that we are all noticing here in Kenya.
In the classroom, I found a distinctly disciplined group of students who seemed somewhat perplexed with their new teacher. I knew I had their attention as I began my lesson, but I don’t think that it was because of my teaching ability, it was because I was a white person from America standing in front of them. I’m sure that this is not a common experience for them!
I started where I had been instructed, with Exercise 13, and did my best make good use of the allotted time. I soon found out, however, that the concept of multiplying fractions was no surprise to the class. Exercise 14 and its division of fractions was no surprise either and I spent most of the class trying to find something the students couldn’t easily do in their notebooks. By the time I had reached their limit, Exercise 17, we were close to the end of class.
As this moment arrived, a student grabbed a bell and ran out without saying a word. He shook it loudly and returned to his seat as if nothing had happened. I asked if that meant that it was time for a break, but I received no answer. I shrugged and kept on teaching. A little while later a teacher popped up and informed us (just me really) that it was indeed break time. One must note the fact that going five to 10 minutes over into their break did not annoy them at all; their attitude towards learning and work ethic were a surprise to me. If this had been St. Gregory, as soon as the bell sounded the students would have headed for the door!
My love of football (yes, soccer) has been well-documented already and so it is only natural for a little bit of commentary on the dynamics of Kenyan middle school football. At one point the children informed me they were going to play some mpira (football) and invited me to watch/play. The spectacle was quite interesting to say the least. A horde of kids chased furiously after the ball and punted it into the desired direction. Once the punted ball came back falling from the skies, a half dozen watoto (children) came flying in, legs up ready to trap the ball in any way possible. The result was a pile of dazed children on the ground being stampeded by the remainder of the group chasing after the ball. One child came with a big whistle and claimed to be the referee. He promptly began running around the field in a conspicuously random fashion and blew his whistle in an even more sporadic manner. There seemed to be no real rules, simply to try and control the ball for as long as possible before someone else claimed the prize.
School ended at 3 p.m., and Shannon and I walked back to the road and were met by Mwaniki, our faithful driver, and we headed back to Batian’s View. After the 4 p.m. chai break, Mr. Roberts took us on a walk across the river, through the forest and to an open ridge that offered views of Mt. Kenya to the west and the Aberdare mountains to the east. Low-lying clouds obscured our views of the highest points of these mountains, but what we saw was amazing.
It was another fine day in Kenya and I look forward to more to come.