It is my deep pleasure, dear readers, after completing three weeks of observation in the two Standard One classrooms at Msaranga Primary School, to share some of my notes with you in this blog post! In some ways, this entry is the most meaningful thus far as it reflects the on-the-ground research I have conducted for Toa Nafasi as opposed to simply preparatory measures. It excites me to think that the work has begun in earnest and that I am doing something that may potentially benefit primary schoolchildren in Tanzania in a collective manner.
words on my methodology: I have been trying to follow – per Angi
Stone-MacDonald’s guidelines – the technique of “anecdotal recording,” or notating
incidents of behaviors of interest, i.e. what happened, how, when, and
where. It is meant to be brief,
cumulative, and ABOVE ALL, objective.
Needless to say, this last point is not my strong suit and you will soon
see what I mean!
addition to my inability (aversion?) to remain impartial about my observations,
I also tend to scrutinize the teachers more than the students, particularly in
the early days, which is what I’ve transcribed for you below. It is something I am well aware of and
will take up a solution with Angi.
I don’t think it’s entirely my fault however as the classroom set-up is
so teacher-centered, it is nearly impossible to focus on the students
individually. Still, since
acknowledging this tendency, I have made a concerted effort to correct myself. After all, while it’s true that the
teachers will need to be made aware of the existence of learning differences
and then duly trained in how to deal with them, it is the children who need to
be identified as either having a difficulty that must be addressed or some
special hidden talent that must be fostered. And to do this, I must study their physical, social,
cognitive, and emotional statuses.
I have also been channeling the ELORS (Early Learning Observation & Rating
Scale) principles which are meant to be applied at least one month into the
school year and which help to gather information about young children with
specific attention to characteristics that might be early signs of learning
disabilities. Thus, I have learned
it is important to be mindful of the following seven domains: Perceptual and
Motor (agility); Self-Management (impulsivity); Social and Emotional
(cooperative); Early Math; Early Literacy; Receptive Language (auditory); and
Expressive Language (oral).
bearing those tenets in mind, please have a look-see at some of the data
collected from my first two days on the job. The rest of my notes, some ninety-something pages of
scribble, I have yet to transcribe, but will provide a sampling at a later date
so you can see how I’ve adjusted myself.
on, and enjoy!
Monday, February 4, 2013
we are in the Standard 1 classroom at Msaranga Primary School, just outside of
Moshi town, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.
am late and Vumi (the Tanzanian teacher with whom I taught nursery school from
2007-2011 and who has offered to help with Toa Nafasi) is already there waiting
are 3 rows of 10 dawati or
desk/benches each, and 3-4 kids sitting at each dawati, approximately 70 kids total. The lesson is kipindi
cha kuhesabu (math), and the teacher stands at front of class, moving about,
talking to group as whole, writing simple addition equations on the board, e.g.
2 + 2 = 4, 3 + 0 = 3, etc.)
kipindi cha kusoma lesson (reading)
from yesterday is still on the board as well, and this seems a bit confusing.
are frequent disruptions: visitors with whom the teacher stops to chat, cell phones
that remain on, a tea tray and snacks for the teachers which appears, students
from other classes hanging around the doorway or peering in the windows.
children count at the dawati using
bottlecaps. The teacher says “Shika daftari lako, weka mezani, andika
tarehe, acha kuongea, kwa nini unasimama?” (“Take your notebook, put it on the table, write the date,
stop talking, why are you standing?”)
All very typical things to say in a classroom of small children.
teacher, let's call her Mama T, seems to be in her late 40s, early
50s. There is a second teacher, we'll call her Dada M, who is probably still in her 20s.
after the math exercises, there seems to be no correction of the students’ written
work, and the teacher starts the kusoma
lesson, so the class periods do not seem defined. Between kuhesabu
and kusoma, there is a long period of
dead time where Mama T is drawing lines on the board and writing the alphabet
slowly and deliberately.
Mama T seems to know the names of only a few kids, but maybe this is because the
school year is still young?? There certainly are a lot of names to learn!!
of latecomers come straggling in, maybe five or so. Most of the kids wear blue uniforms, but they are ragged and
dirty as usual. Another disruptive aspect to the classroom.
9am, Mama T is still writing the kusoma
lesson on the board! Kids are chattering
away and she barks “Acha kuongea!” at
them but what does she expect them to do?
kuhesabu? Funga daftari la
hisabati. Umemaliza, hujamaliza,
funga daftari, fanya haraka.” (“How
many have finished counting? Close
your math notebook. You’ve
finished, you’ve not finished, close your notebook, hurry up.”) Hmm, this is a problem....it seems not to matter whether the students have completed the work or not....
the first problem is there are too many kids for a proper class. Second is too many interruptions. And third is that Mama T is probably not
all that well-trained though she seems well-meaning if a bit
In general, Tanzanian teachers are not particularly well-trained nor do they have much of a passion for teaching. It is usually that they themselves have finished the weakest in their own classes and the teaching profession is the only one left available to them. At least, that's the way it is now, not sure about back in Mama T's school days. Still, it's a sad state of affairs that the peeps teaching the new generation of Tanzanians are the ones who failed their own studies. And I don't think I have to mention that they are NOT well-paid for their work!
9:11am, Mama T is now ready for kipindi cha kusoma. To do kusoma of A E I O U, BA BE BI BO BU, etc. she asks each of the
three rows of dawati to read
individually, so a third of the class at a time, which is good, but then she
watches her stick point to the letters on the board the whole time, not the
the kids could “read” the syllables in order, but out of order there was
confusion. Mama T uses explicit
error correction: “Usiseme A, sema HA!” (“Don’t say A, say HA!”) Seems like a lot of guesswork on the
part of kids to get right answer.
not being asked to perform, the others in class are totally checked out,
fidgeting, dozing, completely uninterested, not even paying attention for when
it’s their turn, unable to see that paying attention to their cohorts will help
them to succeed themselves.
Dada M uses the fimbo (stick) once but not
horribly. Mama T brandishes her
stick about and bangs it on the dawati,
scaring the daylights out of the kids (and me!) with the noise, but keeps her
disciplinary measures to scolding and shaming.
10:45am, Mama T gets a phone call and leaves class to take it; mayhem ensues. Now mixing of asubuhi (morning) and mchana
(afternoon) students starts and kids don’t know which section they are supposed
to be in nor does Mama T. It's all too much to keep track of, and Vumi
steps in to try to help.
Apparently, since it is only second month of school, kids can still
switch around periods but by March/April, they must choose and stick to either
morning or afternoon.
students read syllables individually in front of class pointing with the stick
on the board. Each one volunteers
to read rather than Mama T choosing, so obviously the confident ones will ask to
go and the weak students will remain quiet and unchallenged.
mayhem even as they read alone: the sections mix, another teacher enters, Mama T
talks over the students, the headmaster comes by. The most important part of the lesson is a mess. Vumi tries to step in and help again
but here, cultural differences separate the two of us and our good intentions
as she calls one child mwongo (liar)
instead of being supportive or even acknowledging that a mistake was made. (Teachers often call children who say
the wrong thing “liar” as if they could help it! Though it occurs to me that there might be a gap in
translation here and possibly wiggle room for an expanded connotation of the
the kids who cannot read volunteer to come to the front of the room because
they know that no one is listening and no one will scold them for being
wrong. They get the thrill of
wielding the stick and being at the front of the class without having to
actually perform correctly.
asubuhi section is dismissed and mchana enters. Mchana really gets the short end
of the stick as the teachers are tired, they have no enthusiasm, it’s hot as
heck, more visitors come by, kids are probably hungry. Even I am tired.
a child becomes ill and vomits.
She had been sleeping since the start of class, totally out of it.
Mama T explains how she wants HA HE HI HO HU to be written in the daftari with the small lines and big lines in great detail which is
good: the kids should know how to plan their pages properly. But she doesn’t ask the kids if they
have questions about the assignment nor does she address incorrect ways of
writing the actual symbol as opposed to how it should be presented. IMO, this is misplaced importance on
appearance. She says “Tupo?
Sema, ‘Tupo Mwalimu!’”
(“Are we here? Say, ‘We’re
here, Teacher!’”) which leaves little room for hatupo (we’re not here), i.e. kids with questions cannot voice
them. I chalk this up to a mix of poor teacher training and perhaps some cultural differences between Western and African educators.
another child vomits.
makande (a dish of maize and beans
typically served in schools) is dished out. I find it strange that afternoon students get food and
morning ones don’t even get uji
(porridge). I wonder if they pay
the same fees.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
asubuhi session starts with prayer,
then Mama T tells the students to count bottlecaps up to ten for the kuhesabu lesson.
are fewer kids today than yesterday, about 60 total right now; Mama T says they
will arrive late (I am earlier than I was yesterday).
math and reading lessons are still on the blackboard. Mama T erases the digits from the math section but leaves +/-
signs so she doesn’t have to re-write them. Vumi and I think the kids are confused by this.
three kids straggle in as well as one other teacher asking for chalk. One kid has no caps and is
shamed: "Unaomba?! Unaomba?!" ("You ask for?! You ask for?!") I'm guessing Mama T is pretty tired of being asked for things....
three more latecomers.
points out that the answers to the math problems are already written on the
board. There are two sets of
equations, one with the answers filled, one without, but they are exactly the
same. Vumi says, “Mifano iwe mifano, mazoezi tofauti.” (“The examples should be the examples,
the exercises different.) I wonder if the teachers realize....
note to Vumi that a.) a lot of time seems to be wasted, and b.) the math lesson lasted
all of ten minutes and now we are randomly into kusoma. Confusing, haphazard,
poorly managed timewise, the problems are adding up.
while sharpening a pencil for a child, Mama T bemoans her fate to me and Vumi. She complains about the lack of vifaa (school
supplies) and Vumi agrees and asks me if Toa Nafasi can help with pencils,
chalk, daftari. I sympathize, but tell her that the
program is about teaching methods, instructor training, raising awareness of
learning differences and fostering individual students’ talents, not
THINGS. I also point out that even
if every child in the class had a pencil, so what? There's plenty of class time when they are simply not doing anything. She nods and smiles.
Vumi gets it.
9:10am, Dada M starts randomly ripping old posters off the wall, making noise and
creating yet another distraction.
I roll my eyes at Vumi who laughs.
the headmaster comes by and Mama T leaves the room in the middle of her lesson,
so we see that even the top teacher adds to the interrupted learning
style. The kids are idle again and
Vumi says to me, “Mwalimu mwingine, kazi
yake ni nini?” (“The other
teacher, what is her job?”) meaning WHY THE HECK ISN’T DADA M PICKING UP THE
MANTLE OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR MAMA T WHEN SHE’S CALLED AWAY? My thoughts exactly. Vumi and I are so totally on the same page, we can now finish each other's sentences....in Swahili.
one student hits another and is subsequently hit by the teacher. IMO, this is learned behavior: the
punishment for hitting is being hit yourself, it doesn’t make sense. In fact, most of today’s class has been
disciplinary in nature: much more use of the stick, much more talk of what is
permitted, what isn’t, what is bad behavior, what is good....Mama T is definitely
in a mood.
is one MEMKWA student in the class.
MEMKWA is the Tanzanian program for reintegrating out-of-school youth
back into the system. I ask him
how old he is and he says 2, so he clearly doesn’t know a.) his age or b.)
fundamental numeracy. For all her
flaws, I’ll give it to Mama T that she does spend extra time with this child who
she guesses to be 10 or 11 and is extremely behind in his studies. No doubt, he has had a pretty tough
life. He’s very quiet and I mark
him as one to watch.
break is over and I am left alone in the class with the kids going nuts. One actually climbs the dawati and jumps off, King
Kong-style. A girl comes over to
complain about a classmate. I just
nod. Dada M finally returns.
Dada M leads the science lesson: usafi wa mavazi
(cleanliness of clothes). She asks
what three things are needed to wash clothes. Kids are quiet, and raise their hands to answer for the most
part. Dada M explains soap, water,
basin, etc. She has the physical
objects and does a real demo, which the kids like. This goes to show that mixing up teaching styles can jazz up
a lesson. I can’t imagine that the
kids are really psyched about doing laundry but because they are not being
forced into the chorus or writing the same old thing in their daftari, they are excited and
energized. If we can only apply
this method of teaching to literacy and numeracy lessons!!
notes that not all the kids have returned to the class after break, about five
are missing. She says the teachers can't follow when there are so many kids and don’t even realize.
roll call taking forever. TOO MANY KIDS!
asubuhi leaves eight minutes early, mchana enters directly after, Dada M
50 kids have come for mchana session
today. Dada M explains kuhesbu using her fingers then goes
through the equations already written on the board. She goes quickly without checking in with the kids. Her pacing is off so that I know there
will be dead time on the other side plus no doubt there are many kids who have
no clue what’s going on.
kusoma, Mama T switches it up by
picking different dawati around the
room instead of going row by row in order. She also points to the different syllables out of order
taking away some of the predictability of the lesson. The kids can’t memorize what will come next nor know who
will be called on, so it’s better to test their comprehension – I hope she can see how this simple intervention changes the entire dynamic of the
12:25pm, Mama T calls on an absent child to answer a question. Whoops! Vumi and I can't help but smirk; we're both good with names. Dada M yawns.
1:05pm, Mama T redeems herself in my eyes by again sitting with the MEMKWA student for a
while, which warms my heart. Dada M
is in and out of the classroom, mostly busy with the tea tray.
after a prolonged break for the kids to eat makande
and the teachers to eat lunch, Dada M leaves and Mama T takes over science for mchana. Vumi points out that had they planned better, Dada M could
have done the science lesson (at which she was quite competent) before break
and Mama T could do kusoma after. Now, as it stands Mama T has done all
the work and Dada M has had lunch.
Sorry, I've melded languages. I think only two of my readers will get the title to this blog entry, and one of them is my father, but no matter. I write to you about 36 hours out from the official start of The Toa Nafasi Project activities at Msaranga Primary School. Bright and early Monday morning, we will commence an eight-week observation period which will hopefully inform the way the rest of the Project will be carried out. In order to establish what changes in teaching methodology and/or curriculum need to be made, we need to figure out the current state of things. This will be done through observation and some informal interviews. I hope to be able to give you some interesting updates as we move along.
Meantime, some discouraging news from yesterday's Tanzania Daily News regarding a "heated debate as MPs view education status." I have to say that I am a bit dismayed (if not altogether surprised) to learn that there is a "lack of official curricula for primary education." I had armed myself back in July with what I thought were the official national syllabi for English, Kiswahili, Math, and Science for Standard One and have been studying the objectives, teaching strategies, and assessments assiduously since then. I mean, I'm not gonna lie, I wouldn't have been shocked and awed to find that they weren't exactly being followed at Msaranga Primary, but I at least thought they would be in effect elsewhere in the country. Apparently not....which is not exactly the best news to discover on the eve of the project's inception....but what did I expect??
Sounds like a whole lotta blah-blah to me. Also, pretty typical (and sad) that this Kawambwa character wants to take the wait-and-see approach regarding education reform: "Since 2009 the government has started the
process of reviewing the education and training policy, thus Parliament
should instead wait for the review to be completed." Meanwhile, the students who are in school RIGHT NOW are getting shafted....
Dodoma — The National Assembly docked a
private motion tabled by Mr. James Mbatia (Nominated - NCCR Mageuzi) to form
a select committee and investigate serious weaknesses in the country's
Instead, it voted to deliberate on a counter-motion presented by the
Minister for Education and Vocational Training, Dr. Shukuru Kawambwa,
that asked Parliament to allow the state to take into consideration
issues raised by Mbatia as it is reviewing the education and training
The vote by members of Parliament came after a battle of wits on
issues surrounding standing orders, with those from the opposition
claiming that docking Mr. Mbatia's motion was against the orders while
those from the ruling party supported the minister's motion.
In his motion, Mr. Mbatia raised serious concerns in three main areas
in the country's education sector which he named as education policy,
lack of official curricula for secondary and primary education, and
weaknesses in approving learning and teaching materials for secondary
and primary schools.
He also took swipe at the Educational Materials Approval Committee
(EMAC) for failing to deliver on its duties and allowing the influx of
mediocre learning and teaching materials in the country, which do not
serve the intended purpose of educating and enlightening students.
To hammer his point home, he read excerpts from books that contained
too many obvious errors yet they were still approved by EMAC. He accused
officials of possible embezzlement of 13 million US dollars that were
given in the form of assistance by South Carolina State University
through USAID after Tanzania had requested for assistance for science
and mathematics books.
"Education is the heartbeat of any nation; if the heartbeat is
abnormal it might lead to the demise of a nation," he said. He also
noted that weaknesses in the education sector have led to many failures
in other sectors.
To look into the weaknesses and shortcomings in the sector, he
proposed that Parliament should form a select committee to "probe the
depth of the problem in the education system and where possible the
committee should recommend courses of action to rid the nation of the
Dr. Kawambwa, however, countered the motion, saying that issues raised
by Mr. Mbatia are crucial but forming a select committee alone would not
solve the problem. He said since 2009 the government has started the
process of reviewing the education and training policy, thus Parliament
should instead wait for the review to be completed.
When the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms. Anna Makinda, wanted
MPs to pick between one of the two motions to be discussed, a heated
debate ensued. Although almost all legislators agreed in principle that
issues raised by Mr. Mbatia were of genuine concern, divisions emerged on
whether or not to form a select committee.
Ms. Makinda said that the issues raised by Mr. Mbatia were broad-based and
needed to be probed by more than just a select committee. The sentiment
was echoed by Deputy Speaker, Mr. Job Ndugai, Minister of State Policy,
Coordination, and Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. William Lukuvi, and the
Minister for Labor and Employment, Ms. Gaudensia Kabaka.
Others were Mr. Richard ole Sendeka (Simanjiro - CCM), Mrs. Margareth
Sitta (Special Seats - CCM), and Ms. Jenista Mhagama (Peramiho - CCM). Mr. Mbatia
opposed the move to dock his motion and was supported by other MPs from
the opposition camp.