Tuesday, February 26, 2013

At Long Last!

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.

A few 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!

In 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.

Finally, 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).

So, 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.

Read on, and enjoy!


Monday, February 4, 2013 

8:18am, we are in the Standard 1 classroom at Msaranga Primary School, just outside of Moshi town, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

I 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 for me.

There 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.)

The kipindi cha kusoma lesson (reading) from yesterday is still on the board as well, and this seems a bit confusing.

There 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.

The 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.

The 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.

8:43am, 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!!

Lots 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 boardKids are chattering away and she barks “Acha kuongea!” at them but what does she expect them to do?

“Wangapi wamemaliza 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....

IMO, 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 frazzled/frustrated.

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 kids reading!! 

Predictably, 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.

When 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.

10:50am, 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.

More 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 word mwongo....)

Now 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.

11:30am, asubuhi section is dismissed and mchana entersMchana 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.

12:20pm, 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.

12:30pm, another child vomits.

1:20pm, 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 

8:05am, asubuhi session starts with prayer, then Mama T tells the students to count bottlecaps up to ten for the kuhesabu lesson.

There 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).

Yesterday’s 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.

8:10am, three kids straggle in as well as one other teacher asking for chalkOne 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....

8:20am, three more latecomers.

Vumi 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....

Nearly 8:30am, I 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. 

8:37am, 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.

9:12am, 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. 

9:50am, 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.

There 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.

10:30am, 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!!

Vumi 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.

11:11am, roll call taking forever.  TOO MANY KIDS!

11:22am, asubuhi leaves eight minutes early, mchana enters directly after, Dada M leads prayer.

Approximately 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.

For 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 lesson!!

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.

1:55pm, 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.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Bad

Alas, I have yet again failed to plan my time wisely and do not have an original, amazing, magnificent blog entry to share with you this week regarding the progress of the observation period in Msaranga - shame on me!!  But that may be a good thing....

I am hugely busy there, waking up at the crack of dawn and going home so busted-tired, I can barely eat dinner and scrub the red dust from my skin and hair, let alone sit upright and transcribe my notes.  I've typed up the ones from Monday, February 4th, but the other five days I've observed, not just yet - nearly 70 pages in total now!  Still, they are forthcoming and I can't wait to share some of my findings with you all.

In the meantime, have a look at this newsflash from the Pan African News Agency dated February 9th, 2013.


Education featured at the top of debate in the Tanzanian Parliament during a week when lawmakers focused on shortcomings in the Education and Vocational Training Ministry’s curricula for primary and secondary schools. 

Writing under the headline "Which Way Should Tanzania Take Toward Quality Education?" The Guardian daily wrote that at one point in time, the education curriculum had focused on developing critical and creative thinking, communication, numeracy, literacy, personal and social life skills, and independent learning among students. 

However, the paper observed that there have since been indications of the syllabi of various subjects in primary and secondary schools being altered, apparently with a view to helping students better cope with global technological changes.

The Guardian asked, "Who would find cause to complain were the new syllabi to involve greater and wider use of computers and the internet as a way of facilitating not only teaching but also learning?"

But the paper wondered, "If the new syllabi were implemented as expected, how many schools would have found themselves adequately equipped to absorb and benefit from the changes as many of them lacked computers, let alone internet connection. 

"The nation has yet to provide enough schools with enough teaching facilities and aids such as classrooms, books, desks and laboratory equipment, all of which would be required irrespective of the type of curriculum.

"What is most at stake here is availability of the requisite resources.  Making adjustments to the curriculum alone cannot promise much difference in the standard of education and training offered in the country. 

"We need resources for training more teachers especially for deployment in remote parts of the country.  As we have long observed, a mere increase in the number of schools does not do us much good," The Guardian said.

Friday, February 8, 2013

"A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words"

Though this saying is indeed true and the photo that I have chosen to speak for me is exceptionally notable, I must confess that I simply have not had time to draft a blog entry this week.  However, I regard this as a good thing!  I am honestly just too busy for computer work at the moment, having begun in earnest The Toa Nafasi Project on the ground at Msaranga Primary School!!  Things are going amazingly well and I am very very very VERY happy (if a bit tired) with the progress.

Week One of the observation phase is in the bag and despite some bumps in the road - Monday, two kids throw up by 12:30pm and I joke that this is more toa matapishi (remove vomit) than toa nafasi (provide a chance); Tuesday, I am late for the second day in a row despite waking up at 5:45am, think mascara will be the first thing to go!; Wednesday, my car breaks down and I am forced to make a shameful return to public transportation; Thursday, I enter the "corruption-free zone" of the Department of Immigration to sort out my residence permit and, predictably, become incensed; Friday, I find myself with 37 pages of notes to transcribe!! - I am loving the project and the work is fulfilling.

The village is lovely and the people are remarkable; the school is definitely in need of help but the job will be worthwhile; and Mwalimu Vumi, the former nursery school teacher with whom I am conducting observation, is taking her duties very seriously.  The second day, she asked me to bring her a notebook of her own so she could record her observations, and we sit and chat from 7:45am to 2:30pm Monday through Wednesday, talking about what we see, what we think, how we can help, our plans and next steps....everything.  Already we have had some very funny moments and real breakthroughs together and working with her is really the best part of the experience thus far.  More on that next week, but for now, just know that The Toa Nafasi Project is now FOR REALZ!!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Erev Toa Nafasi

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 education sector.

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 policy.

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 problem."

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.