Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Nearly the holidays . . .

I love April in Kenya! The average day time temperatures are about 24 degrees (slightly cooler in the mornings and in the evenings) and most of the rain falls at night .... perfect for teaching and learning!

Last week we came to the end of another set of Kenyan ‘end of term exams’ and now we have just two more days until the end of term. They do love to test the children in Kenya (it’s one of the costs that parents still have to pay towards, for their child’s ‘free’ primary education) … most classes in most schools test their students every half term. The results of these tests are then shared so that everyone knows their position in the class and every school knows the position of their STD 8 class (the final year of primary school) within their zone. Almost without fail, the children who hold position 1, 2, and 3 remain the same students throughout their school career and the children in the bottom five can also be guaranteed to reappear in their familiar spot! The sole purpose of this regime appears to be a response to the fears of the teachers’ that, in the absence of regular ‘tests,’ the children won’t be motivated to learn and to remember all the facts they need to cram for the five 2 hour multiple choice exams that come at the end of their eight years in Primary School. At the risk of sounding very cynical, the exam season can be stressful, chaotic and cosmetic. At least six times this year our STD 8 children will be made to travel to other schools within our ‘cluster’to take part in zonal, district and county mocks! This term they failed to inform us that the first day for the exams had been brought forward by one day. Consequently our children had to rush and run for what was still a late start. Cheating is rampant as schools compete to outdo each other. Some teachers get access to the papers ahead of the exam day and many schools lose a significant number of students on the day of the zonal exams …. no prizes for guessing the class position of the children who don’t make it to these exams. Unfortunately, in order to keep our school registered, we have no choice other than to join in these proceedings … though we never cheat! At public and Head Teacher meetings the education inspectors will tell everyone how important it is to give the children time to relax and to play and to develop their creative gifts and talents. In reality everyone knows that the schools who are serious about competing for top positions will effectively lock up their Std 7 and Std 8 classes with the children being forced to 'board' - (sleeping at night in their classrooms) and being woken before dawn for a two year diet of cramming and repeated practise test papers. We won't be joining in with that practise either!

This week we are ‘off timetable’ and the children are enjoying a very English end of term school tradition … getting a chance to watch a film…. (in our Visitors Centre!) The upper primary school have been watching a beautifully animated children’s film called “The Miracle Maker.” As well as bringing to life the real compassion that was at the heart of every miracle he performed, this film also beautifully illustrates the very flawed nature of Jesus’ first disciples. Hopefully they will have been encouraged to see and to believe that Jesus isn’t waiting for us all to be perfect before calling us to be his followers and to do good things through us ... it certainly encouraged and reassured me! Tomorrow the children from lower school (who only understand a little English) are going to enjoy the treat of a film that’s very visual, with a simple story and already a big favourite with a lot of the adults here … The Jungle Book (I was telling someone today that this was one of the first films my parents ever took me to the cinema to see ... "is it that old?!" she said ... thanks Winnie!)

Throughout this term, our younger children have had lots of lovely opportunities to visit the Visitors Centre for stories and creative activities with Hilda. They’ve created their own ‘Rainbow fish,’ ‘Hungry Caterpillars’ and beautiful butterflies. They’ve sorted and sketched some very convincing mini-beasts and this week they’ve been learning about different animals and fruits in ‘Handa’s Surprise.’ It’s mad to think that our Kenyan children have never seen a live elephant,  lion,  rhino or giraffe even though these amazing creatures live just four hours’ drive away! Sadly we don’t have the funds to take them on safari but Hilda has just bought a great selection of fresh fruits- mangoes, oranges, pineapples, water melons, passion fruit, avocado’s and small sweet bananas. Again, these are all things that grow and can be found here in Kenya and yet, hardly any of the children in our school will ever have had the chance to taste and enjoy these luxury items! Tomorrow will be a real treat as they all get to sample and then choose their own favourite! Ironically enough, unlike the children in England, the fruit they won’t be interested in is the guava, the one fruit that our children in England never get to taste because I have yet to find them there!

P.S. The rain is still raining … mostly at night, and the sun is still shining most of the day so our maize is looking good and, for the first time in a long time we are anticipating a great harvest!

ECD and Class 1 with their Rainbow Fish

Getting creative in Hilda's art class

Guava tree with fruit

Guava halves

Our maize one week ago (1 month after planting)

Our maize field this morning!

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