Great journey. Even arrived at the correct terminal at Brussels airport, no going through security again by having to negotiate the change over. Fab. About half an hour late arriving in Lungi, Freetown. Met right away and off to Bo. Arrived before midnight.
Sauntered into school about 10am. Great greeting. Usual tour of building to look at improvements since February. The back & sides of the building have been completely repainted and the front has been touched up, looks so much better. The ‘Option room’ has had its blackboard extended and an outside vent rewired, to keep unwanted vermin from the roof space. The lunchtime ‘baffa’, a flimsy wooden structure with frond roof, has been completely re-built and its position realigned. Finally, newly repaired and concreted floors in Class 3 & Class 5, wow, a huge improvement.
The Local Mendewa Town Chief, Mike Baio, has donated some drums to school. The kids enjoy playing them at morning assembly and lunch time. The vibe really engages the children, they enjoy marching to the beat.
Joe, the Head teacher busily showed me how he’s employed Anne’s tally system to display exam results. We scrutinised Junior Secondary 3’s first term scores. They take their ‘Mock’s’ at the end of May and their BECE exams at Bo Methodist High in late June. Lots of cramming still to do. Some of their results were disappointing
Class 1 & Class 2 staff bemoaned lack of parental support for some children who are really struggling. So, we invited about 20 parents in for a meeting. We will have to hope that encouragement for ‘mummy & daddy time’ with school work, does the trick!
I reproduced some 2 & 3 letter word sheets in big print for the infants. Max, Isata & Princess with the help of Augustine are going to have a bash at basic phonics to assist reading.
Class 1 also have some lovely new laminated number and letter sheets courtesy of Gemma at Ridgeway High. She also sent Isata a range of Home Economic posters and Gardening pictures for Francis. All these resources were so well received.
Our science staff excitedly received more ‘goodies’ from Clare Mount & Ridgeway. Unfortunately, the three food testing reagents leaked in my suitcase – Asda’s holiday cosmetic plastic bottles couldn’t take the strain! However, Patrick & Mathew have a full range of reference text books, purpose made science posters, timers, spring balance, thermometers, circuits, ink pad with roller & rocker rubber images to print in exercise books for biology, plus other very useful kit. I could hear them saying that they now had stuff you wouldn’t find in any other school – must be good!! Huge thanks to Kate, Noreen & Cheryl.
On Saturday I went into school to see extra classes. Eric was teaching Junior Secondary 2 Maths and also running down the corridor to put work on the board for Primary Class 3. Princess had Class 2 doing comprehension exercises. Great to see how keen some of the kids are.
Monday was suddenly declared a Bank Holiday for workers – May Day, a 1st for Sierra Leone. In light of this I spent Sunday lazily reading a book, absolute bliss!
Late Sunday afternoon, after the heat of the day, I strolled up to the 24 Town Lots with Max to see if the Parents Committee had cleared the site – not far short of 3 acres. Wonderful, you can see right across the plot. It has a high plateau area to one end with good views, a more gentle slope, followed by a flattish lower area falling down to a swampy part. It will be interesting to see Nic’s survey next month.
If we can find matched funding and a few large donations we could build a Senior Secondary School on part of it. The staffing and time tabling purposes would require the Junior Secondary School to move from the original site to become part of the Senior School. It really would be a fantastic project and a wonderful achievement.
Apart from an expensive Private School (SOS) a good distance away in our Tikonko Chiefdom, there is no provision for Senior Secondary for the Communities on the south side of the Bo Kenema Highway. The children from this region have to travel a long distance to some good but also some very overcrowded Senior Secondaries in Bo Town, some are Government Assisted but many are expensively ‘Private’. However, without Government Assistance to pay the wages for this proposed development OAKS would have to charge considerably higher school fees for Secondary Education, just to be able to meet the considerable wages bill, the secondary sector would have to become a non-profit making ‘private’ facility. Maybe in the fullness of time, the Sierra Leone Government will be more organised and favour supporting school development in the Southern Region of Bo.
Back to earth. The second week has given focus to Junior Secondary 3 and their term one exam prowess. Examples of all the exam papers were given to me, together with the overall results. They’ve been studied, ready for an in depth discussion during Teacher Training on my last Friday. There was an anomaly with Language Arts, there are two staff who deal with different elements of English, exam papers were therefore marked separately. Instead of the results being added together, they were divided!! Such relief expressed by everyone – 30% and 40% became a creditable 70%, instead of 35%!!
Health workers came into school for just over a day to administer the Measles vaccine. Offered to all children from 6 months to 15 years. A few tears, but most kids were brave.
I needed to confirm our 3 new staff in post during this visit, so lesson observations were important. It’s great to see such really good work going on. All three gentlemen have quickly created excellent working relationships with the children. Most pleasingly they are all happy and settled in their new working environment.
Class 1 now has a variety of staff contributing to support the work in the classroom. The kids love Mike Baio because he draws such wonderful pictures on the board and Chris Kawa is a huge hit as ‘Mr Story’.
I was very much looking forward to attending the NPSE exam on Saturday 7th May. A first. However, it was postponed indefinitely on Thursday 5th!! The Government teachers have not been paid for April, the exam system operators WAEC also appear to be owed a considerable backlog of funding. All this is seemingly blamed on glitches in the implementation of a new BACS system, however, most people think the Government is in a financial mess. We’ll just have to wait and see. It looks as if NPSE will take place in June, a month’s delay. Not sure how this will affect the announcement of results, due in August.
Friday I watched Mathew teach geometry. Wonderful to see the geometry sets which were a bargain purchase from Tesco, being used to full effect. This was followed by an appointment in Bo Town with the DDE, Deputy Director of Education. However, he was not in the office. I hope I have better luck next week!
A very hectic Saturday. I was advised by Max that the water well required attention. It is not quite as deep as it should be due to a large boulder at its base and it had a low water level. Sierra Leone is at the end of the dry season and the rainy season is just beginning to flex its muscles, raining heavily some nights, but not every night.
ABC, an extremely hard ‘grafter’ came with his pick axe and shovel to try and deepen the well. He managed to remove rather a lot, I hope this solves some of the problem. This venture meant disconnecting the pump so he could gain access the chamber, so we needed the services of a plumber too. The plumber then tackled a problem in the bathroom. The shower tap was jammed. It was removed and fitted with a gate valve on the shower head.
The local builders Mustapha and Lawrence came in to re-seal all the gutter joints before the rainy season gets into full swing. They also replaced some skirting and the housing for the cupboard under the sink – termites!! Maintenance and repair required wherever you have property!!
I left the workmen to it for a while and went to view maths teaching with Junior Secondary and Class 6. Geometry is interesting and Class 6’s maths has greatly improved, which is a huge relief.
Saturday evening was a trip to a local hotel ‘Dohas’ with the bursar, Mr Jarrett. It was difficult to park, a wedding reception was taking place. The wedding party had hired the venue and provided their own buffet. Later that evening there would be the dancing party, for which there appeared to be copious amounts of alcohol being unpacked.
We sat in the bar area enjoying Chicken and Chips with a beer. It was a great surprise that I knew two of the wedding guests, Bernadette, the Town Chief’s niece and her daughter Florence, who’d been a student at OAKS in the first cohort of Class 6 NPSE pupils, 2010. They really looked very glamorous.
Junior Secondary 3 approached me regarding ‘Camping’. It is apparently normal practise during BECE to stay at school overnight – teachers employed to teach for the following days exam. Unfortunately we have no electricity on site and this would be a service which would need careful costing. Also, we are rather concerned about ‘girls & boys’ staying overnight, monitoring and providing extra staff. This will be explored for next year. Parents can send their children to other schools to take advantage of this offer as long as they pay the institutions fees.
Our last School Survey was conducted in 2012 when we were trying to ascertain if there was sufficient local support for an expansion into Junior Secondary. In consequence we built two new classrooms and we are now about to embark on our 1st BECE (Basic Educational Certificate Exam). Our next survey starts next week, I wonder what it will tell us? Nic will collect the results for analysis in late June.
The science department gave a demonstration on my last Thursday, showing the pupils how to print the biology diagrams using an ink pad and also how to use a microscope. The ‘prepared’ slides of liver tissue and a hair follicle were quite spectacular. Next time I’ll see other science equipment in use.
The Deputy Director of Education, Mr Swaray, was very busy and our schedules just did not mesh to meet this time. Hopefully Nic & Maggie will see him next month. I believe the Government teachers are still waiting to be paid for April, however, NPSE has been re-set for Saturday 28th May. This may still be under threat if teachers remain unpaid.
My last day in school was Staff Training. I had a lot on the agenda which all involved staff input. A lively meeting. Hopefully we’ve resolved some issues and put in place some action points for September.
Late afternoon we had a CTA meeting (Parents). We began with an audience of 15, by the end the hall was full. Many subjects aired, not least the re-enforcement that OAKS Charity owns the school and Parents need to respect this as regards enrolment into Junior Secondary and the use of the 24 Town Lots.
This year we have 52 in JSS 1 instead of 40, all down to ‘pushy parents’, hopefully this is now nipped in the bud. The CTA are going to hire a machine to level part of Nic & Margaret’s land for Sports Day 2017. The area has now been measured and agreed, hopefully we’ll have a really good Sports Arena for next February.
The new Class 1 for September were enrolled on Saturday 14th. There was only one applicant we were not sure of, however, he’s been given the benefit of the doubt. Just as in the UK parents are both excited and apprehensive. All very proud of their offspring.
It is quite a phenomenon in Sierra Leone, there are more girls than boys. In village areas the Government positively discriminates in favour of girls, in many cases offering free education, to try and prevent them being marginalised in favour of male children.
Photograph of our School Management Team.
The car to take me to the airport was a bit touch & go, in the garage for repair. Fortunately late Friday night it was declared sound. Huge sigh of relief!
Arrived at Lungi Airport, Freetown at 12.30 for a 2pm check in and a 6.15 flight – south to Monrovia & then back north to Brussels. So far so good ……
Nic & Margaret can pick up where I leave off and find their own hiccups and problems in June. Hopefully they’ll have time to visit Educational Officialdom in Freetown and the offices of DFID, we still need to become registered for Junior Secondary.
Hopefully I’ll return mid-October.
Laurel. May 2016.