Sunday, July 22, 2007

2nd Dispatch from Muhuru


We have been in Muhuru for over a week, and the lessons and experiences have been incredible. Many of us on the Duke team, including myself, have been shocked by our experiences both in and outside of the classrooms here. I’ve visited classes at Rabwao Secondary School, intending to observe teaching methods utilized by the teachers, and had teachers hand over the chalk, and walk out, expecting me to teach. I went to the teacher’s lounge, where a teacher claimed he was preparing final exams (his excuse for skipping class), and found him reading the newspaper.
Muhuru bay has the worst exit exam scores in all of Kenya, and it is easy to see why. There is absolutely no accountability at this school. First of all, Rabwao is a public school, and the government chooses what teachers the school may hire. The implication is that while there are good teachers in Kenya, few want to work in a poor, rural environment like Muhuru, which lacks luxuries such as electricity. The Kenyan Government reserves good teachers for public schools near large cities like Nairobi, leaving small villages like Muhuru stuck with teachers who often don’t even have credentials. There is no reward for improvements in student performance, so teachers are free to continue poor teaching habits, come and go as they please, and take days off if they feel so inclined.

In the Kenyan system, 11 classes are taken each trimester, and a teacher has 40 minutes to complete a lesson. Students have little class time, but with so many classes, they have far less time to comprehend their lessons outside of the classroom. A math teacher assigned a difficult homework problem, and when approached by Patrick, the teacher was unable to complete the problem. How can students learn if their teachers don’t even understand the material they are teaching? Teachers assign homework, but never correct student’s work. I remember from my high school Calculus classes, how helpful it was when my teacher went over homework problems. Patrick is working to address the issues observed by the Duke team, by offering a teaching methods course in conjunction with the Computer training being offered to teachers in the coming weeks. I am looking forward to seeing his program, and am cautiously optimistic that it will help Rabwao students in the long run.

Last week, I helped distribute Stayfree pads from Johnson and Johnson, serving over 120 women from the community. With the help of Rachel Gartner (Washington University in St. Louis) and my translator, a student from Rabwao, and I was able to educate women on the proper use and disposal of the Pads, before distributing them. Women had walked miles to get the pads, and they were all smiles when they saw that a male student (me) was educating about them! It is a testament Muhuru’s lack of wealth, seeing women walk so far to receive items valued at 255 Shillings ($4.00). Many women even attempted to come back for more pads, but were turned away once I noticed that they had returned to the long line for the pads. Pictures will be added to this blog shortly, as our Internet speed is quite low here in Migori (an hour outside of Muhuru). On Tuesday I will be distributing pads to female students at Rabwao Primary School (standards 7 and 8), as many girls flooded our table last week when we were distributing pads to adults in the community. April and I are extremely excited about giving the pads to the girls, as well as educating them about adolescence, education many adult women in the community never received.

We are now teaching computer classes for our second week, and the students from Rabwao are so enthusiastic! We now have Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, which is an invaluable tool, and a major improvement over our nonsensical songs about home keys and different letters. Rachel is leading the computer classes, and each Duke student has been showing so much team spirit (teams 1-7). I am teaching Team 3, a group of two girls (Lucy and Adline) from Form 3. While Lucy is a fast learner, Adline initially had some trouble with releasing her finger after each keystroke. They are both a pleasure to teach, and both have passed the first lesson in Mavis Beacon. Both the solar panels and the 7 laptop computers will serve the Rabwao student body well into the future, and will improve each student’s chance of success after graduating.

Oriti (goodbye),


Carrie said...

Mike and April,

Your blogs give us a vivid picture of the challenges and opportunities you are encountering in Muhuru Bay. Making a difference in this community, while a major challenge, will be an immense benefit both in Muhuru Bay as well as longer term, in the world community.

Thanks for all that you are doing.

Sharon Cohen said...

Wow Mike....
It is unbelievable how the teachers don't seem to want the students to succeed. Such low level teachers in the classrooms make your tasks even harder.
Keep a positive outlook...Your doing great things that will make a huge difference later on...
Ever heard of Honi & the Carob tree?

WanderingJew said...

So think about this sociologically--in particular, how does Weber and bureaucracy (as well as Protestant Ethic) help in understanding the relationship between work and individuals?
We assume that doing good work is a way of showing who we are, so are invested in doing good work. In addition, we have tools to measure that--and value those tools.
You are seeing some of the consequences when neither of these things are part of the society. The larger question is how to change the worldview--or if that is even a good idea.