It seems every week there is some sort of seminar that takes one or more teachers away from our schools. The seminars focus on everything from management, to finances, to curriculum issues. For the past three weeks, I have been a part of these said seminars. The Area Project Office (think school district, but bigger) invited Peace Corps Volunteers that were close-by to lead a three two-day seminars on the Representative Council of Learners, which is essentially a government mandated student council in all schools with a grade 8 or higher.
We planned for the seminar for weeks, we put together a video (with subtitles, so they could actually understand our accents), but we really had no idea on whether the system had functioned before and we were giving a refresher to the students or whether we needed to begin from scratch. To complicate matters, we were also working with two representatives from the Area Project Office, who despite repeated invitations, did not participate in any of the planning of the seminars. This led to a miscommunication as the time that we were to leave did not have the same sense of urgency to our counterparts, and after an hour ride in a covered bakkie, we arrived, nearly an hour later than we had planned, making us look rather unprofessional as some students had already arrived. To my amusement, our counterpart then proceeded to admonish schools that came even later than we did.
However, despite the conflicts, the seminars were very enlightening, for all parties involved. To our surprise, the role envisioned by some of the educators and administrators was for the Representative Council of Learners to function as some sort of student police service, to tell on the learners that misbehaved and to mete out punishment on those learners. To their surprise, this was not the role envisioned for them; rather they were to serve as the student’s voice to the school governance. Only with a very imaginative reading of the rules could such a position even be proposed.
All in all, we were able to coach the basic formation of the groups, the purpose behind them and some of the nuts and bolts that go into organizing a successful student-governing group. In the end, we trained over 100 students in their roles and there was some very encouraging progress, as students began to realize the potential of the group. The students took well to the icebreakers, did some great work in the break-out sessions, and laughed at the right moments in the video. Many were very unsure initially and had a fairly negative take on the group, but we were relentless in trying to focus on the positive. As soon as we broke that barrier, we made progress, which was very rewarding.
I also attended a three-day seminar on how to use the science kits that had been shipped to my schools last year. The science kits are a government initiative to provide the poorest schools with resources that they would probably never be able to afford. The kits are amazing, but as I feared, many of the educators didn’t know how to make heads or tails of them. There were a few things I was unsure about as well… does anyone know what the purpose behind an Ingenhaus apparatus is?
But beakers, chemicals, electrical equipment, scales, and more. Those I can do. Funfunfun. During the breaks, I couldn’t help myself and showed how to use various apparatus (apparati?) and towards the end of the seminar, I ended up teaching some experiments and leading some sessions. It was fairly difficult. Imagine taking a room full of adults who have never been in a teaching laboratory before, have never seen science equipment before, and teaching them, in three short days, not only how to use the equipment, not only the science behind the experiments, but also how to run a laboratory. My schools were especially proud to have me, as they knew that they would be able to ask questions later and I could help with the presentation upon returning to our schools.
I’m excited about incorporating it into the curriculum, and know that the students will take to it well, as they love anything that takes them away from reading about experiments in books without doing them. Imagine never having seen baking soda and vinegar react, used a magnifying glass, connected a circuit, etc. Now we get to use them…These kids are gonna have a great time!
p.s. Many thanks to Julie for various grammatical corrections!