After a long flight we arrived at Ndola airport and were met by Howard, a student from the town we were heading to, Mufulira. The journey was unlike any bus journey that I have ever experienced. We had to squash in with our bags and the bus didn’t leave until all the seats were full. It took almost a whole day as we had to change and then the bus broke down on the side of the road.
We were staying with a family, Ethel, her daughter Musonda and her two grandsons Thomas and Paul, who are six and three. Her son, Mabvuto, was on holiday from University for the first few days of our stay showed us around and hung out with us. Both Ethel and her daughter are teachers so the family is considered to be well-off for a Zambian family.
Ethel is a history and religious studies teacher at Mufulira High School and we went there for the rest of the week. We were introduced to the head master in his office and we met the children who will be coming to England next year on the exchange program. We were given a tour of the school by a friendly geography teacher who lives on the same road as Ethel. The next few days at this school we helped out in the library as this is where we were needed. Justine, the librarian, showed us how he catalogues the books, and we started from there! The pupils were revising for mock exams. One day when we were walking around, we noticed that some pupils were sweeping the corridors with only one shoe on, and when we asked, we found out that this was a punishment and they were given their shoes back when they had finished sweeping.
Zambia is a very religious country and people were shocked when we said that we did not go to church. On Sundays everyone goes to church, and there are many different types of churches. We went along with Ethel, even though her children all go to different churches. It was a lovely service and we felt very welcome.
The next week we started at Muleya Winter Basic School, which is equivalent to a state school and ranges from grade 1 to grade 9. Pupils start grade 1 at the age of 7 and continue up the grades, however there are children from a range of ages in some of the classes. (E.g. in a grade 8 class the pupils could range from 12 to 16.) On our first day, after the tour of the school, where we were introduced to all of the classes, we started work! I was sent to a joint grade 1 class, which meant that there was one teacher taking two classes as the other teacher was missing. When I arrived the teacher present said something to the children in the local language of Bemba, and they all picked up their desks and went to the class next door, where I was told to teach them maths. This was really challenging, and I feel that I was thrown in at the deep end as I had no idea what I should be teaching them and at this age they do not speak English. However the children we eager to learn and were very sweet. I started teaching them addition of units, tens and hundreds and we managed fine. Eventually another teacher came to help out.
Over the next week I taught a range of classes and ages. I found in all the classes that initially the children were shy and did not talk to me, and then suddenly they would all want to ask me lots of questions, show me things, teach me Bemba and their favourite – taking photos! Their questions were very interesting, including which tribe I come from, if I speak more than one language, who the Prime Minister is, what England is like etc…
The day is structured so that not all of the classes are taught all day, due to limited space and pollution problems from the nearby copper smelter. In the mornings on the way to the school we could see the pollution coming from the smelter, and the children have to sweep the classrooms before they can start work, and also at the end of the lessons. This wastes a huge amount of time and also leaves everything quite dirty.
On the second or third day Max and I took in a bat and ball, 2 footballs and a pump and lots of books. We played with them at break time. Max mostly focused on the football and I tried to teach them how to play rounders. It was incredible to see that when we brought out the games, how what looked like the entire school followed us out to join in. There ended up being too many for a proper game. We noticed that on the timetable there is no P.E, so during the rest of our stay the teachers let us take individual classes outside to play netball, football and rounders. Some children who finish at 12.15 even stayed or went home and came back in order to play with us.
One of the days there was a whole school assembly, part of SHN – which stands for School Health and Nutrition. There were a number of sketches about HIV/AIDS, malaria, nutrition, cleanliness in the home and school environment etc, and I think these were really important for the children to learn about.
By the end it was really hard to say goodbye, some of the girls especially had written me letters. The children also wanted our numbers and many kept on calling and texting me throughout the day. This was a lovely school, and although there were many problems, such as lack of government funding, and the fact that even though it is supposed to be a state school, the children still have to paid, it does a good job and I really felt that we managed to help during our time there.
The next week we went to a different school called Chibolya Community School. Instead of getting a lift to school with the deputy headmistress, as we had done at Muleya Winter Basic, we walked through the Chibolya area which we could immediately tell was a much poorer area, with chickens running around and houses resembling little more than tents. We created a lot of attention from walking through this area, as everyone turned to look at us, and some little children followed us or wanted to hold our hands. The school itself is not government funded and is linked to a church next door. The children at this school do not wear a uniform and there is only one class per grade. We noticed that many of the children wore the same clothes all week. The school also provides food, and they collect their bread roll when they leave at the end of the school day. The week that we were there all of the classes were writing mock exams apart from grade 7, so we decided that it would be a good idea to spend the week with them. The teachers showed us where in the textbooks they had been teaching from, but other than that it was our decision what and how to teach. We ended up doing lots of revision exercises as many of the exercises that the teachers said they hadn’t done yet, it turned out they had.
This school finishes at midday, although it starts at 7, much earlier than English schools! The children here also wanted to stay and play with the games that we had brought after going home time, and this gave us a chance to meet and play with children from the other grades. In the afternoons we would play with Ethel’s grandchildren, who go to private school but also finish at lunch time. Their friends from their street would come over every day and we would play a variety of games including football, duck-duck-goose, musical chairs and statues (with the iPod speakers we took with us) and just generally had a good time.
The last day that we were at Chibolya Community School, the grade 7 class that we had been teaching put on a show for us. This included solo performances of singing and poetry recitals, a mini-play, and lots of traditional dancing and singing. The day was really fun, and it was touching that they went to so much effort for us. Again it was really difficult to say goodbye, especially as we had bonded with this class so much.
In both of the schools, the pupils sit at 4 tables based on ability and it is really clear which group is which. There is also a lot of copying that goes on, where the more able students answer the questions and the less able students copy. I tried to work out whether or not the teachers knew about this copying and turned a blind-eye or whether they actually are unaware of it. The teachers also make it clear to the students who is in a more or less able group, which I feel has a negative impact, as the pupils in the lowest group are not able to progress. One of the days we went to Ethel’s grandson Thomas’ school for his parents evening and you can immediately notice the difference. His school looked much more similar to the schools we have at home, with bright lights, lots of colourful, educational posters on the walls and lots of resources to use. The contrast between the private and state schools in Zambia was much more noticeable than at home.
I don’t really know what I was expecting in the first place but I can certainly say that the schools were very different to any schools that I have been in before. I was very surprised that in some subjects they only focus on African topics, for example the syllabus only includes African geography and African history. The children were extremely friendly and enthusiastic to learn and ask me questions, although not so keen to ask questions in class. The method of teaching is very much spoon-feeding and it favours the more-able, leading to ability-divide amongst the class. When I was leaving, the children were already asking when I was going to come back, and I hope that one day I will be able to go back and see the progress the children have made and any changes that have taken place.
I would like to say a special thank you to Ethel who made us feel so welcome and to Anthony Lipmann and Laura Tilling who were extremely helpful in the planning and organisation of this trip, without them I am sure it would not have been as enjoyable. I will have special memories of Mufulira for the rest of my life.
Rachel Swindon ( Summer 2010 )