Saturday, February 02, 2013

Escaping Abidjan

With some students in Yamoussoukro
Sometimes you don’t realize that you tired of a place until you leave it. I was able to get away from the pollution, traffic, and overcrowded Abidjan for a few days to go to Yamoussoukro and Bouaké for school visits and inspections from 20– 23 January. We did not get to go all the way to the North (as described in the previous post) because Thursday was a national holiday, Mawlid (Mohammad’s birthday), and we needed to be back in Abidjan.

The cities

Technically the political capital of the country, the landscape of the city brings to mind some dusty highway in Arizona. Large, expansive boulevards cross the city, but there is very minimal traffic compared to the economic capital Abidjan. The founding father of the country, Houphouet-Boigny had big aspirations for his home village: he built a giant presidential estate complete with lakes filled with Caymans (who eat people!) and the most impressive feat, a basilica that is larger than Saint Peter’s in Rome (In fact, it is the largest Christian building in the world!) But, unfortunately for him, the city hasn’t taken on its role as the political capital and remains sparsely populated.

The second largest city in Côte d’Ivoire, Bouaké gets its claim to fame by being the former capital of the rebel held north from 2002-2009. This becomes very evident as one arrives from Yamoussoukro, as you pass a giant UN base just before arriving in the city (“little Pakistan” greets you just off to your left before the city). Bouaké suffered substantially during the conflict, with little to no infrastructural assistance from the capital, rebel lootings occurring frequently, and access to food being difficult for the population. From what I could see, however, Bouaké seemed to be making a comeback. Motorcycle taxis zoomed around town and there have been substantial government efforts to re-open the university.

The schools
I traveled with the General Inspector for the EDHC (human rights education) curriculum. Our intention was to do some organized school visits as well as some surprise inspections, and participate in question and answers sessions with professors on the new curriculum and new teaching methods.
In Ya’kro, we visited three establishments: a primary school/preschool, a middle school, and the teacher training college (CAFOP). In Bouaké, we visited several classes at a middle school.

The most refreshing and promising was the primary school levels. The teachers used creative teaching methods to introduce the EDHC topics (preschool – the colors of the Ivoirian flag; primary school – the importance of keeping your social space clean), such as group work, interaction between students and teachers, several different types of props, etc. In my experience thus far, this tends to be the case: since the primary level teachers are all trained to teach several different subjects, incorporating EDHC (previously ECM) into their curriculum is a piece of cake. Furthermore, it would appear that considering the age levels they work with, these teachers also have no restraints in using creative techniques to teach the content.

At the middle school level, however, things are not the same. As mentioned in a previous post, the teachers at this level are normally trained in a specific discipline and teach EDHC because they are asked to fill their extra hours (though there are teachers who volunteer to teach the curriculum, we have met very few). That means that these teachers, who have a upper level degree to teach their discipline (the elementary school teachers only do the equivalent of technical training+ internship to teach, a few years less than the middle/high school teachers), have to not only plan the courses for their discipline but also for EDHC, of which many have not received proper training, and let’s be honest, may or may not care one lick about. So as can be imagined, the classes lack creative teaching techniques, tend to be dictated to the students, and the content is often treated as theoretical concepts and not applicable to the students’ lives. When approached, the teachers themselves claim that they haven’t received training, which the response from the DPFC is, we’ll work on that, but we have provided you with the materials. To which the teachers respond, we don’t know how to use these materials/you don’t provide enough for us to work with. It’s as if, sometimes, they want the whole lesson to be laid out directly for them, instead of coming up with their own ideas. For me, coming from the US system, but being familiar with the French system, it is rather disappointing. EDHC has so much potential to be a “fun” class, and the teachers can use a variety of interesting techniques to get the students excited and to recognize the importance of it as a subject, and they are not doing this, unfortunately.

In Bouaké, we surprised the school for an inspection. And man, were they surprised. We asked to see the teacher schedule for EDHC so that we could pick a class to visit. We were told there were several classes being taught at the same hour, so we picked one and proceeded to go to it. What we instead found was that not only was the schedule the school had seriously out of date/plain wrong, but we discovered that several classes had never even had EDHC since the beginning of the year. Even more interestingly, the member of the administration that toured us around the school told me that “European children don’t need discipline. Our students here have had a lot of problems since the crisis, and they need a smack in the head every now and then. So it’s not fair that your [Western, presumably] organizations tell us not to hit students, because that’s what they need.” (he of course said this to me after he went into a classroom to discipline a student, a class that didn’t have a teacher in it, which was often the case at this particular school. With 4,800 students, I noticed that a lot of the classrooms were without a teacher/adult and the students were just in there, doing who knows what.)

The teachers we finally did see still called EDHC, ECM despite the change since 2009. The walls of the classrooms were covered in graffiti. In the class where I administered some surveys (9th graders), there were 19 year old students. Since middle school is not free, there is no age limit for students; instead, all students are obligated to complete the 9th grade, at any age. It was definitely a change from the schools in Ya’kro and those in Abidjan as well.

In short, I think it is really important to for me, and moreover for the DPFC, to get outside of the main cities to see about the other schools. The Inspector was very upset with the fact that there were students at the school who had never received EDHC classes and had a good talking to to the principal of the school. Hopefully, things will get changed, but who really knows.

The adventure

On the way to Yamoussoukro, we rode in a nice truck with A/C that belonged to the primary school inspector of Yamoussoukro (his family lives in Abidjan, so he often is there for the weekends). But as we were driving, the car started overheating and then just all together stopped working. We were out in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road, nothing but silence and stars and tall grasses around us. Luckily, a car passing by stopped and offered to pull us, yes with a rope, to the next village where there was another inspector that could help us out. Welcome to Africa :-)

For sleeping, in Ya’kro we stayed at the CAFOP in rooms that weren’t super fancy but were super free. Then in Bouaké we stayed in these rooms that were run by some Catholic priests who also had lots of animals running the yard and beautiful gardens.

For food, we were often treated (since I was, after all, with the general inspector) by the local delegation, so we ate very well. Since we crammed so much into each day, we were literally running around from 7am until 11pm, which was both exhilarating (things had been rather slow previously) and exhausting (considering everything was also conducted in French). Probably one of the highlights was when we arrived in Bouaké and the city was empty because everyone was watching the CAN (Africa cup) game against Togo.
I really had a nice time and look forward to other trips further north and to the east bientôt!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi there ! It is so amazing how you can express your way of living in Abidjan