October 5, 2003
I hear reports of SNOW falling in parts of the states--despite the changes up north my Dad said he thought that his online weather bug wasn't working because it has said it was 84 degrees in Grenada for the past week. It's working, Dad--84 and holding steady. The weather report in the weekly papers here is a joke. Hmmm...84, humid and mostly sunny. Thanks for your time. I'm learning the tricks of Grenadians though--walk slowly, don't travel between noon and 3 if you can at all avoid it, and don't worry about the sweat showing on your shirt, everyone has sweaty shirts! We have been getting some rain showers though which is a nice way to cool it off (or increase the humidity, depending on the day!) I've learned that Grenadians hate the rain. In fact, on really rainy days, they often cancel school. If it's raining in the morning, they just are late to work and there's no explanation needed except "It was raining!". Last week Wednesday we woke up and it was raining really hard when I was supposed to go into St. George's for training. I decided "When in Grenada, do as the Grenadians" so I waited for the rain to stop, knowing that I'd likely be late for training. When I finally arrived 20 minutes late (sopping wet, because although it had stopped raining in Grenville, the clouds had passed to St. George's) I had to laugh when I realized that Franka hadn't arrived yet...because of the rain.
Although I find the lack of attention to time and the habitual late starts frustrating at times, I find myself also getting used to it and enjoying the flow of the day. The "errands" on the bus are just one example of how I'm growing to appreciate this. Not only is the bus conductor's job to open and close the door, pack as many people as possible into the bus and take money, he's also errand boy. It's not unusual for a bus to stop en route to fulfill someone's errands. This could be a stop at the bakery to pick up a couple loaves of bread for the lady in the second row, delivering a bag for the driver to someone's house on the roadside, or even taking a gasoline container and filling it at the gas pump for the guy in the back of the bus. All while there's 18 people on the bus, waiting. A frustrating stop that's going to make you "late" or just another sign of the "community"? I hope that even on the days when I'm pressed for time I'll remember that it might be me someday that needs that errand.
I spent more time in the schools this week. I'm finding that the information and supports that the students, parents and teachers need is pretty basic. To become a "qualified teacher", you must attend a two year training program in pedagogy and content at the college in St. George's. In order to attend, you must already have a teaching position in the schools. In your two year absence, the Ministry of Education sends a teacher to replace you. 70% of teachers at the primary level are not trained--70%! I'm realizing that the teachers are not in need of remedial techniques as much as basic educational principles and practices. Most teachers have overcrowded classes. Rarely is there just on class in a room. More commonly there's 30 students at one end of the room lined up in tables or desks towards one wall and another 30 students lined up towards the other wall. You can just imagine the scene in the middle of the room where there's 8 sixth grade boys with their backs to each other. One first grade class I was in had two teachers and at one point I counted 62 children in the room (moving targets are quite hard to count). It's supposed to be 3 classes, but one teacher is out on sick leave. Most of the 5 primary schools I'm working with have 1 computer (to go online requires switching the line from the phone to the computer) and if they do have a printer, most cannot afford ink cartriges. They're waiting on those from the Ministry... The Catholic school just got a photocopier donated to the school and so Sister Jean was taking a collection at the PTA meeting to cover the cost of some paper and ink. I sit back and think about how frustrated I was at my school if the main office photocopier was broken and I had to walk my butt all the way to the West office. As a result, most instruction is "chalk and talk" where the teacher stands at the front of the room and gives information. Notes are to be taken in their composition books and the homework problems copied off the board or perhaps taken from their text (if their family could afford one or at least navigate the financial aid system for them.) I did some informal assessments with one 15 year old young man last week. He was pulled out of his 8th grade room and was very polite "yes Miss, yes Miss" when I asked him to identify the letters of the alphabet. Sadly I found he could only identify about 8 and could write even fewer on cue. Much to my surprise though, when I wrote out the alphabet he could copy them all beautifully. My belief is that this kid has figured out "survival skills". If he can copy from the board (or others?) he can look like he knows what's going on--at least part of the time.
The way schools are set up here is that all students go to primary school for K-6th grade. At the end of 6th grade, all students take the Common Entrance Exam. Depending on their results and the number of spaces available, you either move on to secondary school or stay for 7th and possibly 8th grade. Approximately 50% of the students are able to move on to secondary school each year. There is no guaranteed "You get this score and you move on" it all depends on spots. So, a score that might have gotten your big brother into secondary, might not be good enough to get you there because of the enrollment. The plan is to have universal secondary education by 2008. And I though C-SAP's were bad... Last week, we had the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education (2nd in command and the one responsible for carrying out policy, administrative decisions, etc.) come to talk to the EC 71 volunteers. I asked him what the major issues facing the educational system in Grenada are. Interestingly, he identified the need for resources (financial, technical, etc.) as #2 on the list of issues. Topping his his was the disconnect between the educational system and society's needs. He says the output of the system, doesn't meet the input needs of the society. The curriculum isn't consistent with the skills required to live and thrive in Grenada. Not surprising seeing that it is a British system set up years ago to teach slave owner's chidren. As I look at what Grenadian's society's needs are, I'm realizing that in some ways, they're on the same quest. Obviously, they've got a lot more knowledge and understanding but in many ways, they're coming to an understanding of what their needs are and how the educational system can best meet those as well.