Little Red School House?

When the students first arrive they spend half an hour standing in three lines in the courtyard. It feels like the military as they practice standing at ease and at attention. Children polish their black shoes, straighten their green school uniforms, and present their fingernails for inspection. Afterward, they sing songs (I have never seen boys shamelessly shake their hips like the boys in Bukoba can) and finish by singing the Tanzanian National Anthem.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve entered a time machine and that I’m sitting in a little red schoolhouse in the Midwest. The teaching methods just seem so archaic compared to what I’ve grown up with. Almost every day during English, the “baby class” (five-year-olds) goes through the alphabet for at least 20 minutes. One at a time, a student comes up to the board and announces each letter of the alphabet and waits for the class to shout each letter back. During science, the students practice parts of the body for 20-40 minutes. Once again, a student will come up, touch a part of her body, say it, and wait for the class to shout it back. And then another student. And another. The repetition. Does. Not. Stop. While students are sitting quietly at their tables, teachers will spend precious time drawing immaculate pictures of fruits and vegetables on the chalkboard to review vocabulary. Their use of time surprises me.

Teachers are obsessed with precision and neatness. They spend a lot of time tediously using rulers when creating the work pages and homework in the students’ work books. This transfers to the children, who spend so much time trying to be perfect. If they make a mistake, they need an eraser. And there is only one eraser in the classroom. So much time is wasted hunting down and waiting for an eraser.

When they finish their workbook activity they have nothing to do and are supposed to sit until everyone is done! Like kids anywhere who are left to entertain themselves, they get bored and start picking on each other. I spend so much time peeling them off off each other, unwrapping their legs from around one another, and prying them from head locks. It’s so hard to fault them because they always have the cutest grins on their faces!

You may ask, “Kate, why don’t you ask them to stop? Why don’t they listen or behave for you?” Good questions. Unfortunately, respect for authority is the result of hitting with rulers and yelling. I refuse to do either, so kids don’t take me too seriously. It’s very disheartening to watch children get forcefully whacked with a ruler (anywhere on their body, sometimes even on the head) and I’m amazed thinking that the generation before me (and probably the current generation in certain pockets of the US) used/received this disciplinary action. Other forms of punishment include kneeling for long periods of time or standing with your arms out, parallel to the ground.

Needless to say, it has been interesting to observe the teaching practices in this school. It’s made me thankful for my education back home and made me wish I had more to share with teachers here.



November 4th, 2011

Love your posts, Kate. Every last one of them! Yours too Matt.


November 13th, 2011

Thanks so much, Greg! We appreciate it!