Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ekki Ekki F'Tang Hala Hala Hala Bah-Wing Hala

... need I say more?


As the final weeks of this second largely futile period dedicated to the intellectual furthering of the supposedly more diminutive members of this sand and dust covered society amongst whom I find myself draw to a spluttering, stuttering close, it is probably a reasonable point at which to enlighten you on the delights of the classroom environment.

You've probably already realised that the challenge is somewhat, er, challenging. Class sizes that dwarf even the farenheit temperature readings in these sweat afflicted days; one book for every 18 students; chalk that doesn't work on blackboards that don't either; students who are meant to be between 11 and 14 years old but who in reality are the wrong side of 20 and often only a couple of school years ahead of their own spawn. Teachers who aren't trained and are often younger than their students; a curriculum conceived in the shadier backstreets of Paris' shadier backstreets by a cousin of the minister for Education using a length of rubber tubing, 18 gallons of industrial lubricant and a semi-paralytic Belgian with a speech impediment.

Apart from that it's a walk in the park.

Class 6. The lowest class, which is to say those who have most recently graduated to the lofty heights of secondary education, semi-literate, hopelessly monolingual - invariably in one of either Fulfulde, Guiziga, Moufou, Mafa, Moundang or any other assembly of obscure phonemes purporting to be tribal dialects. By the time they reach such vaulted and dizzying altitudes they are supposed to have at least a smattering, nay a sprinkling, perhaps just a hastily thrown on garnishing of English and be something close to acquainted with French; the language of all other instruction and life in general outside the walls of wherever they happen to call home.

Alas, if only 'twere true. Some can't write their names and see words as little more than a collection of wiggles, regardless of the subject so you can imagine just how futile it is for me, wittering away in English.

With on average 4 students per desk it's generally impossible to deduce exactly whose work is whose and with students ranging in age between x [any number between 11 and 99] and y [any number between 11 and 99]. The older ones are hoarded at the back due to their size, and generally spend their time disturbing not only eachother but anyone within earshot which means pretty much everyone.

Those at the front tend to benefit most from that which spews from this scottish mouth, but for the rest they know that given the size of the following year's intake, passing or failing is neither here nor there: they all have to go up a class as there's no space to allow them to hang back a year. Nothing beats the promotion of meritocratic methods from an early age.

Class 5. That's to say, last years class 6. Which is to say of a level that is a couple of clicks above inept. There are obviously exceptions but most of them are, in the infamous parental refrain, old enough to know better. Know what exactly has yet to be established but 'everything' is assumed to be the answer.

It is a class of students that is notable for, among other things, having the highest female to male ratio (1:4); having some of the most able students in the school; being able to have all heads facing the front of the class yet to have pretty much every corner of the classroom covered due to the number and variety of occular afflictions and last, but by no means least, having the school's ugliest student. Poor chap; it looks as though his facial features were pitched through a thick fog at the place where his head and face are meant to be, promptly set on fire and then beaten out with a rugby boot.

The whole class, having been universally promoted whether or not they passed the previous year's exam, did of course have the 'benefit' of not being totally struck dumb at the nasara leaping around at the front of the classroom and so have possibly made the greatest amount of progress. They're still, to employ a technical term, utterly rubbish and miles behind where the curriculum says they should be but whose fault is that? Blame the parlytic Belgian and his pudgy, pie covered fingers.

Class Four have the honour and privilege of having me as their "Prof. Principale"; this means that I get to spend the last week of every term using the school abacus, quill and stock of scribes to complete their reports; a pleasurable activity in many ways, none of which have anything to do with what most people would describe as pleasure.

In their midst are some of the schools more petulant and angst-ridden youths, most of whom have about as much desire to be at school as I do to fall through the ever-crumbling 'floor' of my latrine. It's that year before the work proper starts and the year when, lucky things, they get to learn yet another language. Worked out today that if you are of the islamic persuasion then by the time you reach Class 4 you are potentially having to deal with 8 languages. If Ma and Pa are from different tribes then you'll have one for each of them. There's then Guiziga for speaking to anyone in the market and Fulfulde for communicating with the rest of extremely northern society. French is the linguafranca for school where they also take on English - promoting bilingualism you see! - and then either Spanish or German. Then, just to keep things fresh, lob in a smattering of Arabic to support your Koranic mumblings. Is it any surprise that arses and elbows remain unlabelled?

And so to Class 3. The brains of the outfit who are being primed for the rigours of the BEPC exam. You can't get far in life without it ... actually that's not entirely true; you can easily buy one for a little more than the cost of one school year, albeit a Chadian one ... not that it matters as it's the same system.

The students themselves range in age from 14 to about 34 and have all the curiosity for the world around them, and interest in their subjects as a three pound bar of lard. Inspirational in many ways. It is for them that I have stayed as I can't desert them in their hour of need ... quite why I bother when only 12 out of 120 turn up is anyone's guess, but even if it's only 1 student who makes an appearance, I have a duty to that one. Damn me and my professionalism!

Not sure how they fare in other subjects and there are some who are actually not bad at English but for the most part they're not interested. There are those who feign interest but who seem to think that they can remember everything just by looking at it and then going to sleep while their classmates furiously scribble down anything that I happen to write on the blackboard. Half a dozen are now the proud owners of the catchy title of this posting ... they know it means nothing and they know to listen to what I'm saying rather than scribbling everything down but they still don't heed the warning.

Hey ho. Ho Hum and all the rest.

So there it is. La Vie Scolaire. Am off galavanting again as of tomorrow so there'll be radio silence for a bit but will be back with more wiffle as soon as I can. Time is ticking away and that's a good thing. Thoroughly looking forward to being back there where green is pleasant and the temperature more condusive to actually living. The molten pool of scottishness that I have become is all very well and good but I don't think it necessarily suits.

The Jungle beckons .... Aaa-a-a-a-aaaa-a-aaa, as Tarzan once so eloquently said.

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