School started today, with the teachers getting together and meeting the heads. Quite an exotic-looking school, with coconut trees and banana trees growing in the playgrounds. The rooms themselves are pretty run-down, with flaking paint, windows that either don’t open or don’t have any glass in them, fans on the ceiling which don’t work because the fuses have blown and there aren’t any spare, no curtains on the windows because the school doesn’t have enough money... There are two TVs for the languages building, one of which doesn’t work, and a couple of OHPs which project a tiny little picture that nobody can see from the back of the room anyway. No point putting a film on the TV though, because as there are no curtains, the sun shines right through the windows and you can’t see a thing. Some of the rooms don’t have windows at all, and we get birds flying through the classroom. I’m looking forward to that.
I’ve met all my pupils, they look like a nice bunch. All black, most of the girls in traditional dress, wrapped in big sheets of colourful cotton with shawls and veils on their heads, some even come with the local traditional beauty mask on their faces. It’s a mask made of sandalwood ground on a coral table, which they wear to firm the texture of their skin, but it’s also used as a ceremonial mask. There are lots of women who wear the mask on a daily basis, inside and out, they’ll go to the supermarket or to the restaurant with it on, and they’ll come to school with it. All this makes for a very colourful classroom. No point asking the kids to bring books and such though, they don’t have enough money for a pair of shoes to walk the six kilometres between their home and the school, never mind books. There’s a fund in the school which is supposed to provide for needy families, but it won’t cover shoes and books and pens for everybody. There are 1300 pupils aged between 11 and 15, and 80 teachers, a very big school for that age group.
No canteen in the school, that surprised me a bit. The pupils have three 15-minute breaks in the day, spread between 8 hours of lessons, no long lunch-break. As the school doesn’t have a canteen, they’ve linked up with the national social help organization to fund sandwiches for the kids, so if they want to (and can pay for it), the kids can be given a sandwich at their first break-time, to eat whenever they want throughout the day, preferably not in lessons. Teachers have an hour’s break and bring their own lunch. Lessons start early here – 7.15 in the morning until 3.30 in the afternoon, working Wednesday mornings and Saturday mornings. They get 4 weeks’ holiday in summer, from 14th December to 10th January, and 7 weeks holiday in winter, from 2nd July to 24rd August.