February 12, 2016: The benefits of a blackboard that's black! (Ann)

Saturday February 6: A brainstorming session at ZL4LF to generate ideas for a grant proposal for a Rotary Club in Surrey. We’re thinking of a larger scale project to provide IT, English language and business training for students from schools such as Unguja Ukuu.  This would be a joint effort involving ZL4LF, the Daraja Foundation and the Zanzibar Rotary Club.  We hope we’re working along the right lines...

Monday February 8: Hurrah, the blackboards are renovated and it’s possible to read what’s written on them!  No more pale grey boards! We supplied branded paint and the school sorted out the painting and repairs.  Great value at £50!  We were getting fed up of seeing children copying down things that were wrong due to confusion caused by inadequate blackboards.

We show an English language films during the morning break. Only 30 of the kids are allowed to see it, so there’s a bit of a scrum to get in to the computer room.  To date, there’s been no bloodshed.  The rest enjoy storytelling sessions with Ann, using ‘Aesop’s Fables’, and ‘Handa’s Surprise’, followed by the Hokey Cokey. The aim is to create a positive vibe around English and as there’s nothing else on offer, this isn’t hard!

The school wants us to focus on Standard VI students (age 12-13) who take exams in November.  No one from the village has passed the exams which lead to placement in a Stone Town school where they receive a much higher standard of education.  We’d like at least one of them to pass! The school had identified a group of about 30 able students who are mostly from Standard V and VI.  But in the course of observing some of the classes we’ve noticed some bright sparks the teachers missed.  They’re invited to the class and immediately fit in, coping with more challenging English and the concept of having to think!

We have a sample exam paper and decide to see how the group shapes up to some exam practice. ‘A Bug’s Life’ is very popular with the students so we’ve developed a practice comprehension test based on it. First, we need to teach them about exam strategy. This was a novel concept, even to the older students! We started by explaining the concept of allocating exam time according to the number of marks in each section.  This proved slow going and we suddenly realised that the concept of time allocation is irrelevant if you don’t wear a watch, there’s no clock on the wall and, even if you did have one, mobile phones into the exam room.  It’s a theme we keep finding.  The problem that you think you are addressing turns out not to be the problem at all, there’s an entirely different one waiting for you!  We’ve offered to buy a couple of wall clocks for the exam room and Gasica will be buying them just before the exams, so no possibility of them falling apart in the corrosive salty air or walking out of the open-air classrooms!

A respected member of the Unguja Ukuu community passed away and the teachers are away at the funeral.  Everyone in the village is related or are friends, so there’s a big turnout. The Islamic faith requires that mortal remains be interred within a day of the death.

Tuesday February 9: As the afternoon group hadn’t grasped exam strategy they were destined to repeat the lesson until they had.  One of the older girls grasped the concept and explained it to the rest of the class.  Given the complexity of the topic, Swahili was allowed! The students really enjoyed having the concept taught by a peer and saw that it was something they could do.  So, only a day late and they have a go at our short comprehension test.  It included some language they didn’t know so we discussed the concept of “Don’t Panic” when you see something you don’t understand. Gasica says Zanzibar students are not in the habit of panicking as they expect to find things they don’t understand! Most do well – am sure Disney studios would be pleased to know the educational value of ‘A Bug’s Life’.  In fact even the Headmaster enjoys it!

The teachers were trained on how to use POWERPOINT, put a presentation on a memory stick and show it on the TV.  Much excitement and determination to master the technology.

Wednesday February 10:  Linking to previous work, the afternoon session was an introduction to the circus. The kids learn about clowns, trapeze artists and unicyclists. They demonstrate their understanding of acrobatics, balance and wobble with a range of handstands and the yoga tree position.  Even the girls join in!

The teachers’ session focused on a review of verb tenses, using our travel itinerary as subject matter.  Slowly breaking them in to the news that we will be leaving soon.  Today, I am in Zanzibar.  Next week, I will be travelling to England, and so on.

Thursday February 11: Today we had our final meeting with the teachers and we explained what help we could offer for the future.  There will be two new volunteers who are coming in March to take over from us.. We also told them about the BRCK Kio Kit tablet computer system which one of our volunteers will be implementing.

The afternoon class is busy obtaining a consensus on answers to questions posed by students at Varndean following last week’s Skype session. We love the answers to the first question “What thing do you most like about your village?”  Answers include “Freedom” from one of the teachers, passing by the classroom and looking at the board.  We’ll video them giving the answers. Internet speed here makes Skype difficult.  The day finished with the conferring of going away gifts.  In this case, a tube of toothpaste for each child.  Colgate proved the most popular brand with a few outliers standing out from the crowd.