Keith Sturgess and Margaret Eddershaw visited South Sudan with John Benington and Jean Hartley in November 2017. Here are their reports:
My work at Ibba fell into three parts: classes with teachers, classes with pupils and performance work with, if I may so call it, the Choir.
I had two sessions with the teachers, the first of which was joined by six teachers from other local schools. My overall theme was the relationship of drama to life and to the practice of education, and I had the aim of broadening and deepening the teachers’ willingness to cultivate a more child-centred view of education, that is, of encouraging the pupil to learn how to learn.
Session one included a mini-lecture, the last part of which demonstrated ways in which a “drama” approach might illuminate parts of the English class, the Mathematics class, the Religious Education class and the Science class. The second session contained some practical work, involving role-play and improvisation. Most teachers found this difficult, and I had to move very slowly. However, in role as specific and important as members of a town looking to carry out a major project, the teachers entered confidently into a debate on what was the best project for the town with thoughtfulness and some success in character-playing. They agreed that what ensued could easily be a major component of a Social Studies class.
I did four classes with the pupils, one each with P4,5,6,7. My theme in each case was story-reading, and I was keen to work with them on a text which they all had in front of them, that they had just read, and which consequently they could discuss together. So, to that end, I wrote two short stories, A Butterfly Named Jonah and Melody and the Car Crash, and photocopied them so each pupil had a text. The object was two-fold – to stress the sheer pleasure of reading and its impact on vocabulary, but also to generate a sense of “the active reader”.
The work with the Choir was in fact a kind of project – to make enough good music that would produce a CD. There was much to be done. I started this one year ago, and so there was a period of recall and renewal, and also to the 7 songs we had established last year, there was the need for 5 new ones to make up the package. Also, our collective work had to develop a precision and quality that would justify a recording (on which any sloppiness, any mistakes would last for ever!) We rehearsed for just under 20 hours in the 9 days we had at our disposal, and I watched as the discipline and care I was trying to impose (“Stop talking!” “Why are you fidgeting?” “Where are you going?”) moved from me and into that splendid group of people. They got it. And they did it. So that, at two minutes’ notice, they could form up and sing beautifully two of their songs at the tree-planting ceremony. The forty girls worked very hard and I am proud of them. They achieved a kind of professionalism. (And the drums are great, too!)
THE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT:
At Ibba School there was a pleasant ‘village’ atmosphere with a dozen goats, cockerels and chickens roaming, a baby’s frequent cries and almost always someone on the drums. The girls seemed very happy and staff appeared to enjoy each other’s company.
Teachers’ participation in my workshops was enthusiastic and they responded well to new ideas and were keen to improve their lessons in order to bring pupils into the centre of the learning process. A group of local teachers also took part in two of my in-service sessions (A Teacher’s Voice), demonstrating the growing and positive trend for our teachers to share resources, learn from each other and develop a local network.
In my workshop, Beyond the Curriculum, we shared ideas of how to engage pupils more actively and effectively with the material of different subjects. There was also a useful discussion of revision, which currently teachers tend to leave to the pupils, whereas I see revision as the teacher’s opportunity to check the pupils’ understanding of the lessons and to explore the material in other ways (e.g. quizzes, role-plays, hot-seating, etc). We also discussed ‘prep’, which is largely left to the pupil, rather than set by the teacher. It was agreed that a teacher should be present at Prep to help / answer queries.
I observed 10 lessons during our visit and was impressed by most of them. The teachers had prepared carefully and usually followed the four phases approach introduced by Paul and Julia Sanders in their visit in July – timing occasionally went awry – but overall there was considerable improvement on a year ago.
I took equipment for badminton and instantly girls were clamouring to play. It may be beneficial for a space for sport to be permanently allocated – for football, a running track, space for volley-ball, rounders, netball, etc. We also discussed the girls’ ‘free time’ and the need for educational games, such as chess, Scrabble, Rummikub, draughts, dominoes, and simple board games.
We discussed sex education, personal development, health and relationships. It seems that sex education is minimal currently. I saw some evidence of bullying during classes and meal-times. Serious consideration of the co-curriculum is necessary, as soon as possible.
I discussed the Friday afternoon debates with teacher Uyaka and he made some changes (such as reducing the number of speakers) that improved the one debate I saw. The individual speakers presented their arguments well and there was excellent interaction with the audience. Uyaka plans to help the speakers prepare and rehearse their speeches.
WORKSHOPS FOR GIRLS:
My workshops for the girls, Speaking Up, aimed to develop their vocal range, their listening skills and confidence in speaking in class. Classes P5, P6 and P7 worked well in their sessions.
However, it was quickly apparent in both my classes and those led by Ibba teachers, that girls in P4 are struggling with English. This new intake is far behind in English language than P4 of last November.
This raises again the suggestion that the new intake of girls should begin their first year with an intensive English language programme, before starting other subjects, (alongside a drama programme to develop confidence, co-operation and social skills, which we offered to do.) Lack of comprehension in English holds pupils back in every subject.
I took two electric sewing-machines to the school, to help in the making of sanitary towels and mending the girls’ clothes. I taught the three matrons how to use the machines and also supplied them with hand sewing materials, so they could encourage the girls to sew in their own time.
LYDIA CRAFT PROJECT:
I had three meetings with the head and members of the Mothers Union at the ESC church, about my idea for them to produce craft work (especially embroidery) for sale in the UK. I will ‘seed’ fund their materials and arrange to sell items in London. They will receive all the money paid for their pieces. I hope that, as this project develops, some women from the village will come into the school and share their skills with the girls.
We would like to express our thanks to all Ibba School staff for their warm welcome to us.