Saturday, March 17, 2012

ATale of Two Schools

My Peace Corps Work plan now includes time at the Baobab School in Gaborone, a private school in the capital city. I will be working with two other volunteers, helping create a community service project for the 5th graders there. When I walk to Kopong JSS I go down red dirt paths, cross the only tar road in the village and wind my way through another series of red dirt paths, walking alongside donkeys, goats, and chickens. When I go to Baobab I take the bus to the main bus rank, cross a highway and pass a Hindu temple.

In Kopong we must go to the supplies officer and request paper, pencil, etc. At Baobab we were shown the supply room and told to help ourselves. In Kopong water is sometimes in short supply. At Baobab there is a sink in every classroom and a swimming pool in the center of the campus.

In Kopong, as in every public school I've been in, students are expected to remain quiet and orderly in the classroom, even if the teacher does not show up for class, and to work in a rote manner. In Baobab students are polite and responsive, but much more given to working in the 'controlled chaos' environment I knew when teaching in America. In Kopong I hope to institute an "English only" day in which both teachers and students speak English (English is the official language of Botswana and students are tested in English whether or not they have been taught in English). In Baobab English is the language of instruction for all classes. These schools are only 20 km apart, but they are emblematic of what is happening in a country that has grown and is growing as fast as Botswana. The students at Baobab are being prepared for positions of leadership and responsibility. Although many students at Kopong have high ambitions, the mode of instruction is preparing them to be obedient above all else.

In Kopong, my landlady's dog accompanies me to school each day and often into the classroom. At Baobab I did not see any animals on the street or in the campus.

The students in Kopong were excited to talk with me about America. "Is Barack Obama a good president?" they asked, all 45 of them gathering around me in rapt attention as I answered. When I asked if I could take their photo for my friends at home they ran around tucking in their shirts and patting down their hair. YES they said, take our photo. I did not think to ask the Baobab students, as indoctrinated as I am by American rules and regs about privacy, etc.

For the record: I told the students Obama is a good president because he thinks of other countries not just the United States and because he listens to people and does not make decisions alone. The Baobab students have teachers from many different countries. They did not have any questions for someone from America.

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