Monday, 1 June 2009

St Bernadette of Soubirou's School

Because Roine is involved in research around the UK's Building Schools for the Future programme, we arranged a visit to a local primary school in Accra. St Bernadette of Soubirou's is a private sector catholic school in the district of Dansoman. We chose this School, because Sammie's mum works there as a teacher, teaching class six. The head teacher, Mrs Mary Aquiline Cato, has been Head for 22 years, and she and her colleagues were very welcoming indeed, giving us a guided tour of all the facilities. Despite the heat and humidity being so enervating, there was no air-conditioning. Indeed, there was no mains electricity at the time we visited, due to a power cut, which seems a regular feature here. Instead, a noisy generator throbbed away on the sports field, which also doubled as their assembly hall. We talked in the Head's office for a while, and met some of the teachers and admin staff, then went for a tour of the classrooms. The first one was for very young infants, and they were just about to have their mid-morning snack. Those who could afford to buy a little meat pie had one, some kids had brought a snack from home, and some had only a drink. They were sat patiently, quietly and politely, waiting to be told when to start eating, when we walked in. Whenever the Head walks into a classroom, the kids all speak in perfect unison "Good morning Mrs Cato", to which she response "good morning, how are you". The united response is "Fine, thanks, and you?", to which Mrs Cato does not respond, as far as I could tell. This little catechism happened in every room we entered, except one, where they little poppets called here "Madam" instead of her name, and she pulled them on that. Every step of the way, we were accompanied by a photographer with a still camera and a video camera, recording the visit for posterity, especially as this was an anniversary year for the school, and they wanted to include our visit as part of the annals of the anniversary.

Sam's mum was delighted to see
us again. We spent a bit of time in her classroom, and after the kids gave us the usual welcome, Sam asked them what they were doing. They had been reading about animals, so he got them to tell hi what they had been working on, and they were enthusiastic about raising their hands and answering his questions, shouting out the names of animals. It suddenly struck me that they might not have any idea who he was, or who we were, so I asked them, pointing at him, "Do you know who this is?" They went quiet, and shifted uncomfortably on their seats, clearly not sure what to say when this was a question for which they had not been prepared. I put them out of their misery by telling them he was Mrs Laryea's son, and their mouths dropped open and their eyes widened - they were nicely impressed with her brilliant offspring!

After our sweltering tour we returned to Mrs Cato's office for cold beer and sandwiches, and a chat about our mutual interests. On the way back across the school, we cam across a game of football in full swing. Some of the boys had already been given one of the footballs we had brought for the school, and the hi-vis football shirts. They were so pleased with this stuff that they put it to good use immediately. Even Sam tried to join in the kick-about, but he was not up to their standard. Back in the office, we cooled down and discussed the books we'd brought as gifts for their library, and other things we'd donated. We learned about the Ghana education system, and shared our thoughts on how it compares to the UK, particularly with regard to the interplay between people and their buildings. Apparently, the idea that the building plays an important role in the quality of education is knocked into a cocked hat by places like this! Clearly, you don't need multi-million pound facilities to teach well.

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