Namwala Visit February 2014

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For the first time in 39 years I visited Namwala during the rainy season. I was able to experience the landscape in full bloom and completely green. What caught my eye was that the locals now grew more of their own corn, their main food staple, compared to the seventies. I often found myself walking along tall corn fields on my home visits. The priority of my visit was the analysis of the Math curriculum as requested by the school’s principal. I would also work with the teachers to develop a concept on how to improve things.

On the first day I met with all the math teachers to discuss their procedures and get a first impression about the math lessons. It did not take long before they brought up the importance of the computer and its significance in math instruction. This topic was not discussed very long because of the minimal financial means available. It did not take long before we realized that the biggest problem was the class size. Currently there were 50 to over 60 kids in one class.

During the next few days I visited with all eleven teachers and sat in during their double lesson classes. They were very sincere. The students also adapted quickly to the white man sitting in the back of the room. In the afternoons I would sit with the individual teachers and discuss the quality of the lesson as well as the bigger underlying problems. After three days I had developed a plan with initial recommendation. These would be discussed with all the math teachers and then presented to the school principal the following day including additional changes and improvements.

The given circumstances such as the extremely large class size as well as lacking financial means for needed materials such as paper, text books, calculators and projectors, really limited the improvement suggestions.

The first modest suggestion was to not only write the math problem on the board but also the solution as a self check mechanism. This would reduce the amount of time the teacher had to spend on correcting and allow them to focus on the students that really needed help. Up until now the teachers were always busy running through the classroom marking all the correct answers which left them little to no time to actually answer any questions.

The second recommendation went a bit further. The teachers would make one to two sets of copies for each topic and level on foil paper. This would allow all the students to have a foil to write on and work with when the topic was covered and once they were finished the foil could be cleaned and reused. This would keep copy costs at a minimum and reduce the amount of writing time at the small board on the wall. The teachers would now have more time to actually teach math.

I noticed that in Namwala they did considerably less practicing compared to Swiss Schools. This was in part because of the time consuming copying from the board as well as the small size of the board. The foil copy sets would also come in handy here.

A lot of the students used lined notebook paper. The teachers will pay attention that students use checkered paper going forward and that this kind of paper will be available in the school store.

There were also several suggestions that went beyond the actual math teachings. For example the number of desks and chairs needs to be increased in the foreseeable future due to the continuously growing class size. The larger class size also posed some problems regarding order in the classroom.

As my visit was coming to an end it was a great joy that I was able to teach a double math lesson in seven different classes. The school has already invited me for a similar visit next year. I will probably plan on three weeks rather than two because the program was very full and pushed.

After my first week in Namwala I visited Chief Mukobela with one of the teachers, Alex Kaande on the weekend. He embodies the traditional authority in Namwala and surrounding areas and is responsible for approximately 18 000 people. I have visited him several times in the past and am continuously impressed with his efforts to improve his people’s circumstances. Last year he was able to make sure that every household had its own toilet. He received nationwide recognition for this accomplishment. A walk through his town illustrates this improvement which he achieved without outside help. It was fascinating to talk to him about his duties and plans.

As I arrive home I get to look back at an exciting and eventful time. I was extremely impressed how the people were full of hope and joy even though they were faced with difficult circumstances. Going forward I will be busy organizing calculators for math class in Namwala.

Johannes van der Weijden

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