Sunday, October 23, 2011


There are hundreds of differences between how things are done here and in America. Here are just a few of them:

The Beginning of School

Schools here are supposed to open on October 1, which was a Saturday this year. The primary schools have Thursdays and Sundays off and just a half a day on Saturday, so you might expect teachers to be in the classrooms on October first to welcome the students and get things started.  However; on October first many teachers did not even know where they would be teaching or what grade level they would teach.  When I was teaching at the university, I knew the courses I would teach and the days and times they would meet almost a year in advance; so this system of assigning people to classes seems very odd to me. 

Last year; my neighbor was the director (head teacher) of a small school quite far away from where he lives:  He asked to be assigned to a school closer to his home. He found out he would be given a new assignment; but not where or what grade. In fact; he did not even find out the school where would be teaching until a week after classes were supposed to begin!  He will be teaching the first level of primary school at a school that is, indeed, a bit closer to home. He has 80 children in his class and, at the moment, no desks or books for the children. The children now sit on the floor, but he assures me that the desks will be coming. 

School readiness

Most of the children in my neighbor’s class arrive at school speaking only the local language spoken by their family at home. The only French they are likely to know is “Nassara, pas de cadeau?” (foreigner, no present?). The first term is obviously spent teaching beginning French and many teachers have no choice but to use “the direct method,” that is, speaking only French and teaching the meaning through gestures, acting things out, and so on. Teachers are not assigned to regions based on their maternal language; but by some other criteria, seniority I suspect. My neighbor speaks three of the local languages, so he can use the language the children know in most cases, but the educational philosophy for most schools does not allow bilingualism. There are a few experimental schools in the country that start by using the local language 90% of the time and gradually increasing the amount of French until by the 6th year the local language is used only 10% of the time.  Even though, from what I have been told, these schools seem to produce better results, many parents want the traditional French only method: I find this interesting, given that most of the parents cannot speak French and are illiterate.  This means that they are unable to prepare their children for school. It is only a handful of children who arrive at school speaking any French or having seen books around the house. Even among the better educated locals, the idea of reading for pleasure is not a concept.

Beautiful Homes

I just got word that my house in University Heights received a “House Beautiful” award this year. This is because University Heights bills itself the City of Beautiful Homes, and because the folks who are taking care of my house for me while I am here have been doing a great job.

This would not be a concept here.  If you have a big fancy house in the city, you hind it behind a big wall, with a guard to be sure no one comes in who is not invited.  I have; in fact, seen some beautiful homes here, with lush landscaping. But you would never know if from looking at the wall. Here are a couple of examples.  You have to use your imagination about what is behind them.  I don’t know!
Time and Planning

I know I have talked about the Burkina idea of time before, but it is interesting how this affects planning.  Being “on time” in the American way does not happen in the villages.  People may not have watches, although have cell phones that show the time.  This is not a big help, however, because you have to get your phone battery recharged every few days, and, without electricity in your home, that means you take your phone to a boutique to get it re-charged.  Often this involves removing the battery, so you have to re-set the time when you put it back in.  Unlike American cell phones, there is not magic signal from the cell phone company that resets your phone to the correct time.  You have to rely on others to get the best guess of the actual time.

If you decide you want to have a meeting at 8:00, you tell people to come at 7:00.  Of course everybody knows you are going to do this, so they do not bother to come until 8:00 or 8:30.  It is a viscous circle, as you can imagine. I am planning my sex education meetings at the primary schools.  Last year I was there at 2:45 to get ready for a meeting at 3:00.  At 3:15 the director of the school finally came to open up the classroom and get some kids to sweep the floor.  We actually started at 3:30 but people kept coming for the next half hour.

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