Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kids, Kids, everywhere there are kids!

I am reminded of a song by Five Man Electric Band entitled “Signs” as I am writing today’s blog for there have been plenty of signs around me throughout the day. You could find the song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1Q7cP3ij5g
For some of you this song will take you back a few years, for others who never heard it, enjoy.
Today my colleague and I met again with the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education along with the Minister of Vocational Education and Literacy. At one time the Minister of Education was in charge of everything regarding education and just recently this past January, three new Ministers were appointed to take over the duties of the Minister of Education, by the Minister is still in charge. You can imagine being in charge of a new ministry and feeling overwhelmed. Dr. Rose who is in charge of vocational education feels the weight of the world on her shoulders as she tries to develop opportunities for students to be trained in areas that will assist in their development to gain employment for if a child at the age of 12 or 13 does not pass the standardized test for secondary education, they are asked to leave the school. So, you have many people unable to continue with their education. We may think this is strange but our educational system is built pretty much the same way. For one, our K-12 schools are focused on kids going to college. We believe this is great, but only 30% of our graduating seniors actually go on and graduate from a university or college. Meaning, we have a great number of people who would benefit from quality vocational education training where a student can earn their high school diploma and certificates in specific trades. The school district of Placentia-Yorba Linda is doing this and seeing great results. Students are graduating from high school but with certificates in plumbing, general construction, and electrical as well. The superintendent understands not everyone wishes to go to college. Dr. Rose, “gets it” as well, but is overwhelmed for any given afternoon in Bujumbura, you can see hundreds of young adults on the streets just “hanging out.” Literally, hundreds.
Today we went to a school on the outskirts of Bujumbura. We were attacked…attacked by…..KIDS! As I climbed out of the truck, kids were all around. The noise was deafening. The roar of the kids laughter and shouting was a delight. As I took my cameras out…well, I couldn’t walk straight for the kids just started to surround me. “Photo me!” “No, photo me, yes!” the kids yelled. What was funny was I was being told to come with the people whom I went to the school with to meet the Director of the school. My colleagues kept waiting as I was taking in the moment with the kids. My colleague from Biola University turned to me and said, “No Fred, you can’t take any home.”
The school has 3,000 students and 50 teachers. Yes, that is 60 students per classroom. This is a good size for schools in Burundi. About 50% of the kids are passing the test to go on to secondary education. While this is above the national norm of 30%, still, 50% or 1,500 students will be told to leave due to a test.
We also met a representative from Macmillan Publishers who will be making English texts for Burundi. The cost to give each kid a class set of the books they need for primary education would be $500,000.00. Anyone have contacts with foundations just waiting to assist a poor country? When I asked the Director what her one goal for the school was, she answered, “Quality teacher training.” Since the teachers are paid so poorly, they have jobs afterschool. The Director stated the teachers are more concerned with their other jobs than the role of the teacher. One agenda item is we have informally agreed to have a conference/seminar for best teaching practices next summer for the teachers throughout the country.
So, today was great. Seeing the kids gave me the opportunity to look into the eyes of these youthful children and understand the role we are undertaking. Tomorrow we are heading north to the more rural areas to see the kids. I promise I won’t bring any home.

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