From Linda Beardsley - November 6, 2017 - Goin’ on Safari



November 6, 2017

Goin’ on Safari

At 5:00 AM, we were heading out of Kigali for a two-day excursion at Akagera National Park in the Eastern Province, a two and a half hour drive from the city through some of the most dramatic terrain in Rwanda.  This surely is a country of a Thousand Hills and an agricultural economy that cultivates and harvests in dramatic fashion up steep terraced slopes of rich red soil. The drive also reveals a Rwanda very different than the bustling, sophisticated Kigali scene.

Barely 30 minutes out of the city, the villages and open markets that mark these areas are already busy with many people on the road. Most are walking or leading bicycles up the steep hills laden with huge stalks of bananas and burlap bags bulging with produce. They are all heading towards the market areas. There are also many people, men and women of all ages working in the fields that line the highway. At 6:00 AM there is already a great deal of work going on in these rural sections of Rwanda.

By 6:30, 6:45 we begin to see the children dressed in  their various colorful uniforms heading to schools along the busy highway. We see a few children riding on the back of bicycles, but most students are walking in groups or alone as the sun is brightening the sky. We saw one student reading a book as she walked along. But we also saw children who appeared to be of elementary and secondary school ages without school uniforms. Some of them were helping adults transport the produce to the markets. Others were watching the commotion of the morning, some silent, some laughing and waving at the traffic going by. One assumes these children are not enrolled in school because their families have not been able to pay for the uniforms that all families must purchase for students, whether for the public or private schools. Universal education at K-12 is still a challenge for the policy makers in Rwanda.

I cannot help but think about the contrasting scenes of the past 4 days.  The celebration of the Maranyundo graduates, their enthusiasm for moving into careers or post-secondary education, imagining futures as part of the new Rwandan middle class in which they exercise the motto of their school…respect, responsibility and leadership. In this early Monday morning scene along a rural highway the scene is of an agricultural economy marked by manual labor and technology of past centuries. Thinking about this contrast…the rush to compete in the 21st century with the stark realty of the agricultural economy in these rural villages one wants to believe that this brave African nation will resolve the economic inequalities that frustrate all our economies. But our own nation has not resolved the inequalities so apparent in many aspects of life. Can education be expected to resolve the complex circumstances of economic inequalities?

These are rather deep issues to consider in the early morning headed for safari in the Akagera National Park.

November 6, 2017

On Safari

“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”    Karen Blixen
                                                                                                              Out of Africa

There was something about being on safari today that made me feel as though I was channeling Meryl Streep when she played Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. I have always loved that film; I’ve seen it many times. But I don’t think I truly appreciated that film of the life of that remarkable writer until I had experienced the Akagera National Park on safari.

The word safari has such an interesting history, as do so many of the words from the colonial era that saw European nations bringing “civilization” to Africa. Safari is a Swahili term that means journey and came to mean a journey into the East African bush to either hunt or observe and admire wild animals. In Out of Africa, Denys Finch Hatton, the brash handsome British adventurer who became Blixen’s lover, included fine china, elegant dinner and Mozart on the Victrola as safari accouterments’. He represented the tradition of gentlemen tracking game for sport and creating a whole mythology about exploring the Africa landscape.

Our safari was for exploring and observing animals in their natural habitat, and it was amazing. The Akagera National Park had once been a park that included both Rwandan and Tanzanian boundaries in 1934. But after 1994, the park was redrawn to include only the Rwandan land. Today it is a wonderful tourist attraction and model of animal protection.

“No domestic animal can be as still as a wild animal. The civilized people have lost the aptitude of stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild before they are accepted by it.”  Karen Blixen in Out of Africa

Among the animals we saw were elephants, hippos, warthogs, water buffalo, giraffes, antelopes, zebras, baboons, three types of monkeys, and all sorts of birds. I can’t really describe how beautiful, how magnificent these animals are as they make their way through the day. Some are bold, fast and skedaddle away as they feel the approach of the Range Rover with its camera-toting humans. Others, like the giraffe, are careful, modest and can be so still that they are part of the landscape, literally. When  I saw this stillness it literally took my breath away…and I understood anew what Blixen meant when she described the “aptitude of stillness” that we must learn in order to really be at peace, with one’s self, with one another, with  “the wild.”

We did see something quite extraordinary that amazed even our driver and our guide. We saw a leopard kill an antelope. We caught the end of the chase as the leopard felled the antelope and took its face in its mouth. I thought the kill would be a bloody affair. Instead, the leopard clamped her/his jaws around the mouth and nose of the antelope and smothered it to death. It took awhile for the antelope to die. After that, we watched the  leopard for a few minutes as s/he sat and watched us watching the kill. We rode ever so slowly by, not wanting to interrupt the conquest and leopard’s chance to eat the beast. Later, on our drive back to the lodge, the driver went by the spot where we had seen the kill. Sure enough, we saw the carcass of the antelope had been dragged to a space under a bush. The guide explained that the leopard would first drink the blood and then eat what s/he needed. S/he would take the rest and either hang it from a tree (although the antelope was pretty big) or hide it to eat another day…before the carcass began to smell. So that kill represented at least two days of food and the nourishment of the blood. The leopard would not hunt again until the antelope was finished.

“When you have caught the rhythm of Africa, you find out that it is the same in all her music.”  Karen Blixen

And so our group of compassionate women from Boston watched as the leopard killed the antelope…absolutely still and fascinated… in awe, even, of the power and raw necessity of the kill. I guess we had been caught up in the rhythm of this majestic landscape. At one place, atop the crest of a hill from which we could see the lakes , valleys and mountains of  the area, I thought I was actually looking at the whole world and all that it could teach me about space, time and truth. Karen Blixen described what I saw today exactly right…

“The views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.”


From Linda Beardsley - Short Takes on a Two Day Celebration

-->
Short Takes on a Two Day Celebration

Front Page News, Baby! The Sunday edition of the Kigali Times had as its headline, Quality education is the best legacy – First Lady. Yes, the lead story and pictures were referring to the graduation ceremony at the Maranyundo School at which Madame  proclaimed in her keynote, ”Education is the best heritage we can hand to our children.”  The story also included her pride in touring the new Library and STEM Learning Center. The tour of the Labs, Maker Space and Computer Space showcased students demonstrating projects in chemistry, physics, biology and computer science. Among the projects that impressed the dignitaries was an app that 3 first year high school girls developed to help peers study for science and math tests. They had won an award at a Girls in Computer competition last month.

The ceremony was two days of celebration. The events included opportunities to meet with the graduates, speeches, poems, singing, a blessing by the bishop, dancing, lunches, dancing, skits, dancing. Rwandan people now how to celebrate and be joyful as a community.

For my Role of Story students: I had a conversation with several girls at my lunch table about Americanah. They had all read it and found Adichie a clear and captivating author. I asked them what they thought the main lesson that she wanted readers to take from the novel. Replies included: “Racism is a barrier that needs to be broken. Life is a struggle but don’t be afraid to engage in the struggle if what you want is important to you and good for others. Be true to yourself.” When I asked the what they thought she wanted them to think about education in the US and Africa there was a re-sounding reply…”You should never take your education for granted because not everyone can afford to have the right to a good education that you have…not everyone has teachers who understand your ideas and culture.”  And then this…”Each of us has a voice that must be heard, an identity that must be respected.”

There are traffic jams throughout the roadways that lead into Kigali from the outlying areas. Slow moving farm vehicles include enormous cattle trucks transporting enormous cattle. And scooters weaving and dodging through traffic and pedestrians. Not for the feint of heart. Horns are part of the sounds of the city.

The school has come so far. The  campus, the buildings and the landscaping far surpass what the members of the Maranyundo Initiative  could have imagined in 2005 when they planted a tiny tree on the former site of a Tutsi concentration camp and promised that the site would be a school for girls, a sign of hope in a rebuilding nation. Seeing  the gradating high school girls…proud of their accomplishments yet sincerely grateful for the support of family, friends and teachers is so rewarding. But hearing the entire school, (now 400 girls where there were 60!) Singing the school song together…amazing.

Yes, “Education is the best heritage we can hand to our children”…and to ourselves.

In the first October 2015 post that I wrote in this blog I began with this passage:

Arriving in Rwanda and navigating the first night and day in the country, are always an adventure. In this nation that is rapidly building new infrastructure, developing new ideas and economies, there are always signs of this progress blended with familiar signs, sounds and smells.

That description remains apt to describe our arrival from Amsterdam to the warm, spicey darkness of the airport in Kigali. I always forget that arriving at the airport means you walk off the plane into the night air instead of through a covered tunnel that has been pushed up to the arriving plane as in most arrival terminals. In Rwanda, you exit the plane that has been your seat on the world for 9 hours into the soft night air and walk to the entrance of the Customs Hall where you show your passport, apply and pay for your 30-day visa and retrieve your luggage. An adventure, indeed.  The customs officials are thorough, deliberate, careful. These routines take time and patience.

This trip to Rwanda promises to be different for me in many ways. First, it is a trip for celebration not work. I am traveling with my colleague and fellow educator, Jane O’Connor (and 40 other Maranyundo Girls School supporters) to attend the first graduation  of the STEM High School for Girls on the Maranyundo Campus. Besides celebrating the achievements of this first group of 57 young women who majored in STEM disciplines, it celebrates the commitment of their teachers, the sisters of the Benebikira Order who administer the school, the families who support the school.  It is also  a celebration of the remarkable partnership that is represented by the Maranyundo Initiative…the visionary women of both Boston and Rwanda who took a pressing need…a school for girls beyond elementary grades…and supported it to become one of the most successful schools in the country. It is a celebration of the families of the girls enrolled in the middle school, who sought the support of the Initiative to build a high school on the campus that would prepare the graduates for post-secondary school studies and employment in the rapidly growing technology sectors of the Rwandan economy.

Secondly, it is a trip on which I will stay in a hotel and not at the girls school, itself. As many of you know, staying at the school is an experience that I treasure. This time, I will be a visitor like everyone else. I will not wake to that gentle light and hear the rooster crow and the soft lowing of the cows in the stable. I will not hear the girls gather at the meeting space outside the administration building and listen to Sr. Juvenal  introduce the day to the students. I will not follow the routines and schedules of the school day, sit in classrooms or spend time with teachers in the library or the Teacher’s Work Space. This trip, I will be a guest, as it were. So I will have a different vantage point from which to experience the graduation and the life of the school.

Besides traveling with the Maranyundo Board members, I am traveling with new supporters of the Initiative. Among the group I am traveling with are Jane O’Connor’s daughter Erin and two of Erin’s friends. They are traveling to Rwanda for the first time. It is so interesting to see the city, to hear the story of Rwanda’s amazing growth since the devastation of the genocide through Erin and her friends. I always come away with new insights to stuff I thought I knew for sure.

One thing I do know for sure every time I enter this country, the development of the infra structure is amazing. It continues to grow and thrive. Around the central city, tall buildings of interesting architectural design are everywhere. One sight which greeted us as we came into the central city last night was the new Convention Center whose centerpiece sports a dome which is lighted with the colors of the Rwandan flag: green, yellow and teal. There are new hotels, elegant and chic, like the new Marriot across from the Serena. New government buildings, new buildings at the University of Rwanda, new banks, new shopping areas.

This morning when we went out to the Genocide Memorial and Museum in central Kigali, our driver took us through the “new city” of Kigali. It was an area of the city that was known as the “bush” before 1994. During the genocide, it was a place where many Tutsis fled as horror came upon their neighborhoods or villages. As a result, it became a place where killers hunted down their prey and left the bodies to be eaten by wild dogs and other animals. A place of death and evil.

Today the area is a place of prosperity with lovely stone homes, gated communities for the rising Rwandan middle class and schools.  Moses, our bus driver, who was 7 in 1994 and lost all of his family except for his dad, is so enthusiastic about these  signs of prosperity.  He gives credit to “our brave president” and feels that he is benefiting from the security and “we-are-all-Rwandese” spirit that gives him hope. In fact, he told us that he is expecting his first child in December. “I am rebuilding my family,” he said softly.

And so the signs of prosperity and the building boom in Kigali and its suburbs is a rebuilding that is reflected in families that are rebuilding. What an interesting time to be celebrating the graduation of accomplished young women whose school motto… Respect, Responsibility and Leadership…are three ideals so needed right now in a nation developing  rapidly.



Hear from Linda Beardsley - Return to Rwanda Once Again

Return to Rwanda Once Again

In the first October 2015 post that I wrote in this blog I began with this passage:

Arriving in Rwanda and navigating the first night and day in the country, are always an adventure. In this nation that is rapidly building new infrastructure, developing new ideas and economies, there are always signs of this progress blended with familiar signs, sounds and smells.

That description remains apt to describe our arrival from Amsterdam to the warm, spicey darkness of the airport in Kigali. I always forget that arriving at the airport means you walk off the plane into the night air instead of through a covered tunnel that has been pushed up to the arriving plane as in most arrival terminals. In Rwanda, you exit the plane that has been your seat on the world for 9 hours into the soft night air and walk to the entrance of the Customs Hall where you show your passport, apply and pay for your 30-day visa and retrieve your luggage. An adventure, indeed.  The customs officials are thorough, deliberate, careful. These routines take time and patience.

This trip to Rwanda promises to be different for me in many ways. First, it is a trip for celebration not work. I am traveling with my colleague and fellow educator, Jane O’Connor (and 40 other Maranyundo Girls School supporters) to attend the first graduation  of the STEM High School for Girls on the Maranyundo Campus. Besides celebrating the achievements of this first group of 57 young women who majored in STEM disciplines, it celebrates the commitment of their teachers, the sisters of the BenebikiraOrder who administer the school, the families who support the school. It is also  a celebration of the remarkable partnership that is represented by the MaranyundoInitiative…the visionary women of both Boston and Rwanda who took a pressing need…a school for girls beyond elementary grades…and supported it to become one of the most successful schools in the country. It is a celebration of the families of the girls enrolled in the middle school, who sought the support of the Initiative to build a high school on the campus that would prepare the graduates for post-secondary school studies and employment in the rapidly growing technology sectors of the Rwandan economy.

Secondly, it is a trip on which I will stay in a hotel and not at the girls school, itself. As many of you know, staying at the school is an experience that I treasure. This time, I will be a visitor like everyone else. I will not wake to that gentle light and hear the rooster crow and the soft lowing of the cows in the stable. I will not hear the girls gather at the meeting space outside the administration building and listen to Sr. Juvenal  introduce the day to the students. I will not follow the routines and schedules of the school day, sit in classrooms or spend time with teachers in the library or the Teacher’s Work Space. This trip, I will be a guest, as it were. So I will have a different vantage point from which to experience the graduation and the life of the school.

Besides traveling with the Maranyundo Board members, I am traveling with new supporters of the Initiative. Among the group I am traveling with are Jane O’Connor’s daughter Erin and two of Erin’s friends. They are traveling to Rwanda for the first time. It is so interesting to see the city, to hear the story of Rwanda’s amazing growth since the devastation of the genocide through Erin and her friends. I always come away with new insights to stuff I thought I knew for sure.

One thing I do know for sure every time I enter this country, the development of the infra structure is amazing. It continues to grow and thrive. Around the central city, tall buildings of interesting architectural design are everywhere. One sight which greeted us as we came into the central city last night was the new Convention Center whose centerpiece sports a dome which is lighted with the colors of the Rwandan flag: green, yellow and teal. There are new hotels, elegant and chic, like the new Marriot across from the Serena. New government buildings, new buildings at the University of Rwanda, new banks, new shopping areas.

This morning when we went out to the Genocide Memorial and Museum in central Kigali, our driver took us through the “new city” of Kigali. It was an area of the city that was known as the “bush” before 1994. During the genocide, it was a place where many Tutsis fled as horror came upon their neighborhoods or villages. As a result, it became a place where killers hunted down their prey and left the bodies to be eaten by wild dogs and other animals. A place of death and evil.

Today the area is a place of prosperity with lovely stone homes, gated communities for the rising Rwandan middle class and schools. Moses, our bus driver, who was 7 in 1994 and lost all of his family except for his dad, is so enthusiastic about these  signs of prosperity.  He gives credit to “our brave president” and feels that he is benefiting from the security and “we-are-all-Rwandese” spirit that gives him hope. In fact, he told us that he is expecting his first child in December. “I am rebuilding my family,” he said softly.

And so the signs of prosperity and the building boom in Kigali and its suburbs is a rebuilding that is reflected infamilies that are rebuilding. What an interesting time to be celebrating the graduation of accomplished young women whose school motto… Respect, Responsibility and Leadership…are three ideals so needed right now in a nation developing rapidly.

The Segal Foundation and Girls Education





October 28, 2015

Members of the Segal Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization who have funded a portion of the construction completion of the new STEM high school buildings made a site visit to the school this morning. There were four members of the organization who came including the Executive Director from New Jersey. Two of the members were Africans. Dado is from Burundi and Eve is Ugandan. A fourth person , Yvette, was from New York and although she had been in many East African countries, this was her first trip to Rwanda. Bonnie Weiss from Boston also was with the group.

We began with a tour of the school by 5 current students each assigned to one of the visitors. The guides were shy at first. But as the tour proceeded through the dorms, the dining hall, and up to the new building that has classrooms and a computer lab, they became more animated. They talked about their daily schedule, the good food, the study halls at night, the exam schedule. They talked about the “family” structure where every new student is assigned a “mother” and a “grandmother” (S2 and S3 students) to answer their questions in the early weeks of school. By the time the group ended the tour in the current library, guides and visitors seemed like good friends. Yvonne asked her guide about language study. “We take English, Kinyawanda and French. Do you speak French?” Yvonne replied, “I have not taken it in several years…let me see…j’mapelle Yvonne?” “That’s pretty good. Keep trying and you will be very good at speaking French,” encouraged her guide.

After the tour we  convened in the Residence for coffee and to share perspectives on the work of the Segal Foundation and the school. Eve began by saying how much had been accomplished in the expansion. “This education model is so needed for African women. The girls are poised, happy, enjoying their studies. Like our guides.” Sister then explained how she chose the guides. She had decided not to choose the “top girls” at the school. Instead she chose girls who were from the local rural area. They arrived at S1 speaking no English and being very shy. “Now that they are finishing S3, they are speaking English well and they are good students who are helpful.” Se went on to explain how these girls and others have been working on community service projects and reporting their learning to their peers. Dado spoke how of the schools he visits, he is most impressed with the education at Maranyundo: “not only are academic standards high, and girls are learning English well, but they are given a “spiritual, community experience that makes the learning an integral part of their outlook on life.”

Then Andy spoke, explaining, “Of the 200 projects we fund, my two favorite projects are the Maranyundo Initiative and Gardens for Health.”

The meeting ended with a discussion of how to preserve the strengths and characteristics of a small school like Maranyundo and yet have a broad impact throughout the East Africa. Daphne announced that 5 projects focusing on girls education in East Africa were beginning discussions of how we could work together and leverage more funding for these projects. To be continued.

We are grateful to Bonnie and Andrew Weiss who have helped the Initiative connect with the Segal Foundation and to the feedback that organizations give to help us continue to grow in understanding of what is needed to sustain high quality girls education in this part of the world. That understanding will inform all of us of how best to educate all our girls around the world.


Short Takes with Your Morning Coffee






October 27, 2015

On Sunday, Molly came to Maranyundo. Molly is a 2015 graduate of Tufts university. She majored in Peace and Justice Studies. She was a student in my Global Educator course last spring after spending a semester n Rwanda her junior year.

She will be a Teaching Fellow at Maranyundo starting in January in the new school year. Until January, Molly is working for Spark Micro-grants. Spark Micro-grants is an organization that funds community start-ups in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. She is based in Musanze near the Ugandan border. She travels to rural villages to hold community gatherings facilitating discussions about community needs. She is learning a great deal about Rwanda that will be so valuable to her when she is working here at the school to support the girls and teachers.

She is enthusiastic about her current work and how it is preparing her to relate well to the girls and staff at the school. She tells delightful stories about her adventures traveling to the villages and learning to commute by moped!

On Friday, I will meet with Jared Sullivan, also a 2015 Tufts graduate who was a student  my Methods of Teaching English course last spring. He is teaching English at a university in Kigali as a Fulbright recipient. I look forward to telling his story after I see him.

Brother Straton joined us for lunch in Kigali after our meeting with the Ministry of Education. He is still active in his work at Biyamana. The school is dong well. He was in  town with several students who were presenting research they had done on climate change to the ministry of agriculture. His new project is working with refugee camps. Some youth have been in the camps for 18 years; they were born in the camps on the border with the DRC or they arrived as toddlers. Beyond primary and early secondary schooling, they do not have much preparation for skilled jobs to support themselves. He is finding opportunities for students…one at a time…and getting them scholarships to vocational programs. These students do very well, get jobs upon graduation and begin new lives…literally! One young man has graduated and has been recruited by an IT company in the US.

The girls are wearing their new grey Maranyundo sports uniforms with great pride! Jane brought the shirts and shorts that had been printed by her friend in Watertown and they were distributed to the girls to wear in the afternoon sports time. Daphne, Jane and I spoke to several girls as they were walking back to their dorm after finishing their basketball practice. At one point, there were seven eager girls gathered around Daphne and her smart phone looking at photos of Daphne and her daughter selecting a wedding dress for her recent wedding. All over the world, young women are delighted by the excitement of celebrating love and the fun of choosing special outfits!

Our meeting with an advisor to the Minster of Education was very positive. It is always apparent that Sister Juvenal is preceded  in her meetings with people by her reputation as administering a very successful school for girls. We were pleased to hear that he will visit the school next week to see the campus expansion, hear more about the plans for the new Library and community outreach. He sees that the school can be a model for how to put into action many of the aspects of the new Competency based Curriculum Standards. This has been part of the dreaming we all have done about how the work at Maranyundo can influence education practice throughout the country. We were all pleased…especially to know that the connection to the fibre optic cable  will happen. “I want to please the Sister so she can continue her good works,” the advisor told me as we left his office.

Don’t we all!






Choices and Challenges





October 26, 2015

I never get tired of waking up to the beautiful morning light at Maranyundo. The sounds of waking birds, girls walking to early study and breakfast, the mellow moo of a cow or two, it is an amazing warm welcome to a new day.

Our day began slowly, as we savored the many flavors of the colorful breakfast Maria prepares each morning. The luscious golden mango slices, the little bananas, bread with rich brown peanut butter and smooth honey, slices of rich cheese and the coffee…Rwandan coffee.  What a special gift to enjoy all of this hospitality in an even tempo. A luxury.

The focus of our morning was to be a meeting with Sister Juvenal. We were to present the latest draft of the annual evaluation for which we gathered data in March during an on-site visit. We would ask for Sister’s in-put and go through the suggestions we had made for advancing the school’s mission for the coming year. We were all looking forward to this exchange of ideas with Sister.

We gathered in Sister’s office. She wanted to begin by seeking our advice. With the expansion of the school, she is keen to hire the best new teachers she can find to join the current faculty who are clearly dedicated to becoming more proficient in their content knowledge and “student centered methodologies.” She thinks so carefully about the hiring process. Together, she and the Dean review all the applications . She chooses candidates she thinks may be the “best” and invites each of them to come to the school for a demonstration lesson. She observes the lesson along with a department teacher. And, the best part, she then asks the students to give their feedback on each of the candidates.

Currently, she is looking for a physics teacher. She has invited three candidates to the school to interview and do a demonstration lesson. Sister wanted now our advice…not on whom to hire… but rather how she should think about each of the candidates strengths and challenge as she saw them.

One candidate, she told us, is a seasoned teacher who did a very engaging lesson. But he does not have much experience using technology. He is not very comfortable with computers.  A second candidate, very early in his career, has excellent English skills, learned his content in his college years in the US. But he did not teach a very engaging lesson. He lectured to the students.  A third candidate knows physics very well, had some good teaching strategies, but his English was not always understood by the students.

What is the best way to consider the strengths and challenges of each of these candidates?

The predicament in which Sister Juvenal finds herself is a familiar story for school administrators everywhere. Determined to convene a faculty who demonstrate the important elements that are needed to create a professional community, one needs people who have strong content knowledge. Teachers also need to demonstrate a focus on student thinking and engaging students in interesting lessons. New standards developed by national teams of educators in Rwanda require students to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, computer savvy, all with excellent English skills…across the curriculum. For this critical hire for the new Maranyundo STEM high school, a physics teacher, the stakes are high. Physics is central to the new combinations…the  majors… that the students can choose at the high school level. The physics teacher will play a key role in shaping the depth of student knowledge and subject matter pedagogy. Would it be better to hire someone with content knowledge, good teaching strategies and require him to learn computer skills? Or should an administrator go with the novice who has strong content knowledge and command of English but needs to learn inquiry based teaching strategies? How critical is the English level to learning in physics?

Together we sat in Sister Juvenal’s sunny, efficient office and weighed the different ways to consider her conundrum. And we thought of how critical the role of the teacher is in inspiring learning for every student, in every discipline. Rwanda, like all nations in the world, is trying so hard to staff schools well. But as other areas of the economy move forward, talented college graduates, especially those in the STEM fields, are sought after to join engineering firms, financial institutions, and NGOs focused on issues such as health care and the environment. Across the globe the pool of ideal candidates for teaching positions is shrinking. But if this girls’ school in Nyamata is any indication, the pool of young people who are eager to learn and excited to embrace new technologies is growing rapidly.

We did not solve Sister Juvenal’s puzzle this morning. We did help her think about the issues that are most important for her in a teacher candidate. The importance of respect for students, the belief that every student can engage in challenging curriculum, are supremely important to Sister Juvenal. Conducting lessons that allow the students to “uncover” rather than “cover” content (as David Hawkins sees the curriculum enterprise) is the shape of teaching she wants to see. Having time to consider these priorities, to reflect on the ways in which she wants her students and faculty to relate to the work they do together brings a refreshed perspective to the hard choices of whom to hire.

Listening to Sister Juvenal describe how she wants her girls to experience their education, I thought about my favorite sentence from Eleanor Duckworth’s classic text about listening to students’ thinking in the classroom,  The Having of Wonderful Ideas.
 “The more we help children to have their wonderful ideas and to feel good about themselves for having them, the more likely it is that they will some day happen upon wonderful ideas that no one else has happened upon before.”

The essence of education...and the fun!

The First 24 Hours





Arriving in Rwanda and navigating the first night and day in the country, are always an adventure. In this nation that is rapidly building new infrastructure, developing new ideas and economies, there are always signs of this progress blended with familiar signs, sounds and smells. Jane O’Connor, Daphne Petri and I arrived from Amsterdam in velvet darkness. Upon immediately embarking the plane, there is the sensation of familiar warmth, (now damp at the start of the rainy season), accompanied by the spicy scent of Kigali. Entering the airport arrivals section, we notice the new VIP center, bright electronic posters announcing the 3 country visa (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda) and “Welcome to Rwanda…land of a thousand hills and a million smiles.” There is also an announcement of Carnegie Mellon University programs…Masters degrees in Kigali. Driving to the school, one notices the new street lighting system, new gas stations, new construction, more bicycles. There is so much more traffic on the road to Nyamata than when I first traveled here in 20008. This is a country on the move!

I always try to take in this arrival time and think about what it can say to me about the state of the nation. The state of the nation will say a great deal about what sort of education is going to be needed and thereby supported by the government.  The state of the nation we saw as we spent our first hour in Rwanda was a rapidly growing, dynamic place.

The Ministry of Education has developed a Strategic Plan for 2013 – 2018. In the introduction, the Minister writes of the three goals that the nation will move to accomplish.

These goals are: promoting access to education at all levels, improving the quality of education and training, and strengthening the relevance of education and training to meet labour market demands. Equity in access to education is emphasised across all three goals to ensure that disadvantaged students, such as girls, the poor and disabled, have access to meaningful learning opportunities. “

These are lofty goals indeed. It will take more than a vibrant economy to accomplish this model of a strong educational system. The people must believe in schooling  as an enterprise that will benefit the individual as well as the commonwealth. The people must believe that the solutions that an educated population can offer to social issues, are the solutions that can improve the quality of life for everyone .  In many ways it is a faith based enterprise in this age of data points and quantitative research.

I looked for evidence that these other conditions exist for supporting the Ministry’s Strategic Plan. At dinner after our arrival at the Residence, Sr. Juvenal told us of the service work in which she is involving the girls as part of their leadership awareness. Groups of girls are volunteering in local schools, orphanages, hospitals to learn how these agencies support the needs of their communities. At the end of their term, they are asked to address a school assembly and describe how the experiences in the community have affected their thinking about leadership and future study.  The girls describe learning how daily life can be a “struggle” for many. One girl is thinking, “how fortunate I am to be in school learning new things;” Another says, “I am thinking now that learning is a privilege;” “I now think that education is important to learn things I can pass on to others to improve their lives.”  The experience of volunteering in the community is giving the Maranyundo girls a sense of the importance of the strategic goals…the link between schooling and “strengthening the relevance of education.” And these girls represent future citizens of Rwanda who will support education budgets and methodologies.

Then, this morning, we went to Mass at the local church. (The girls walk along the Nyamata road together. It is an impressive sight…a long long line, 4 across, of white and blue uniforms moving along the path.)

In the Mass, I thought about what I had been reading about the current Bishop’s Synod in Rome and the sense that the future of the Catholic Church depends on the strength and vibrance of African Catholicism. Well, I can attest that here in this little church in Nyamata, Rwanda, the Faith is vibrant and energetic! The church was full at the 9:00 Mass; there were people  of all ages. Elderly men and women, young families, many many children, young women with babies asleep n their lovingly wrapped bindings. After the readings, the priest called out to several children to come to the altar. He asked them “What did you remember from the Bible readings today?” According to my Kinyawanda translator, one little guy about 5 said “Nothing, I think.” “Then why did you come to church,” asked the priest. “To hear the singing and dancing!” (Indeed, the singing and dancing at Mass is wonderful!) Older children, including a girl from Maranyundo, had heard hopeful messages from the story of restoring sight to the blind.

So here in the Nyamata community, the Sunday church service calls forth the voices of children to participate. Children are believed to be the country’s most precious resource. This community engaged in ceremony together are a community that believes in common values. This could be a valuable set of criteria for a strong support of universal education.

So these are the first impressions I get returning to this nation committed to building an educational system that assures that all students “have access to meaningful learning opportunities.The Strategic Plan states, “Foundational to all of this is ensuring that our teachers are well trained and motivated.”  And in order to create and support a teaching force that is respected and supported by a community, all communities need to be committed to education, to schools, to children and youth, to values and social policies that make sure children are nourished and motivated in many ways. From what I see after only 24 hours among the thousand hills, the long long journey is beginning in a time of peace and a developing economy. Hopefully those elements can be sustained to allow learning and teaching to flourish…in peace and prosperity.