It’s not just teaching that is important; the school infrastructure must be in good shape, well maintained and suitable for the needs of pupils. This is because a tidy, well maintained and attractive classroom provides an environment that will be conducive to effective learning writes Mmegi Correspondent, GRAHAME MCLEOD
So, pupils end up writing on their knees or on stools which they get from elsewhere! But students have lockers outside in which to place their books. Students sit on plastic chairs and they also break when pupils lean back on them, especially if they are sitting at the back of the classroom. During my visits to junior secondary schools on teaching practice, there may be so few chairs in the classroom that two pupils may have to share a stool. And I have even seen two students sitting precariously on a broken three-legged chair! That’s not exactly conducive to learning when the pupils have to focus all their attention on remaining upright and not allowing the chair to send them crashing down onto the floor. But on second thoughts, maybe their teacher had decided that they should carryout an experiment on investigating the laws of physics, in particular, the centre of gravity! However, they managed somehow to maintain their balancing act until the end of the lesson. Or maybe they were training to be acrobats so that they could land jobs with a circus after leaving school!
As they say, every cloud has a silver lining! And when students enter a classroom, the first thing that they usually do is to create much noise by pushing the desks across the floor to where they want to sit. In so doing, they damage the concrete floor causing potholes to form. But there is a simple solution to this problem of dilapidated classroom furniture. In school dining rooms, students sit on wooden benches directly attached to a strong formica-topped table. Four pupils sit on each of the two benches, one on either side of the table. Now classroom desks could be replaced by these tables, with one bench, instead of two. And pupils cannot move them around as they are almost indestructible! Now the windows. These are large and are made up of countless individual glass panes. But since they do not open sideways, ventilation is very poor and on hot summer days, cool breezes will not enter the classroom.
The result - dozing pupils with heads down on their desks! Windows in senior secondary schools are more suitable since they open sideways. In most classrooms, there is a notice board at the back. Now the cloth covering them is so easily torn which then renders the boards useless and, even if such boards are intact, one may see little more than the class timetable and the sweeping rota on them! Perhaps teachers could place posters, or newspaper cuttings, on these boards. For example, Agriculture lessons might come alive if such cuttings describe activities on a farm or the measures that are being taken by government to assist farmers.
Such information might be obtained from Agrinews, a monthly magazine for farmers that is published by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. And even colourful posters may be bought showing photosynthesis, plant growth, maize etc. And to bring alive Social Studies lessons, newspaper reports covering cultural activities, such as the Domboshaba Kalanga Festival, could be pinned to the boards. The Daily News also has many articles of general interest, which pupils might like to read. Science laboratories are too often in a poor state. In some schools, I have observed lessons in these laboratories and sometimes I have felt the need to hire a mokoro to enter them! This is because the taps along the sides of the laboratories are broken and water has flooded over the floor. And gas taps may also not be working! I am of the opinion that laboratory facilities in our schools are shoddy and of poor quality; perhaps as a result of government awarding tenders to those companies that offer the lowest prices? A German proverb states that ‘A poor man pays twice.’ In other words, a poor man can only afford to buy cheap goods, and since these will wear out, or get broken, quickly, then he will have to fork out more money to buy the same goods again. You get what you pay for!
Science storerooms are often too small to store equipment such as metre rules, glass flasks, pipettes etc. And the same is true for Agriculture storerooms where bulky items such as bags of fertiliser may be stored. Once again, notice boards at the back of most labs are usually bare – schools could buy laminated posters showing, for example, photosynthesis, or the human skeleton. These are available at booksellers and are not so expensive. Hearing is forgetting, seeing is remembering! Another problem with laboratories is that they are often used as base rooms by classes. Hence, they are used for class registration in the morning and afternoon studies. Like Home Economics laboratories, Science labs should be regarded as specialist rooms and should only be used for Science lessons only! This will help to keep them in good shape. It is a well-known fact that there is a shortage of classrooms in most schools.
Many pupils sit in outside classrooms on concrete benches with nowhere to write on. And they are exposed to the elements - hot dry winds in summer and biting early morning cold in winter. And when it rains, the teacher cannot be heard for the patter of raindrops on the corrugated iron roof and those at the back are soaked especially if it is windy. That’s not very conducive to learning! And the school dining hall is often home to two, or even three, classes being taught at the same time. So, teachers here are competing with each other to be heard by their students! In many schools, a room, known as a pavilion, may be set aside for the display of things that students have made during their Art, and Design and Technology lessons. But I have never seen such a room being used for this purpose; instead, such rooms are used as normal classrooms. And teachers have to squeeze 40 or more students into such rooms, which are usually smaller than standard classrooms. Furthermore, in this day and age, in some schools students may still be taught under the trees! Government clearly needs to spend more money on new classrooms! An army marches on its stomach according to one English saying.
And for students to do well at school, it’s not enough to feed their minds; they must also be well-fed with fresh, well-cooked food! So often I have heard of pupils, especially at boarding schools, complaining about their diet which, at breakfast and supper, may consist of little more than tea and bread. This may save government money, but our children are the leaders of tomorrow! Lunch is the most important meal in school and is eaten, not only by boarders, but also by day pupils. Although phaletshe, samp and bogobe jwa mabele usually feature on the menu, more vegetables should also be included in order to provide students with a balanced diet. After all, medical practitioners are always telling us that we should eat five fruits and vegetables each day to keep healthy! In many school kitchens, food is cooked in large three-legged pots on wood fires. Although this may be seen as traditional, this method may not always be so reliable! Strong winds, rain and the fact that the School Bursar has forgotten to arrange for firewood to be collected may result in poorly cooked food, or delays which might affect the timing of the school’s afternoon activities. Large gas stoves may be the answer.
And when students have eaten and drunk, they will need to answer the call of nature during their day at school. However, toilet facilities need to be upgraded in most schools. And modern is not always best! Flush loos may be the ‘in thing’ these days, but some of their components may be made of poor-quality, plastic-like material. Pipes, and even taps and toilet handles, may break and toilets cannot be flushed and so get blocked thus resulting in health hazards. And who knows when such repairs can be carried out - government departments move Oh so sl..ow..ly! In our semi-arid climate, eco-loos are a better choice since they save precious water, which might be in short supply in rural areas, especially in the Kgalagadi.
Also, vertical chimneys outside these toilets discharge unwelcome smells from inside. But at least we have seen one benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic – the provision of sufficient washbasins to improve the personal hygiene of pupils. Finally, the school grounds should also be attractive with a mixture of bushes, shade trees and flowerbeds. But care must be taken on the choice of plants.
Botswana is a semi-arid country where water is scarce and costly. Hence plants that are drought resistant should be grown; such plants include cacti and succulents. And concrete benches and seats in the shade of trees are ideal places for pupils to relax after lessons and during lunch time.