Wednesday was a day of working from the hotel where we spent time looking at the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements, starting to think about how the content on TeachersTryScience.org might map to it, and planning what we would do in a meeting with subject advisers set for Friday.
Thursday however was more out in the field. We were keen to understand the challenges faced by rural schools so we could take these into account as we develop our recommendations. A visit had been arranged for us to go to Mqolombeni Primary School which is one of the rural schools near Pietermaritzburg.
We left the hotel for the 1 hour journey to the school - after about 30 mins we turned off the main road and onto a gravel road
that took us through the countryside to the school.
which you will note was also signed as a construction site.
The school had been damaged during a storm some time ago and the repairs, whilst largely looking complete were not yet finished.
We were greeted by the Principal and headed to his office ...
His office was also a store room and as we entered I was struck by a familiar smell - that of an outbuilding my grandfather had at his house in Tipperary. I suspect the presence of a lawnmower, gardening equipment, and all the other things being stored there will be what caused the familiar aroma. There is a nice looking new admin building on the site but until it is completed the principal's office remains where it is.
One issue that rural schools face is access to the internet. They are too remote for landlines so the only connection is via the mobile networks and either a mobile device or a 3G USB data stick. We wanted to do a short demo of the TeachersTryScience website so we were introduced to the internet connecting fridge.
I've previously come across the idea of an internet connected fridge but this was the first time that I'd come across the top of a fridge/freezer as a place to put your laptop in order to get the best chance of a mobile signal and access to the internet. Running a demo of a website from a laptop perched on top of a domestic appliance was a new experience for me but a super example of the daily challenges that they face doing things that I just take for granted.
Meeting over we were given a tour of the school
which is built around the central rectangle of grass - 2 buildings of classrooms facing each other, admin building and school hall making up the other 2 sides.
Classrooms were pretty basic
but filled with eager looking learners
We found an abandoned classroom
but the mystery was solved when we saw the class outside enthusiastically learning the English for various parts of the body
With the tour over we said our thanks and goodbyes - fascinating to get an insight into the situation at this school and deeply humbling to see first hand just how little they have compared to an equivalent school back home but how they don't let that stand in the way of delivering an education to the children.