It’s three o’clock in the afternoon here in Sebikotane and the inside of the ‘salle informatique’ (computer lab) at l’école Sebiroute is like an oven. There is a slight breeze through the door that opens into the large sandy space around which the separate classroom buildings are situated. I’m glad for this chance to write a blog post, although disappointed that the high school English class I was going to sit in on this afternoon is not going to take place. The high school students are on strike, if you can imagine that. This room is large and modern, with fans spinning on the tin roof and those long flourescent light bars on the walls. There are twenty identical computers on the tables along the perimeter of the room each draped in a shiny purple sleeve that reads ‘l’informatique dès l’école élémentaire, SENECLIC, c’est désormais une réalité’ which translates to ‘computering since elementary school, Seneclic, it’s already a reality’. But I seriously doubt that the majority of those purple drapes have every been lifted off the screens. Electricity; ceiling fans, and twenty computers that are never used…. some reality.
My first question is: where on earth did all of this come from? This is certainly the most modernly equipped room in the school and I was very surprised when I first saw it. The legs of the identical, black, and very comfortable I might add, chairs are still wrapped in bubble wrap and it makes me think of a half-unwrapped present. The school probably received a grant from the Senegalese government, since everything in the public school system is government funded, but it doesn’t make much sense coming from a government that clearly has such a tight budget. Why not some more books first? One might ask. Some pencils and paper? Some art supplies? Or even better, how about another classroom?
It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that the biggest problem here at l’école Sebiroute is a lack of classroom space. Imagine one teacher in charge of 45 little six-year-olds who have never been to school before. They don’t even know how to sit at a desk for more than five minutes, and yet they are expected to learn how to read and write in a language they don’t understand (French). It’s not uncommon for classes have to be split ‘à double flux’ so that one half can come in the morning and the other half in the evening, but still the classrooms are over-crowded. I am both very impressed and intimidated by many of the teachers who work here. So soft and friendly and welcoming outside, their voices become louder, harsher and their faces graver the moment they enter the classroom. They all carry long ribbed strips of rubber which are whips, and they certainly use them. I sit in the corner of a classroom and try to look calm and confident (since I know all the little kids are watching this strange tubab sitting in their class) while my mind is rebelling against this method of teaching that is so contrary to everything about me, wondering how I would ever, as me, have any authority whatsoever in one of these classrooms, especially if I refuse to touch that rubber thing? But the road is long and every day is different and so its silly to jump to conclusions.
So back to the computer lab, this is where I ended up on my fourth day at my apprenticeship, after spending the first three sitting in on classes. Although I would have put computering at the absolute bottom of a list of things I would like to teach, I’m glad to feel somewhat useful. It was pretty clear from the start that the administration here has never had someone like me (a young, obviously unqualified white girl) show up one day and ask to work. Everyone seems eager to just make sure that I am comfortable and welcome and that I’m doing what I want to do, but I was glad when Monsieur An asked me for help with the computers last Thursday. He was the one to propose that I give each teacher a private lesson in ‘informatique.’ Back in the US I would consider myself one of the least computer-savvy people ever, but here where they just want to learn the basics (how to turn the machine on and off, how to type a word document, how to get to internet) my knowledge is actually of some use. I’m still not quite sure how computering fits into their everyday methods of teaching, but like I said, there are lots of things that I can’t predict now. I’m just kind of here, doing my best. Everyone including me thinks its kind of strange, but hopefully, inshallah, I will eventually I’ll find my place.