Notes from the field: Oodima Junior Secondary School

I even received the special honor of being named at the hash outing. Just refer to me as Versace from now on!

Well, after a weekend of debauchery in the bush with the hash, getting back to reality actually felt pretty good. This week, I spent time at my very last (gassppppp, I can’t get over that it’s April already!) school—Oodima

The newly named hashers!

JSS in Oodi, Botswana. Now, Oodi to Americans (at least to me) sounds like it should be pronounced Uuuuuuu-dee. But, in actuality it’s pronounced Oh-dee. This really deflated my sweet Instagram post from a few weeks ago, when I thought I was shaking my booty in Uuuu-dee. Nonetheless, I headed to the small village of Oodi, just outside of Gaborone. Oodima JSS is a small school that is bursting with students. In fact, they don’t have enough space for everyone and have had to install portable classrooms on campus. The portable classrooms are the tiniest things I’ve ever seen (at least half the size of American portable classrooms) and I nearly collapsed when she said they cram 43 students + a teacher into them. THERE IS NO WAY ON EARTH THAT’S HUMANLY POSSIBLE. Somehow, Oodima JSS manages.

As it’s nearing the end of the term, everyone was wrapped up in exams, AGAIN. If you think about it, Botswana students spend nearly 12-16 weeks A YEAR taking exams. Teachers then have to correct exams, so rather than have class students will be trusted to sit in the classroom, read, talk, do whatever it is junior high students do. It really boggles my mind on how the system works. Like Tlokweng, Oodima houses Form 1-3 students. There are three social studies teachers and they also meet in clusters with area schools. One of the teachers also told me about the Social Studies fairs that are usually held in September. Students are able to debate, take quizzes or complete projects. Much like the National History Day Project, students compete at a cluster level, then regional and finally a national level. I totally wish I was here in September as I love to see kids jacked about history/social studies competitions (is there anything more gloriously nerdy?!).

As I’m am entering the final phase of my Fulbright, I’m beginning to reflect on my time in schools and what I’ve learned (and how I can share it with my kids—and others at home). In the end, I will be creating a curriculum guide that teachers can use to teach about colonialism from a Batswana perspective. As I’m narrowing topics (because let’s face it, unfortunately we can’t share everything–there just isn’t time) I was happy that what I find the most relevant/important themes and topics are also aligned with what the teachers of Oodima find the most relevant/important themes and topics. That includes 1) Botswana cultures 2) Mfecane/Difaqane Wars 3) Boers in Botswana 4) Traders and Missionaries 5) Colonial Rule and finally 6) Post-Colonial Rule. It sounds fairly broad as I type it, but I’m hoping to come up with some specific lesson plans to discuss these topics.

While I wasn’t able to actually view any teaching (remember, exams??) I still visited a few classrooms. Check out the notes:

-I observed a Form 2 (13-14 years-old) class that was handing back/discussing their end of the month exams. There were about 36 students in the class and when the teacher asked who was not happy about their exam scores, every single student raised their hand. EVERY SINGLE ONE. As I looked around at their test scores, most were below 20—on an 80 point exam.
-Every single question was aligned to a standard and its identifying number. I’ve been really intrigued by standards-based grading in the US and there are definite elements of it here in Botswana. I’m just not sure focusing so much of an educational year on test-taking is actually helping students in Botswana. Now, that would be a great research project!
-I met some young German volunteers at the school. I guess it’s a common thing for German high school graduates to participate in this government-sponsored program to assist countries like Botswana. It seems very similar to the Peace Corps. I think it’s pretty awesome (and intense) for some 18 year-olds to spend a year abroad. They’re so young!
-Trump was, of course, brought up once again. Not just by the Batswana either but my new German friends also wanted a piece of the action.
-The Form 3 class (15-16 years-old) also handed back exams. The teacher discussed his unhappiness at their scores. Most failed (below 50). He said Form 3s should not be receiving these types of scores as they have to actually write their final exams to get into secondary school this November. He told me that he was definitely going to beat them. Again, we had a discussion about this as he was surprised we weren’t able to use the stick in the US. He said that he had a contract with his students, if they scored less than 50…then they were going to get beat. He said he wouldn’t do it today but another day (when I wasn’t there). I’ve talked plenty on the subject of discipline so I’ll let you reflect on the practice of discipline.
-When I received the grand tour of the campus, I was able to visit the gardens. I think that agriculture (although I didn’t take it in high school and certainly can’t keep anything green alive) is such a cool opportunity for students. They were getting down on their hands and knees to tend their gardens. What they produce will actually be a part of their final exam. Students were growing onions and spinach. For a hot second, it made me want to take up gardening. But, then I remembered how I can keep anything green alive and thought otherwise.
-Everyone is gearing up for Easter break. Schools are off for two weeks starting next Tuesday. You could definitely sense the “I need a break” vibe from everyone.

My sister told me yesterday that she’s been bored by my last few posts. I had to remind her that I am actually in Botswana to do work and this is my work, so she’s going to have to deal with boring. I promise to excite everyone with some curriculum-writing posts (whoa—maybe this one will be too exciting?!), a Dirty 30 post (I’M GOING TO BE THIRTY!!)  and even a weekend trip to Mozambique post in early May. Until then, thanks for reading my boring posts!!!!

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