Do you remember your first day of school? Perhaps 4 years old, being dropped off by your mum or dad at the gates and being left to get on with the biggest step of your life up to that moment? I don’t remember that day, but I do remember my last day at school. 17 years old and I couldn’t wait to leave and never come back. So 21 years years later I had my “first day at school” feeling for the first time that I can actually remember and far away from that feeling of never wanting to come back, it was in fact by choice!
Of course, neither me or Nicole were students today, but the feeling was something akin to that moment we’ve all must have experienced on our first day. We arrived, felt out of place, looked around for a friendly face, introduced ourselves, made friends, figured out our way around, where to sit for lunch and with who. Pretty standard stuff you might think, but it made for a very interesting day all the same, and thats even before we took part in as many lessons as we could during their regular school day of 7.30am until 4pm. You read that correctly, schools in Zimbabwe offer a 8 ½ hour school day and it appears that the kids love it!
Great Hood Learning Academy is a brand new school teaching from pre-school age (known as Early Childhood Development here) all the way to year 7 (what is traditionally the first year of Secondary Education in the U.K.) so 8 years of students. In total there were only around 90 students and 11 members of staff. With this being a newly opened school the facilities are actually pretty good. It became obvious that this certainly won’t be the worst place we’ll be visiting during this trip but some startling shortages that we’d take for granted in our western world education became glaringly obvious once you looked beneath the surface.
Excellent teaching can only go so far when the schools don’t have sufficient books with which to teach. Every lesson is taught from a single book. The biggest class size we saw today was 18, but none of them had the text book to work from. I remember my school bag weighing a ton when I was a kid. I remember it being full to the brim on certain days as we had so many different types of lessons and so many books to read from and write in. Here they don’t have that “luxury” and so each teacher is in possession of one single text book, a book that no student will ever see, let alone call their own.
Then came the school library. This was a collection of around 40 “books” in total. Most were photocopied versions of the originals, others were Chinese knock-offs with spelling errors and punctuation problems all over them. This, however, is all they have to work with and all they have access to. The few original copies that existed had seen better days and were over 20 years old, but were cherished all the same.
This is something that we can help change.
This school has excellent teachers, responsive and invested students and a head master who cares so much about his students and staff that he created this school for all of them in the first place. What they do need, though, is help to make it better and to fully realise their potential. Help is what we are here for, so with your donations (if you have already, if not feel free to click the link at the bottom of the page) we’ll be seeing how we can provide that assistance. We met a few really talented and gifted children who had read every book in the library, done all the lesson’s they could up until that point but still wanted to read and learn more, but there is, through lack of funding, nowhere to go… I remembered, today, that in my primary school I finished all of the maths books on offer with a year of school still to go. So my school went out and ordered a whole new set of next level maths texts books just for me so I could carry on learning and developing. In a Zimbabwe school where there isn’t even enough text books that you can have one to share in an entire classroom, do you think that your school will be able to buy you a set just for you?
This is the heartbreaking truth to what we have seen today: the desire to learn is there, the desire to teach to the very best of their ability is there, but investment is simply not forthcoming from a government that is struggling to even pay their government school teachers at all.
One thing that stuck me today was the energy in the classrooms. Perhaps teachers reading this may be thinking “thats how it feels every day” but for us it was an electrifying feeling. The kids really wanted to learn, hungry for knowledge and so happy and smiling when the knew the correct answers. When the teacher asked the class a question, most would put their hands up to offer an answer. Few would hide at the back trying to avoid doing their work like in classes I’ve been in. I’ve never seen so many smiles on so many faces when in a class room and it was all part of the lessons!
I was even asked to take a class for a few brief minutes (although it felt like much longer!) and their inquisitiveness about where we came from was instant! They’d never, seemingly, heard of the United Kingdom (although one of them asked if we were from the United Kingdom of America which is probably how Donald Trump would like to make it!) but as soon as I asked if they had heard of England they all jumped up from their seats to shout yes! Unfortunately for the Scots, Irish and Welsh reading this, they’d never heard of you lot despite me asking if they were sure… 🙂
To round the day off, we went a visited the sports equipment facilities and equipment storeroom with their very welcoming sports teacher.
Zimbabwe schools take sports seriously. They bring sports into their daily lives and offer everything from athletics and swimming, to rugby and cricket and all that lies between at Great Hood Academy, just as they do at all the other schools in the country. But once again, the desire to encourage the development of sporting prowess is hampered by the facilities. They are using the local sports club down the road, and to say its seen better days is an understatement. Overgrown grass and rusted fences seemed to be the theme and quite how they are able to put on such a varied selection of sports with such a limited supply of equipment defies all understanding. I took a photo and have included it here but for those that want to know what they are seeing, it is a collection of hockey sticks (perhaps enough for 2 teams, so thats good) 8 tennis rackets (although only two overgrown courts, one without a net), a single squash racket, 8 tennis balls, 5 hockey balls and a single cricket bat. That’s it. Quite how rugby, football are practiced I don’t know although I’m sure the kids battle through as I remember many a football game with an old tennis ball in the playing fields at when I was their age!
Anyone reading this care to donate any badly needed sports equipment? Please get in touch…
And with that our first day at school was done. It had flown by and we’ll be up at 6am again tomorrow to start all over again and will report back with more then, but if I had to conclude with one thing to sum up the day it would out that so far I’ve seen a desire for learning in the face of adversity here in Zimbabwe and if nothing else, I’ll forever be impressed.