Peace Corps Is More Than A Job
by Bev Sirois
I was upset with my school board in West Virginia so it gave me great pleasure to write in my letter of resignation that I was leaving to broaden my horizons and increase my salary by joining Peace Corps.
Peace Corps offered me a position as intern supervisor for the National Teacher Training College in Lesotho, Africa. I jumped at the chance to go even though I didnít know where Lesotho was or as it turned out how to pronounce the countryís name.
Lesotho is about the size of New Jersey. It is the only country in the world completely surrounded by the same other country. It is an agricultural kingdom that can not support its self agriculturally. Their biggest exports are people to work in the mines and as domestics in South Africa. Sesotho is the first language but lucky for me English is the second language.
Before I tell you about my Peace Corps job, let me explain about education in Lesotho. First in order to be a teacher you have to pass the grade. In other words, in order to teach second grade you had to have passed second grade but that is all.
The government decided it would finance education. So the officials climbed into their Land Rovers and went to each and every school. At each school, they took a head count and declared they would pay for a teacher for every 50 pupils. They had all ready decided that a class of fifty was the ideal size to provide a good education. If your school had 200 students the government would pay for 4 teachers.
After visiting all the schools in Lesotho, the officials happily returned to the capital where the declared from then on primary education was to be free. Of course at this great news, all the parents were overjoyed and decided that now they could afford to educate their daughters as well as their sons. Schools that once had 200 pupils now had 800 students enrolled. Class sizes grew pass overwhelming. The headmasters headed to the capital to demand more pay for more teachers. The happy officials simply stated that they could not increase the amount of teacher pay allotted to the schools since they had just made a visit. So the headmasters headed back to their schools with no hope of ever having "ideal class sizes" again.
By USA standards these schools were not only overcrowded but also lacked in everything we consider essential. Most were merely large rooms with no furniture. The walls were crumbling, the thatched roofs leaked and the dung floors needed smearing weekly. Classes were scattered around the room with often only a small path between grades. During the rainy season, more than a few of my interns had to teach with an umbrella over their heads.
In one room you might have 6 classes, 6 teachers and upward of 300 students.
The parents furnished books, but since the average yearly income is about 100 dollars, they were at a premium. Teachers really had no teaching tools. Many teachers saved empty detergent boxes to break apart for paper and spent hours burning the ends of twigs to make pencils. Some very lucky teachers had pieces of broken blackboards salvaged from the secondary schools.
A year or two before the education officials made their trip around Lesotho; they had closed all teacher-training colleges and opened the National Teacher Training College. This college had the backing and financial support of the United Nations. There was a three-year program in place. During the first year students were at the campus and took regular education courses. The second year had them in the field assuming full responsibility for a class. This is where the Peace Corps volunteer worked with them as an intern supervisor. Part of the role of the Intern Supervisor was to learn the strengths and weakness of each intern and write a prescription for them. During the last year at NTTC each studentís course of study was based on this prescription of study.
Peace Corps volunteers were requested to be intern supervisors while in-country people were trainedfor this position. A volunteer had to have either a masterís degree in education or at least 5 years teaching experience. I was happy to be part of the first group of intern supervisors. Since most of us had jobs we could not leave until U.S. schools closed for the summer. Our training group did not arrive in Lesotho until late July. While we waited for the first group of interns to go out into the field to teach, we were assigned jobs at N.T.T.C. One of the courses the students were required to take broke down a lesson into 10 or 12 components. Each student learned about each element of a good lesson and then they had to prepare a lesson in which they highlighted one of the components and taught a lesson to a group of children from a school near the campus. These lessons were video taped and then the students watched themselves on tape as Peace Corps volunteers talked about their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately most of the students interpreted the assignments as
teaching a lesson using only one component. When they were working on non-verbal skills, they taught their whole lesson without a sound. I saw many dental health lessons taught in mime. When they were learning about introducing a lesson, whole lessons were nothing more than introductions and the same with closure. These sessions were very frustrating to volunteers although entertaining when you looked back on the experience.
I often wondered at the value of some of the courses. One course was in the use of an overhead projector. Sounds great until you realize that all most all of the schools were with out electricity.
Once the students were out in the field they were in complete charge of a class. I had 15 interns with class sizes of 55 to 178. When we met together at my rondoval the young girl who only had 55 first graders in her class was teased because the other interns said she really wasnít working if all she had was 55 children to teach.
I soon learned to observe my interns Monday - Thursday because Friday was set aside for the gathering of firewood and the smearing of floors. When I asked why the floors had to be smeared weekly, one intern did a lesson where the students jumped out the answer. By the second problem I could no longer see the teacher through the dust in the room.
Three Saturdays a month we met at my house and I gave instruction in educational methods. It was here that I learned about Basotho time. Everyone was to be at my house at 9:00 that first Saturday. At 10:00 no one had arrived including the three interns who shared the big house next to me. Finally by 1:00 everyone had arrived. As it was explained to me -meetings were held when people got there. That was Basotho time. Say the meeting was at 9:00 and expecting people there at 9:00 was US time. From then on I told everyone to be there at 7:00 and we had our meeting at 9:00. This system worked like a charm and everyone was on time for the 9:00 meeting
My interns were stationed at 8 different schools near.
Since my United Nation issue Honda 100 street bike was always broken down. (Nearest pavement was 100 km away) I rode the buses and hiked. I climbed mountain paths and squeezed onto full buses. I was reward as I observed these interns teaching. They had nothing but the desire to teach and they were very successful. I learned in Lesotho that teachers are born not made.
Visit Bev's online Website at: http://myschoolonline.com/ME/Mrs_Sirois