Friday, January 20, 2012

First glimpses of schools

I arrived Wednesday morning, and was met at the airport by both Pape Diop, a fulbright scholar at SPA 8 years ago, and Mamadou Signate, an English teacher who attended the Stanford Design workshop as part of a group from their partner school, Chestnut Hill Academy.  They had already checked out my hotel, helped me find a permanent place to stay, and made me feel very welcome.

On that first jetlagged afternoon, I toured Cheik Anta Diop University and met several of Pape's colleagues. The campus was filled with students milling about normally, but with the faculty on strike, they couldn't attend classes.  In fact, both high school and university teachers are on strike and could be until the elections later next month.  They are trying to use the upcoming election to pressure the government to keep promises made during the last political conflict.  Each night the news shows crowds marching w/ signs and then shifts to an angry man-on-the-street interview.  The neglected buildings and unimaginable student teacher ratios reveal the problems of the system.  Pape described students standing outside classroom windows listening to lectures when the rooms fill up.  Seeing hundreds of them on a campus without classes made it easy to imagine.

Today I visited John F Kennedy Lycee, a public girls high school, where Mamadou and I met with a group of students using the design process to create student gathering places. We started with a visit to the new principal who listened for awhile and then inexplicably shifted into a lecture on female modesty.  At one point she turned to me to make an important point, and I had to note "j'en sais pas beaucoup" (I don't know much about that). The students listened dutifully, and then we went to a classroom where they explained their research on the empathy stage of the process.  I related SPA's long standing questions about and desire for functional student space to note our common issue.  Mostly, however, I appreciated this window into education here.  I hope to continue working with this group even if the teachers remain on strike.  The fact that another teacher was holding class surreptitiously in the next room shows the students' desire to get an education despite deep political dysfunction.

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