Motswana student’s school days go like this…
6:50 – 7:10 Morning Assembly
7:10 – 9:50 Classes
9:50 – 10:20 Tea break
10:20 – 1:00 Classes
1:00 – 2:00 Lunch
2:00 – 3:30 Study Hall
3:30 – 5:00 Clubs and Sports
Yesterday I was sitting in my office at 3:30 as the students finished their academics and headed out for afternoon activities. It’s the beginning of the summer here so the weather is warm and breezy. (Sometimes I close my eyes in all this sand and wind and imagine I’m at the ocean).
Since it’s still the beginning of the term, teachers seem to have energy for clubs and activities and extra help sessions. Students aren’t stressing over their final exams yet so there’s a kind of easy atmosphere that makes one relax. That makes one happy. That, at the right moment, may even make one sing.
That’s what happened at 3:30 yesterday. The kids just started singing. I heard them belting out worship songs in the courtyard and for a minute I stopped to listen to them. When it ended I thought nothing of it and went back to work.
This morning’s Assembly began like any other: the kids sang a song, said the Lord’s Prayer and two students gave a presentation on the week’s theme. A few teachers got up for announcements and then the kids prepared to sing their “marching song” for dismissal.
But before dismissal Mr. Gnoem took the stage carrying four long sticks. He scowled at the students for the length of an uneasy silence.
It has come to my attention that several students were misbehaving yesterday. He began.
Every movement paralyzed. The students looked up at him in stone.
Singing loudly and disturbing people is not the way we expect you to behave in this school, ga ke re? (right?)
Eeh, rra. The students answered meekly.
Now, I am going to read a list of names and I want these students to come stand on the stage with me. You will notice that many of these students are also low-performers academically and I think we can see why. Esther, however, Esther is a surprise. She is a PACT member and is meant to be a role model for her peers. This is very disappointing.
The students shifted back and forth on their feet as Mr. Gnoem called out the 10 names. When beckoned, each child came obediently to the stage. The group formed a line in front of the school and Mr. Gnoem picked out a stick. I began to feel sick. I looked at the tree line beyond our schoolyard and focused on controlling my cringes.
Mr. Gnoem whipped each student while the audience roared with laughter. By the end, he had gone through all four sticks. Not one of the punished students had so much as flinched.
When finished, Mr. Gnoem demanded a marching song for dismissal.