As I sit here this morning, contemplating the list of things I will attempt to get accomplished today, I am seranaded by the sound of 200 children singing, “Ah, ah, ah, Jesus loves me! Hallelujah! Ah, ah, ah, Jesus loves me!”
Well, in reality, it probably isn’t 200 children. It should be, but it probably isn’t. You see, we have roughly 200 kids enrolled in our school, which runs from kindergarten-3rd grade. But, having 200 enrolled and having 200 attend is a very different matter.
The new school term just began on Monday. There are three terms in the Sudanese school system. The first begins in February and runs until May; the second term runs from June to August, and the third term runs from September until December. We have begun term three, and it is time for the students to get down to business if they want to pass.
Half of our children in kindergarten through 3rd grade (the kids who study in our school here on the compound) failed the last term. If that blows your mind, then, we’re together. I couldn’t believe it! Why did most of them fail? They don’t go to class! Maybe I’m just super driven, but I didn’t even skip class in college, much less in elementary school!
So, I’ve been wondering why these kids skip class. Well, I never would have skipped class because of my parents. If they found out I had skipped, there would have been quite a scene at home that evening! So, really, the thought of skipping never even crossed my mind. Here, the mamas and staff occasionally tell the children to get to class, but often, the kids laze around the compound while their classmates learn, and the adults say nothing.
Now, here is perhaps the biggest reason the kids skip. It’s easy. My parents always took me to school and left me there. I would have had to escape the classroom (which would have involved some deceit), escape the building (which would have seemed a stealth mission as a young kid, and probably wouldn’t have worked as I would have been wearing the guiltiest face you can imagine), and then walk a long way to get anywhere that a kid would want to go. Here, the kids just wander out of the classroom at leisure. The teachers don’t say anything. There is no building to escape, as the classrooms open to the compound’s courtyard. Across the courtyard, the kids can walk into their dorm, or, just a few meters behind the dorm, they can go out the back gate to play by the community well.
This term, we’ve gotten smart and asked the watchman to lock the back gate to impede the children from sneaking out back for a pick up soccer game. We live and we learn. Hopefully, next year, when we are on our new land, the school building will be far enough away from the houses that it will be easier to keep the children in the classroom. Who can say? But if the teachers and staff don’t enforce attendance, many of these kids still just won’t go.
“One! Two! Three! Four! Five!” Now all the students are reciting their numbers up to fifty. Well… those who are there.