Bonjour Monsieur Goldstein,
We are extremely grateful to you for accepting to think about this with us by email.
First, a little bit of background so that things are more clear for you.
My husband, Adamou Kombo, is from Niger and I'm originally from Iran (with a Russian mother and an Iranian father). English is my fourth language and thank you very much for complementing me on it! Adamou and I met in France as university students, got married and settled down in Niamey where we lived until a few years ago.
I have a Nigerien passport and consider Niger as my adopted country. Presently, we go back and forth between France and Niger, and so, for us, "home" is both Niamey and Paris.
When in Paris, I can serve the school in ways that I cannot do back in Niamey. A concrete example would be this correspondence between us. Internet connection is expensive, extremely slow and not always available because of the daily electricity cuts in Niamey.
So when in France, I research, buy and read books, establish contacts, assist at various conferences and workshops, and work closely with the non-profit association which is trying to help our school financially (http://www.amishampateba.org). The content, design, and layout of both the school and the association's websites come from me, and the technical side from a professional lady friend in France. I'm very glad you liked our school's website, because it meant hours and hours of work for a computer illiterate like me!
Okay, so here's the education stuff. Emphasis mine:
As for the study circles, I'm the one in charge of the teacher training at our school and so I prepare all of the material for that in Paris (please see attached covers of some of our study circle documents!) and I send it by email to Niamey.
The new generation of Nigerien teachers are poorly trained (their initial training is very short and they do not get any on going professional development) and so we have to do everything from scratch (how to prepare a lesson plan, how to evaluate, class management, etc.)
Also, many of our teachers regard teaching as merely a stepping-stone to better opportunities in a different field (you teach because you cannot find anything better). Our turnover rate, therefore, is very high. This obliges us to start training from scratch every October and is detrimental to the learning outcomes of our students.
In Niger, most lessons are conducted without books or visual aids. The teaching methods are primarily rote reading and copying from the blackboard without any comprehension, questions are not really encouraged, and most students are without textbooks. So most of our entering students have not learned how to think in the primary school. Everything is learned by heart. In geography, for instance, they will give you perfect definitions of a valley, a plain and a plateau. Yet, give them drawings of a plain, a valley and a plateau, and they would not be able to identify them.
The academic outcomes are not changing because the students come to us having yet to master the basic skills of writing, reading and understanding French. As they have not learned to read in the primary section, they have tremendous difficulties reading to learn in the secondary school. The outcomes are measured by the exams they take internally every trimester at the school and the national exam they sit for in the 9th grade. To continue with high school, they need to pass this exam. Our middle school goes from the 6th grade to the 9th grade.
Please feel free to bombard us with any further questions you may have.
P.S. I'm also enclosing the grades of our final exams (June 2010) for the 6th grade. The grades are out of 20 and there are 40 students in that class. The results in French are not in yet.
DVC = Capacity development (a character education course) P/C = Physics and chemistry EF = Home economics EP = Physical education SVT = Biology