Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Week 4

So I haven't really written about KIST very much. It's a relatively
new institution, about 12 years old. The math department is
only 3, it's first class graduates this fall. (They're on a different
schedule than back home).

Things are very different here. The students don't have internet
at home (some don't have electricity). They take about 8 classes
for 30 hours or more per week. This means I can't assign very
much homework, let alone the the outlandish amounts I usually
do. The curriculum is not what I would design. For the
mathematicians out there, measure theory and functional
analysis are part of the (required) undergrad curriculum. I don't
see how students can learn this material at a level we would
consider acceptable at home. I haven't talked to too many
students yet, but my small amount of anecdotal information backs
this up.

Other differences: Well, KIST is still being built and expanded.
There's a lot of land on the campus overgrown with weeds.
You could bring in some heavy equipment (which does exist in
Rwanda) to clear it away in a week. Instead a team of about
6 or 8 women work with hoes and are clearing it by hand. It
will take months. The lawn here is mowed by men with scythes.
Ok, they aren't the kind of things you picture the Grim
Reaper using, more like short swords. I haven't seen a
lawnmower in the 3 weeks I've been here.

I teach the entire second year class of math majors - they don't get to pick their major, they are placed in it. I have one small chalkboard which makes it a bit difficult, Sometimes I start to erase while students are still copying stuff down! The class representative is working on findinganother board. (Yeah, it's her job, not the custodian's or department head's)

Administration is different too. Profs carry their own chalk and erasers. I asked how to get an eraser. I was told the chair would give me a form that would allow me to get one at a central office where all supplies are housed. I rummaged through my office and found one in a box marked `stapler' instead. It seemed easier.

The location is kind of interesting. It's maybe a mile from the fancy
downtown area, Kiyovu, with all the shops, bars, restaurants etc. It
also abuts Nyamirambo, a *much* less affluent area that extends
for miles. Much less affluent meand that parts are lower middle class
and parts are slums. On of my students told me she lives in a
Nyamirambo ghetto. It's certainly worth walking around there,
and you can get lots of stuff cheaper there - that's where I got my haircut.

Finally there is one cultural difference that I don't think I will get used to. You have to close your office door because it's too noisy otherwise. The standard here is that people knock and enter without waiting for an answer. By American standards, people just barge into your office. Of course noone here takes offense.

1 comment:

  1. The parallels I find in your blog entries to my experience in China are exceptionally fun to read because you describe them so much better than I. I, too, am at a relatively new school on a large plot of mostly undeveloped land that is kept by the large groundskeeping crew -- the same crew that uses handmade leaf brooms to sweep the streets, gutters, and walkways.
    Most of my students have electricity at home, and have access to the internet either at home or at internet cafes. However, they are in the habit of checking email only once or twice a week. What took me off guard was when some students thought that this common habit would serve as a meaningful excuse for why they did not complete their homework (assigned 6 days prior via email). Did I mention that this was in the 5th week of classes, 4 weeks after I told them I would send out their homework via email the same day every week?
    Many students spend 8 hours a day in classes 5 days a week. I can see why many still think it their job simply to memorize and repeat what they have been told to learn, and do not feel that they have real time or outlets for creativity in academic settings. It is a pity, for I find that many of my students are inspiring and entertaining when they let their personalities leak into their works. Do you see your students given/hoping for/taking advantage of many opportunities or sources of encouragement with regard to their creative exploits?