Saturday, 16 December 2006

First impression of my School in Kuwait

My classroom was newly built to take in the expanded intake. When I arrived a few days before the children started, it was finished but that was all. I had a floor, walls, 2 doors, windows with blinds and two air conditioning units. That was it, and there was nothing available to put in it, no furniture and no equipment! I found out that tables and chairs had been ordered but nothing else! I got a carpet ordered locally so at least we could all sit on something and the day before the children started the tables arrived but no chairs. Chairs of various sizes were scrounged from somewhere. I scoured the school looking for any spare furniture and found some shelves so then I could raid the other Kindergarten (KG) classes for stuff to put on them. Pre KG had house corner walls, sink and stove delivered and I begged that. Another class gave me their new bookstand and filing cabinet. It was a bit stressful on top of moving to a new country! I still have no computer in my room despite that being one of the things mentioned at my interview.We have a very well stocked library in a newly refurbished room, which looks great. It even has some computers! I found lots of old favourite books that we had at home when my own girls were small.

There are 450 pupils from age 2-14 in The English School and it follows the English National Curriculum, but the Ministry of Private Education modifies this. Children of Arabs have to study Arabic and Islam and non-Arabs have to learn Arabic. They vet all our books, blanking out any rude bits like a bare backside of a boy playing in the paddling pool and references to alcohol and the meat of the pig in the text. If someone sees an un-vetted book in the classroom and complains to the ministry then that teacher is out of a job and back home. (This happened a few years ago at my school which means that the ministry is much more strict on us than other schools.) They also vet our productions and class assemblies. No last minute rush here, as the script for the assembly has to be sent at least 2 weeks before performance. Our first choice production about Mr and Mrs Christmas was denied so we adapted a reading book about Humpty Dumpty –‘ Was he pushed or did he fall?’ I had to send the words to the nursery rhymes and had to change the words of Georgie Porgie to him chasing the girls, as kissing would be vetoed. The show was deemed acceptable but we were told that no girl was to play a boy part and vice versa. Now, we had lots of police officers investigating the case in this play’ some of whom were girls. All the police here are men, but of course in UK they are both. We decided to keep our interpretation. Last year the 3-5 year-old boys were asked to wear tights for their costume and Muslim parents rebelled.

Jane, my LSA (Learning Support Assistant) has been here for years and is married to a Kuwaiti. She does not like doing anything she thinks a maid should do in the classroom! But she has a wonderful manner with the children.

We have two teachers in school who are married to Kuwaitis. Although they all had to convert to Islam they do not wear the garb. However there are a surprising number of western women married to Arabs who wear the scarf (hijab) and some even wear the full regalia. In school, I noticed a group of Arab dressed women waiting to pick up their children and they all have British accents!

The school day is tough on my 3-4 year olds as it starts at 7:30am and finishes at 1:25pm. We have two periods where they eat from their lunch boxes. I’m definitely ready for my lunch at 9am having had breakfast at 6am. Now that is no different from the UK as I had to be up early to beat the traffic but here that is my official lunch break with another one at 11:30. Children 8 and older have a longer day as they finish at 2:25. The teaching staff are allowed to go home at 2:45 unless they are doing an extra curricular activity (required at least once a week) but that is early for me and I have been known to stay until 8pm. Some of that time I was using the school computer to go on the Internet. I had to go home then as the school officially closes and some rooms get locked.

The school grounds are secured by high walls and locked solid gates. When a car or pedestrian wants to enter or leave by the main gate the security man sees on his monitor and opens it. During children coming and going times two further pedestrian gates are manned. The school is opened on the first day of the weekend (Thursday) and is full of cleaners and the odd teacher like me. However, it is closed on Friday.