Teaching Facilities

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18 September 1963
I just returned from a cursory glance at the ‘chemistry lab‘. Mr. Ikoku obtained a fairly large grant from the government several years ago to set up a lab, but had no competent person to set up or maintain the equipment. He has a lot of stuff which is just scattered about the edge of the room in great disarray. That room seems to be the only place on the compound which has running water and drains. It also has facilities  for gas. So all is not hopeless. But it will be a large job just to get Ikoku to build some shelves for the chemicals and equipment plus all the work to organize and complete  the supply.

I talked Mr. Ikoku into getting me some more shelves for my kitchen, but Is it is at the expense of the house next door, which is to be occupied by the new ex-patriot from the British Voluntary Service Overseas—VSO—who will arrive soon. Also I may get my stove fixed so Benson can bake bread. Ikoku got a new water filter element in Aba yesterday so l can filter water now. Ikoku has a scheme to bring water in the compound but he bought too small a pump the first time and has a new one coming soon. No telling how well it will work when it does arrive. His schemes all lack a certain degree of technical competence.

Monday I spent several hours arranging chemicals and glassware in the lab. host of the  glass had never been unpacked in three years. I acquired two new cabinets, which were originally intended for the lab but room had to be made for them. There are only a few glaring absences in the chemical and equipment list and it is really a fisfii quite well equipped lab. I worked a bit today again filling the last cabinet and washing some of the glass which had been unpacked for biology use. The principal also purchased an ingenious set of teaching materials for electricity and magnetism. These he found in the States. It includes almost everything one could use for teaching this branch of physics and I will probably be teaching physics when Mr. Abraham leaves in a month or so. Ikoku doesn't think he can offer physics for the School Cert Exam, but if we get some optics equipment I think we can. We'll see; I have a fair job just working up the chem students. I found  on Monday that they had no practical work, and didn't even know haw to write up a lab notebook. I have seventeen classes a week now, eight of these are in algebra, trig, and in arithmetic for fourth form boys. I have not prepared for these classes as I have no textbook yet.

I managed to get a fairly big order of chemicals and supplies and equipment through the Principal the other day. From the way in which he was talking earlier, it would be like pulling teeth to get any more equipment, thug this was so easy. I am going to try an electrolysis demonstration using the battery from the Jeep, as we have no other electricity.

The boys have asked me to sponsor a Science club. They gave me some info from the outfit which sold those Things of Science and I shall write for a free sponsors guide for such clubs. I don't know what it will entail, except work, and I plan to keep that to a minimum. Maybe the school will subscribe to the Things of Science, both for the club and for class demonstrations. 

We stayed home one weekend and straightened out the books in the library. They were in no recognizable arrangement, tho the shelves had labels on them. We label the shelves more clearly and ordered everything, but the students are still not allowed to take out a book and there is no catalogue. We threw out some piles of pages and loose covers and a few world war II propaganda pamphlets on ‘How we pay for the War’ and similar. The selection of books is not really too useful, tho they have about five very big and expensive atlases—probably gifts. Also two large complete encyclopedias.

The [chemical] apparatus which I ordered a month and a half ago for the exam has not arrived, and I must go to a neighboring school and borrow some from them. I have a class in a few minutes—applied maths mechanics. Interesting trying to teach mechanics to kids who have never seen a pulley.

We have lights now, and I added a second 20-watt fixture to my house, so now I can see. It runs from about 6:45 to l0:30 each night and again from 5:30 to 6:30 am, which is kind of annoying. I don't know if the water will ever come. We have to move all the plumbing in the chem lab. 

The biggest problem in science class, and probably the root of the trouble, is that the students don't know how to ask a question. And they don't ask questions. A common form, if they are forced, is ‘I don’t know if you are traveling this weekend‘ for example. And of course they don't know how to answer questions, either. They are afraid of doing a homework assignment unless they are certain that they can do it right. I asked a boy what a disc stroboscope did (he had one in his hand and had just used it). He said ‘it is used for...‘ and ‘it looks like...‘ and other things for ten minutes, without ever saying what it did. Whereas American kids can't stop asking ’why’, the question of why never occurs to these children. 

I think my chemistry programme is a success. At least until we run out of the necessary chemicals and equipment to do the experiments. The Chem Study programme starts with five experiments on the first five days of class. That bases all their thought on immediate evidence. The Physics programme, to the contrary, bases its beginning on a lot of background which these kids just don't have. For instance, only half the class had ever seen a movie and only one had ever seen ice; and then at my house.  

22 April 1964
Last weekend I went to Yenagoa, and the weekend before to Enugu for another meeting. The meeting was interesting, even if not many showed up. We discussed ways to improve our teaching in the fields of Chem, physics, and math. We decided that the biggest-stumbling block to teaching math is the hopelessly bad textbooks used here. One chap brought the new math program of Univ of Illinois which he had used and worked upon, and suggested we try to introduce it. 

The biggest problem of course, is availability and cost of materials. Dr. Beeberman is sending stencils for the first unit and we will get enough copies so we can show our fellow math teachers. We must find a cheap publisher, tho. The present text used here has no organization, poor examples, and only a large stock of difficult, but ungraded, problems. The students study arithmetic thru their senior year, and many of the skills needed for chem and physics are not taught until it is too late. 

In Physics the big problem is text also, but the comparable program in the States, PSSC, is not applicable because it draws heavily upon the huge wealth of information which an American kid has but these kids totally lack. I have tried it for term and found it hopeless. Besides, PSSC does not cover the syllabus required by the exam here. We are searching among the available texts, hoping to find one. American texts are 2 to 3 times as expensive as the British texts, altho the students often have to buy two or three texts to find all the material.

Our chief gripe in Chem is the worthless, but expensive, collection of  equipment which these poor schools buy at someone‘s suggestion. Also, the Ministry of education gives plans for science buildings designed for 24 students, but requires that there be 30 students in a class! A simple change like that may prove impossible to change because of political hassles in the ministry.

Our volunteer support group will use as much help as we can get from anyone. I wrote to the NSF for help with CHEMStudy texts and they have almost volunteered to send as many as I need! We are trying to find Univ profs in Nigeria to help with in-service-training programs. The text writing project is still a long way off. .we have to investigate all the available texts to see if anything is suitable. It looks to me like CHEMStudy will be good, if not too expensive. 

The Univ of Illinois Math program is excellent, if we can introduce it during the first year of secondary school, with a promise to keep the program thru the five years. A big order in this country. Physics is a big problem. I don't know when anyone finds time in this country, but one PCV has written a history text already in Nigeria. 

Jim Ludden

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