The First Day of School in The Gambia

The Lower Basic School where I work. And yes, that is a half naked child and her goat.

The Lower Basic School where I work. And yes, if you look closely that is a half naked child and her goat. Picture taken during summer holidays.

School starts at half past 8, but on the first day, students wandered in through the gates closer to 9. Not a single child brought paper or a pen. But at least they showed up, which is more than half the teachers can say. Fifteen teachers failed to report, and one came with her baby tied to her back.

The teachers gathered in front of the Head Master’s office and gossiped about their summer holidays, the work on their farms and their families. They had yet to find out what grade they would be teaching, let alone receive a curriculum or textbooks. Meanwhile, the students, grades 1-6, climbed trees and chased each other with sticks. Nobody supervised.

At 11:00, nearly three hours after the school day had officially begun, the Head Master ordered a boy to ring a big cow bell, a signal that meant the students should finally assemble. They lined up in front of the office for morning prayers and announcements.

After welcoming the students and introducing new teachers, the Head Master told the children that it was the First Day of School, “officially, not traditionally,” and that classes would begin once the rest of the teachers came to the village. However, any students who did not attend the following days — would be punished. While the administration prepared the class lists, the students would weed the school grounds, he said, asking the children to bring their farm tools.

By noon, the bell tolled again. Class dismissed.