Ibba Girls Boarding School has a great deal to be proud of and to celebrate. The school kept open and working throughout the last year (unlike some other schools in the state) and completed the South Sudan curriculum. All staff and most girls returned to school for the new academic year (the reason for a small number of girls not returning is due to insecurity in their local areas).
We found a good team spirit among the staff and a real sense of purpose and dedication. Teaching and learning are at the heart of the school, and staff see their role as directly or indirectly supporting this. The girls are happy, healthy and learning. Parents are pleased with the achievements of the school and their own daughter’s progress in education and maturity.
This is a school which is now established, developing and with established routines. It is no longer in the phase of struggling to get started.
However, like any pioneering organization, there is still a lot to tackle and to get right before the school grows much bigger so that high quality and effective practices and procedures are embedded early and can be built on.
Teachers are aware that teaching preparation and practice can be improved, which is an excellent mind-set for the future and this will support continuing professional development.
The recommendations below will be considered by the Head Teacher and leadership team, in discussion with the Board of Governors. They will help the school to develop a strategic and an operational plan for 2016, along with a clear outline of priorities and timescales through to 2022, which is when the first cohort of girls will graduate from school and be ready to go to university or into other professions, jobs or family life.
The school is working in ways which aim to achieve excellence without elitism, so that any girl with academic potential has the opportunity to be selected for the school, and so that the school educates girls regardless of the circumstances of her family.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Looking back over 2015, the school has made substantial progress on a number of fronts. In Feb 2015, only 12 months previously, the Head Teacher, Richard Aluma, was appointed, along with the Director of Studies, Vicky Adijiru, and Finance and Asset Manager, Sonaa Santino.
First, the school Board of Governors, senior management team and whole staff showed great courage and commitment to keep the school open in the context of insecurity across South Sudan, particularly in the later part of 2015 when troubles started to flare in Western Equatoria State. The school, with the support of the Board of Governors and parents, decided to keep going throughout those most difficult times and continued to teach and protect the girls. Whether staying calm in teaching or driving to fetch food supplies, the staff showed dedication to the school. Emergency procedures were practiced, but fortunately did not have to be put into action, though there was a tense period of about 3 weeks. The lack of disruption has been so important to the girls’ education and reinforces the value of education in this struggling country.
Second, we found that the school has undertaken “fairly good” teaching and learning in all three terms in 2015. This is shown in the progression of girls in mid-term assessments and examinations in each term; in completion of the South Sudan syllabus by the end of the year (not achieved in some other schools where parents had children).
Third, teaching continued despite the severe shortage of textbooks for the P5 class. These had been promised via the South Sudan Government but had not arrived, so girls were not able to use textbooks for the whole of last year. Instead, the teachers had one copy of each subject in the curriculum and used photocopies of individual pages for the girls.
Fourth, the girls exhibit improvements in English language speaking and writing, which enables them to access the curriculum. Teachers report that it is now easier to teach girls and be understood. The Friday afternoon whole school debates have many volunteers to lead each side of the debate, whereas initially the girls shrank from this role. The speaking of Arabic, Azande and other local languages is discouraged by staff and prefects and girls report that speaking English is a key feature of the school. Interestingly, some support staff (eg cooks and cleaners) felt their English was improving and said they learnt it from the girls.
Fifth, there is a strong sense of teamwork and purpose amongst the staff. Staff understand their jobs and how their work contributes to the girls’ wellbeing and education. The senior leadership team is working well together.
Sixth, the admissions process for girls has greatly improved with a clear, transparent and fair procedure which aims to select girls regardless of parental status or wealth. The selection process in 2014 had created complaints from parents and the community but the system is now regarded as fair.
Finally, the school has established a house system (Zebra, Elephant and Tiger), to encourage cross-class interaction and foster healthy competition in debates and in sport. (While one house may win the prize of a goat, they are encouraged to share the feast across the school). The examined curriculum has been supplemented with music, dance and drama.
Overall, in spite of the external challenges and the lack of resources, the school has made some very significant strides forward in 2015.
Jean Hartley and Vicky Dratia