The school day begins with all the students lining up in alphabetical order by grade in the courtyard. When the teacher gives the okay, the students file into their perspective classrooms and wait. When the teacher arrives, the entire classroom stands, recites a prayer, and then formally greets both the teacher and I, only sitting down after the teacher has dismissed them. The teacher then begins reviewing the material learned the day before, calling on students who are expected to stand and recite the correct answer. Giving the wrong answer in unacceptable, and a student who answers incorrectly must stand for the rest of the review.
The review is generally followed by French. While most children speak Wolof at home, the official language of Senegal is French. This means that all instruction is delivered in French. Many students can speak French fluently, but most still need to learn grammar and punctuation. Children take turns copying their work up on the board until the teacher decides to move on. This continues throughout most of the subjects during the day. Students are given a half hour recreation period every day to release their energy and run around, and an hour for lunch at 1:00. Most students eat at home (cheaper than buying food at the canteen) so children are given an hour to travel back and forth.
It’s interesting to observe the change in behavior between when the students are in class, and when they are at recreation. In class, under their teacher’s supervision, they sit up straight and raise a hand to answer every question. At recreation, there is no supervision. Teachers stay in their classrooms, correcting papers and planning, and the students are given free range to do whatever they want. Children sprint in every direction, every which way, usually colliding hard every once in a while. Many boys wrestle in the sand, and the girls play a dancing game, which ends with the loser getting smacked in the middle of a circle by all the other players. Students are screaming and yelling, and then the bell rings. The teachers come out of their rooms, the students line up in their lines in alphabetical order, and they all file back into their class. There seems to be no connection between the motivation driving them to behave in class, and the motivation driving them to behave when out of the teacher’s sight.