Busy Lizzie's wee safari

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
We are having a visit from the university education department, apparently an overseas delegation connected with some initiative to showcase the greatest wee educational system in the world.

I'd been told to "set up something exciting" in the computer room. No problem. Wires everywhere (well within health and safety regulations, I hasten to add), screens ablaze with learning, stimulation, creativity and thinking activities. It looked good, sounded good and, by golly, it was good.

There were one or two undignified scrambles as the P7 boys tried to get to the consoles first, and it was not nice to see Grant rolling on the ground clutching his privates, after being dispossessed by David.

Enter the overseas delegation, introduced by the university's acting head of education. A rose by any other name.

I remember her when she was plain Lizzie, a mere lecturer in the college, before her elevation to the ranks of academia courtesy of copying the best bits of student essays, strategic liaisons and friendships, and increasingly inventive use of her daughter's wardrobe. The phoniness of her greeting was only surpassed by her total lack of awareness of our school.

The overseas group looked bemused, as they saw Grant still rubbing his "agony", his eyes streaming and threatening to exact revenge in a strangely falsetto tone.

An old Scottish greeting maybe? "What is 'ya bass'?" asked one of the group. It was going to be a long day.

Lizzie quickly disappeared, leaving me to show the delegation from somewhere in Africa round the school. "Bye, Brenda, lovely to see you again," she screeched as she headed for the exit and another search for the philosophy underpinning the curriculum - or a cappuccino in Starbucks with her pal Duncan, as it was also known.

Our African colleagues were delightful, and their happy smiles were infectious. So, unfortunately, were the less than happy sniffs, coughs and wheezes of our current P7, and I warned the visitors not to get too close to the snottery ones. What is "snottery"? Only 9.15am, I noticed, as the time seemed to drag.

I was genuinely proud of the computer carnival we had laid on. Mouses were clicked, visuals cascaded down, windows followed windows as the P7 class showed off their keyboard skills. I looked around for appreciation, maybe even applause? Silence. Frowns.

It was 9.20am. Time for a coffee? Time for a migraine?

The tour continued. The overseas guests were really interested in the PE lessons taken in the hall by our visiting specialist, Jane. Several questions followed the lesson. Why were the children so fat? How far did they walk to school? How often did they run to school? Why were the 11-year-olds not at work?

Soon I realised that this was another example of the university not doing its homework properly. In its eternal quest to increase its admissions and trigger the bonus payments, it had sent a mission to the Third World promising the answer to all their educational problems - if only they sent hundreds of their young people to Scotland's colleges.

After I had realised the futility of Lizzie's planned "mission", we got on much better with our guests. We shared experiences of childhood, of problems and of the difficulties facing teachers. They were the same the world over. Only the contexts changed.

Life expectancy in their country was around 37. The teachers were absolutely dedicated and wanted to learn more. In truth, we learned from them. Their approach to individual learning was way ahead of ours. They valued the skills of the teacher. They had no word in their language for "assessment", "outcomes" or "strands". I felt humbled and privileged to have spent the day with them. They taught us more about child development than our in-service days ever could.

Lizzie swanned in at 2.30pm, shawl draped over the Gucci suit, make-up freshly applied. A hint of creme de menthe? "Well folks, have you had a good day?" she asked her guests, not wishing to know the answer, merely ticking off another day in her timetable of self-aggrandisement.

I asked for a word with her - in private. I gave her some advice. I made some suggestions. Admittedly, some were physically and biologically impossible. I told her that the computer displays were a total waste of time. She was shocked. "You see, Lizzie," I said, "the poor souls don't have electricity in their schools."

Lizzie looked shell-shocked. She fumbled, mumbled, stumbled, quickly made her excuses and left.

St Pat's now has regular contact with a school in Africa. We send them football strips, sports equipment and toys. I write regularly to the school's head. She asked me how Grant's "agony" was. Much better than Lizzie's.

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