English is taught in Sudan using the world’s most boring textbook, entitled SPINE. It was seemingly produced to put the next generation off English and ensure that they will not have any speaking skills. Teachers are expected to rush through the chapters within times set by ‘supervisors’ (school inspectors) from the Ministry of Education, regardless of whether the students have understood anything or not. When I queried this with one of these supervisors, he looked at me with total lack of comprehension, as though actually 'learning English' was not an aim at all. At the end of each term exams are set which basically test students’ memory of SPINE rather than expecting them to use the English language. There is no oral section to the exams.
The teaching method is basically ‘talk and chalk’. Lessons are taught in bare classrooms, sitting at ancient broken desks on equally broken chairs, sometimes two pupils to a chair. The walls are bare, with no displays of student work. Pupils sit for many hours on the same uncomfortable seats as the schools are not organised by subject, but by year group. There are no power points in the classrooms so that it is not possible to use any electronic teaching aids. Classes are generally large, from 40-70 in a class.
Most of the teachers are keen to do more interesting things with their students and are extremely frustrated by the restrictions caused by the large classes, lack of resources and the necessity to stick to the rigid timetable imposed from on high. Due to the bad economic situation in Sudan, many teachers have to work at other jobs after they leave school each day, which also makes it difficult for them to find time outside the school day to help their students.
However, in spite of all this, school students here smile all the time and seem genuinely happy. The teachers also seem similarly cheerful and very welcoming to me. How do they do it? It is one of the mysteries of the universe.