Kapalpal school enhances educational opportunities for children in Loanialu
The early morning mist hasn’t seriously begun to dissipate when the first students begin to appear at the school. For half an hour or so they amble down the ridge where it is broad and the slope gentle. Or if they are coming up from one of the villages down below then they climb the steep, narrow track that takes them to the school.
Sometime around eight o’clock when students and teachers have mostly arrived, the school building is opened and everyone streams inside. After they sing several hymns and been led in prayer by Michael Job, Head Teacher of the school, they break up into their classes which in the 2010 school year, range from prep up to grade 6. So begins a typical day at the Kapalpal Christadelphian Primary School.
Kapalpal first opened its doors in February 2009. For most of the students, the new school was incredibly different from their old one.
The old school is about a kilometre down the ridge. It consists of three small “local” huts arranged in a narrow clump. The huts are framed by the cut-down trunks and limbs of small trees and covered with thatch and sections of rusty iron.
At best they could be described as decrepit. With earth floors they are dirty as well as dark and usually damp. The continual dampness ruins the books, notebooks and other teaching materials making them unusable in a very short time.
For desks, students sat on wooden blocks or on rough timber planks mounted on locally-made besser blocks. Other planks served as their table tops.
In contrast, the new school’s two buildings are cladded with colourbond steel and have lots of windows to allow in fresh air and sunlight.
The villagers refer to Kapalpal’s buildings as “permanent”. By this they mean the buildings should still be around in 20 to 30 years. (Both buildings are of sturdy construction and have been designed to withstand the earthquakes and cyclones that occur in Vanuatu.)
“Permanent” conveys an essential difference between the construction of these buildings and the local ones which typically will last around 3 years.
At Kapalpal, sturdy pressed-timber tables and bench seats provide flat, level, steady platforms for the students to sit and write on.
A happy consequence of the dry, furnished, well-resourced learning environment is high student attendance levels. “We have 205 students this year,” said Michael Job, Kapalpal’s Head Teacher. “That’s 3 to 4 times more than the number of students we ever had at the other school.”
It is also a factor in keeping the children in school.
“Last year, of the 206 students enrolled, just 6 stopped coming during the year,” Michael commented.
When you are told that the typical drop-out rate for primary schoolers on Tanna is estimated to be around 30%, you begin to understand the difference a school like this can make.
Head Teacher Michael Job
Watch a short video clip of the school
The Kapalpal Christadelphian Primary School Project
Overview, February 2009
The Kapalpal Christadelphian Primary School, completed in December, 2008, provides primary-level education for some 160 children for grades 3 to 6. We also run a kindergarten class for pre-school aged children.
The school is located in a remote area along the central spine of the island of Tanna, one of the most southern of the chain of islands that comprise Vanuatu. All students come from small villages in the area, those furthest away walking the foot trails of the mountainous fingers to reach the school.
For many of the children in the area, the new school replaces a small collection of damp, poorly-lit, run-down thatch huts with little or no furnishings and even less in terms of educational facilities.
The Kapalpal school consists, at the present, of a single building and a smaller, covered activity area. The building is a large but simple, timber-frame structure designed to withstand the cyclones and earthquakes that frequent the region.
Mounted on steel stumps, the building boasts a length of 25 metres and a width of 7.2 metres. A colourbond roof with matching wall cladding provides protection from the elements. Room size is configurable through movable partitions. Built into one end is a spacious (5 metre x 7 metre) room for visiting teachers/fieldworkers.
Construction of the school buildings was a significant accomplishment due to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the location.
The Kapalpal Christadelphian Primary School is what the locals call a “mission” school. Vanuatu has a long history of “mission” schools. A striking distinction for this “mission” school is that unlike any other public or private school we are aware of in Vanuatu, Kapalpal charges students nothing to attend. Kapalpal has no fees. All the costs associated with operating the school, including teacher and student materials, are absorbed by Bethezer.
How it happened
Visits in previous years left no doubt about the almost non-existent opportunities for education in the villages of the hard-to-reach central part of Tanna. After much talking and organising, a project eventually came together to construct a school building for the children of the villages in and around Loanialu.
Finally, in October and November 2008, a team of volunteers made their way to Vanuatu to put the school building up. An advance team had by then pre-positioned materials and had begun preparing the site.
No construction activity occurs without hitches and hurdles and this was certainly no exception. You get a glimpse of those challenges when you realise that to the normal day-to-day problems you must also add “island time”, where absolutely nothing happens the way you expect it to, the inaccessibility of the location (on occasion, materials had to be carried the final couple of kilometres by human beasts-of-burden), the primitive living and working conditions and the onset of the rainy season (in the space of a few short hours one evening, 6 inches (15 cm) of rain plummeted down; on another, 4 inches (10 cm) came down).
But, through the blessings of our Heavenly Father, eventually, the team made it over each of the hurdles and the building together with a smaller shelter were completed. A couple of months later, in January 2009, a smaller team arrived at the site to make furniture, school equipment and finalise the preparations for the start of school.
To provide governance for the ongoing operation of the school, a School Board was created with the cooperation and agreement of the nearby villages.
- Teacher salaries. Our single highest recurrent cost is teacher salaries. At present, each teacher, including our Teacher In Charge, receives AU$125 per month for a 13-month year. The 13th, or “extra”, month is for severance pay for the teacher (the standard method in Vanuatu of providing a retirement payout). For each teacher, that is AU$1,625 per annum. Kapalpal has a teaching staff of 6, which includes 2 part time kindy teachers.
- Teacher and student materials. Each year for each teacher and student, Bethezer provides all the pencils, rubbers, notebooks, crayons, scissors and all other school materials. The supplies are sourced in Australia where they are bought as cheaply as possible and are then shipped to Vanuatu. Cost per year is around AU$2,500. Roughly a third of the total is made up of shipping and customs fees.
Future capital costs
- Garden project. We are continuing in efforts to establish a school garden, to be managed by the agricultural teacher. We have already fenced off an area for the garden. The aim is to partition the garden into sections for the school children to grow their own vegetables. We would like to grow a range of vegetables, some of which are known to the villagers, some of which are not. For the project we need a small shed, wire fencing, star pickets, implements and seeds. The estimated of cost is AU$1,500 plus a small ongoing cost for seeds.
- New school building. A new building is required because the number of students at the school is more than double the number than can be accommodated with existing facilities. The new building will be slightly smaller than the first and will have colourbond roof and exterior walls and a floor made of pavers. Our initial estimate to put up a second building is AU$40,000.
- School furniture. The new school building will require tables and benches/chairs for the children and teachers, plus shelves and blackboards. These all will typically be constructed of wood, as is the existing building's furniture. The building will house 3 or 4 classes. We will source the timber in Vanuatu and fasteners from Australia (much cheaper). Estimated cost is AU$1,200.