School’s Out

Karene and Kate at school.

The sun beats in a blue sky. The school buildings glow bright yellow and red. As if all the teachers know Kate’s parents are visiting today, and have polished every outside wall in tribute.

“It’s very colourful, isn’t it?” Huhu sits in the front passenger seat and adjusts her sun visor.

“They’re the school colours.” Kate parks the car under the branches of a huge banyan tree. “The uniforms are the same too.  Red and yellow.”

School buildings.

Officially school has broken up for two weeks, although students in multi-coloured lavalavas and slogan T-shirts wander about.  They smile at us and say hello to Kate.  Some of them are in a Year 13 class, catching up.

We walk up a staircase, and Karene, the Deputy Head, steps out to meet us.  She’s a bright friendly lady who has helped Kate a lot.


We look around the staff room, full of long tables, books and timetables.  Plus an industrial scale megaphone and a home-made PA system rigged up from a old stereo.  Karene demonstrates how it works, ‘Hi-De-Hi’ style.  Ding-ding-ding-DING!  ‘All students to the main fale, now!’  Dong-dong-dong-DING!

“What’s this for?”  Chad points at the megaphone.

“I use that on the teachers.” Karene laughs. “Especially on free pizza day. Some teachers,” she looks at Kate, “are too busy talking to their students to eat.”

“How many are there altogether?” says Chad.

“Pizzas – none. We ate them all.  Teachers – around forty. And students – around six hundred. We’re one of the biggest schools in Samoa.”

We walk into the admin offices.  Past Karene’s door which is wide open, then past the Principal’s which is bright orange and closed. Downstairs to a classroom, where all the windows are open on both sides to keep a cool breeze flowing.  There are no desks, no chairs, they have all been moved. The blackboards, one at each end, are clean, but pockmarked with big holes.  Numerous quotations about reading and education adorn the back wall. A cardboard tree chart shows what all the students want to be when they grow up. Few have written down teacher as it is so badly paid, only seven thousand NZ dollars per year. Many want to be accountants, which pleases Chad.  One wants to be a CEO.

Tour of admin offices.

Karene leaves us to finish her work.  Although it is the holidays, she still has much to do. We will rejoin her later for lunch at Pacific Jewell, the trendiest ex-pat cafe in town First though, Kate wants to show us the maths department in another wing. More steps, another yellow building, another room, but the door is locked. We peer through darkened windows at a table stacked with books, papers and white chalk. No chairs still. All the teaching and learning in this school must take place standing up.

“The idea is maths teachers use this as a common room.” Kate resiliently tries the door handle again. But it remains locked. “A lot of the time though, many of them are over there.” She points at another building across from us.

“What’s that?” says Huhu.

“It’s the tuck shop.”

Main hall.

We march back down the stairs and along a long gravel drive. Lots of up and down in this school, especially for the teachers who don’t have their own rooms. They go to the students rather than the students go to them.

We reach the main hall, another yellow and red building at the back of the school. It’s huge and empty as a barn. No sign of the audience that cheered and hooted here on Friday night. No chairs either, just like everywhere else. Then as we walk back down the drive, a lorry hoots and passes us. It’s loaded high with plastic stackable chairs. All the missing seats being returned from the concert.

Good job they’re all red and yellow.  The school colours.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: