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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Relaxing before the Eleven Plus

I grew up in Zimbabwe. I went on a school trip when I was fourteen to Botswana. The school children traveled on the back of an open five ton lorry. Teachers traveled in land rovers and the cook, possibly the most important person on the whole trip, was driven in his smaller high sided lorry.

We could opt for different interests. Some boys selected ornithology, other the fauna and flora – and I wanted to look at ethnology. (The study of people and practices.) Botswana was, as is, the home to bushmen and women.

Camping out under the stars was a magical experience. We were camped on the side of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. Great flocks of flamingoes flew over the pans in the evening looking for resting places and food. The remarkably ugly wildebeest came in hundreds to drink near us.

I was kindly taken to meet a family of bushmen. They were a fascinating experience – these proud little people with their bulging stomachs and buttocks. The term `steatopygia’ is used to describe the accumulation of fat on the buttocks. Quite simply the bush people eat an incredible amount of food in a very short time. They have no fridges to keep meat cool!

The head man kept looking at my trainers. Through a translator it seems that he coveted them! I exchanged my trainers for his mbira. This is a musical instrument with a range of tuned metal strips. The strips are wound onto a wooden base and the music is made inside a gourd.

To play the mbira you pluck the strips of metal with your thumbs. I brought my mbira with me when we moved to England. There are good examples of the mbira in the Horniman Museum in South London.

The songs that are played and sung are about everyday events. There are songs about the need for food and shelter. There are prayers for safekeeping. Some songs are to do with ceremonies and other to do with birth and death.

So if our eleven plus children were encouraged to learn to play a musical instrument – to help them to express themselves – I wonder what they would choose.

I assume that a few boys, and possibly some girls, would select the big kettle drums to make as much noise as possible.

Others may select little flutes or even piccolos.

I am sure at least one person would want to push a large grand piano into the hall.

So picture the scene. There are ten minutes to the examination. Every child would be playing an instrument – and the children would be working on relieving tension and feeling creative.

The noise would be so disjointed that it would become harmonious. The eleven plus children would laugh and smile with pleasure. They would feel part of a large community. The examination would start with the children feeling happy and relaxed.

Oh, by the way, if any one can think of a better way of relaxing the children please let me know.

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