Friday, November 16, 2012

Don't call me 'Sir' just yet!

One of the things I really wanted to do out in Nepal if had the chance would be to do some teaching. I've done teaching back in the UK, mostly Science and Lego Engineering (I worked for a now-defunct company which provided Lego mindstorms training to schools which did not have their own kits). I quickly guessed that I would probably end up teaching English out here, so I approached IDF with my request and was give the opportunity to teach on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings at a local Government school - Jana Premi Lower Secondary School, about 15 minutes' walk away on the other side of Lokanthali:

The oldest school caters for grades 4-8 (UK school years 6-10), though the kids are sorted more by ability than age so you frequently get a wide age range in every class. Jeanette, a Swedish volunteer who has joined us for a couple of weeks, spent all her time teaching in this school - she is a Swedish and Tourism teacher at home and her school paid for her to come out here - and was therefore able to give me a good introduction before handing me her schedule when she left. She got on really well with the kids, you should have no problem spotting which one she is!

So Jeanette and I, over the course of a couple of days, took classes together - grades 7, 4, 5 and 8 in that order - and I was able to carry on from her good work and start to engage with the kids myself.


The first thing I noticed was how enthusiastic the kids were to be learning English, and also how good their language skills were already - much better than the average British student learning a foreign language. The teachers were helpful but took a more passive role while we were around, giving us the chance to develop our own exercises and work out how to engage those eager little minds :-)

I gradually eased into the teaching, and found myself really enjoying it, despite having never taught English before. Maybe it's just the novelty but I found that being given a group of 20-30 keen young children to try and entertain, and educate, was just the right balance between challenging and rewarding. And surprising, too, as they would always come up with examples or questions which test your understanding of English - for instance why we use singular in "what does it look like" and plural in "it looks like a bee" - or highlights a completely different way of thinking, like when I asked them to come up with a sentence featuring the word treasure - one girl said "I treasure my education". No kid in England would say that...

Also, they were so much fun to play games with - Fridays are more relaxed than the rest of the week so we played word games, like Hangman and Pictionary, on the board, which they seemed to thoroughly enjoy. One girl, on the left below (who is very noisy but has great  English) stumped the class with the word Woman. Actually, it has a rather odd selection of consonants. I never thought of that before...  

Secondary to the kids enthusiasm, I am sure, is the quality of the school itself. Although there are generally enough desks and chairs to go around, most kids are sharing books with each other and for my Grade 5 class I also have to borrow a book from someone to teach! The textbooks themselves, while well-meaning, lump the most bizarre vocabulary onto the kids, rather than re-inforcing the useful stuff; for instance, when will they ever need the words Girdle, Chronometer, Gabion or Exhaulted?! So I glossed over those ones, using them only as an opporunity to use their existing vocab.

Two of my classrooms are right next to the toilets and are very smelly, and all but one are very noisy with the sound of multiple lessons going on in neighbouring classrooms. It really is a miracle that the kids can concentrate at all, but they do a great job of trying. I have been training them to put their hands up and wait to be selected before shouting out the answer, but keeping order hasn't been too much work. Getting the more shy ones to participate is always tricky, but surely they aren't encouraged if, when called to the front to help me complete an exercise on the board, they get it slightly wrong (saying that Sister is the opposite of Good - lol) and get rewarded by a slap on the cheek by the teacher!! I did have to tell the teacher not to do that, it's no way to inspire Grade 4s...


The school is clearly part way through being built, there is a multi-storey construction site which houses the Grade 6s (who always wave at me as I descend the slope to see the Grade 4s) and it must be dreadful during the monsoon time to try and learn anything while literally in a building site, just the shell of a building with no interior walls, windows or fittings of any kind! But yet they manage. Amazing.


With over 90 public holidays per year, school is regularly closed or the kids just don't turn up. Today was one of those days - the teachers were still there and I had a very interesting conversation with the Principal about the notion that many young Nepalis have - if they can somehow get to Europe or the USA, they will find a job which will pay them 10x the amount they could get here and live in luxury. She knows how true that isn't - a lawyer friend of hers moved to America and now cleans tables in a hotel. But yet the myth pervades, and sucks some of the best and most promising Nepalis out of the country that could need them the most and offers them the best opportunities.

On my way back to Urbana school, I passed this child, playing with his toy - a brick, loaded with stones, making tracks in the sand. He was happy to have his photo taken and he was thrilled to see it on the screen of the camera afterwards. I don't know what to say about this - on one hand it's nice that he is so easily entertained. On the other, it's so sad that this is all he has to entertain himself...

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1 comment:

  1. Well done Colin - a great initiative. Interesting stuff.

    BTW - the quandary you describe with "look" & "looks".

    I don't think look and looks are singular and plural - they are 3rd and 2nd person verb endings. Its just that in English we use the "s" ending in two different ways - ie plural in nouns and as above in verbs.

    Do you agree?