Thursday, 22 August 2013

Back to School

This blog is dedicated to Andreas, a friend from school, who sadly died on Sunday in a gliding plane accident. You are missed!

Andreas’ motto was “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift - that's why it's called present”, so in this spirit, I’ll today tell you some more about our experiences visiting the local schools as part of our CSC project.

Working with the Essar foundation, our project objective is to improve English capability at government schools in local villages around the Jamnagar refinery. The foundation engages in a number of activities to improve the standard and quality of living in these villages but so far had not had the opportunity to concentrate on education. With our help they hope to change this and – given that English is more and more important in order to find employment – had asked us to assess the current level of English and develop recommendations on how to improve this.

Throughout the last week we have been visiting as many local schools as possible and were able to talk to teachers, headmasters and students.

While the schools may look very similar from the outside (see picture below),

no one school is the same and there is a great variety in the children’s education, e.g

  • Some schools have to run “shifts”, as there are not enough classrooms (and/or teachers) available which means that the teachers have to give lessons from 7.30 in the morning to 5.30 in the evening;
  • Sometimes, 70 children are taught by one teacher while in other schools one teacher looks after 25 children;
  •  We were also surprised to see that some schools have really well equipped IT labs with internet access and videoconferencing facilities

while in others there is one (broken) PC available for the head teacher (and almost all schools lack the skills to maintain the IT infrastructure).

What was similar in almost every school we visited so far is the energy and enthusiasm of the teachers and students. The students seemed like sponges soaking up any new learning and piece of information. Although the learning conditions are more than basic (with most classrooms lacking chairs & desks), the students were very engaged and sooooooooo eager to learn, it was unbelievable.

With regards to English, the situation seems dire. We often learned that there either was no English teacher (so the other teachers try their best to teach English based on the books provided, without actually having an understanding of the language) or were introduced to English teachers who hardly spoke or understood the language. English also seems to be – besides maths – the subject the children struggle with most, part of the reason being that it’s only introduced in 5th grade and with it, the Latin alphabet (until then, the children read and write in Hindi/Gujarati).

We also looked at the local communities surrounding the schools and almost everywhere the support and value for education seems to be an issue. In many cases, parents are illiterate or have only attended 4 or 5 years of school and therefore can’t support their children with their studies (let alone English). In addition, many parents rely on their eldest children to take care of the younger ones, so daughters frequently drop out of school (and in some Muslim communities, women are not allowed to continue to study beyond the age of 12).

On the good news front though, we heard that most village elders are very supportive of the schools and stress the value of education within the community. So in some – typically comparatively affluent – villages, the drop out rates have decreased in recent years and a high percentage of students (both boys and girls) are able to continue their education beyond 8th grade (which is when the mandatory education at government schools ends and students typically need to go to a school outside their home village to continue their studies). There are also government programmes which provide children with bikes, where the nearest 9/10th grade school is not in walking distance and a number of organisations (such as the foundation), are providing additional support and scholoarships for students.

Also, we were encouraged to find a number of “beacons” where an individual teacher or school had done some amazing work, completely self-motivated, to improve learning and education (e.g. by running after-school clubs, using games and songs to teach English or experimenting with other fun activities to make learning a better experience).

This afternoon we were invited to visit the local public school and thought we’d arrived at another planet. Education there is amazing – every subject is taught in English from pre-school using latest methodology and techniques, the students have a 50% say in their education (the other 50% is decided by the school board) and the whole atmosphere was full of energy and passion for education & learning.

Wow – we are still completely amazed by the experience and now even more keen to make a difference to the government schools, seeing what can be achieved by the right setting!

Based on the school visits and talking to our colleagues from the foundation, we’ve already come up with some initial ideas on what could be done to address the issues we saw and will add to this over the coming weeks. If you have any ideas and suggestions, please send these across as well (maybe some of you have worked as English teachers abroad or know of projects that help deprived schools etc.?).

We’ll continue with more visits this week (as the schools will be closed next week due to a national holiday on the 28th) and I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

We are also starting to plan what we’ll do over the weekend and it looks as if we’ll do some “temple-spotting”; so watch this space for some updates on this (as well as some insight into the Indian way to do shopping – quite different from what I’ve ever experienced).

1 comment:

  1. So sorry to read of Andreas' premature passing.

    The enthusiasm you are encountering is amazing; many UK based teachers would envy such knowledge hungry charges!

    Q: to what extent are childrens' books in evidence? I remember reading "Asterix The Gaul" cartoon books when learning French. I just wondered if fun / cartoon type based story books would be appropriate as a means to help supplement English based material - whilst still keeping a fun side to the reading input?

    Enjoy the temple spotting - and don't shop too much. ' hope tummy better now and mosquitoes less voracious? Mark