No, not another diving blog.
Today is Tuesday.
Yesterday, after a generally indifferent day at The International School – briefly enlivened by reading “All in One Piece” to P1 – I got back to base about 2pm and crossed the road to the Thomas Gall School, where I was told the Head Teacher was in a staff meeting, so come back at 3pm… at which point the school was shut up and a caretaker said to come back tomorrow. Not very promising as I have been wondering if that school, apart from being much more convenient (directly across the road from my humble abode) might be more suited to my ethos. (Sorry if that sounds rather pompous.)
Sera and Poormina are away to Anuradapura for two nights to “worship” and Granny has been drafted in to look after the kids. I met her when I went in to use the wifi. I’d sum her up by saying she seems a bit of a blue stocking, with better English than her daughter or son-in-law. Not long after I returned to my room, a knock came to the door and the lad brought me an “egg hopper” which his father had ordered. This is a sort of crepe in a bowl shape with a fried egg in it. As Monday had been a fast-day, this was very welcome and also satisfyingly tasty and filling. When I say “fast-day”, I mean I’d had a handful of peanuts for breakfast and another handful at “lunchtime” (mid morning break).
Today I discovered it was exam time and there were no classes for most year groups. I ranted a bit at Mr Ruhan, the Junior head, whose pupils in year 6 I see. I commented that it’d be good to be told these things and asked, rhetorically, how I was supposed to be teaching these classes if no-one kept me informed. Later, Mr Vinnie (Senior head and English teacher) agreed I was a bit wasted (and I don’t mean drunk) and that perhaps I should go into his Year12 class. He, I and a couple of other staff had an interesting chat about SL education: I suggested it was rather like the education I’d had as a boy 50-55 years ago and there seemed to be general agreement on a number of points:
- Education should be relevant: I mentioned that the history text books I had seen involved Roman society, thatched houses in mediaeval England, William Wallace and so forth, none of which seemed relevant to the needs of SL pupils in the 21st
- The Art teacher suggested that education out here is boring, uninspiring and stifles creativity.
- Each pupil – possibly with the exception of those at the upper end studying for Edexcel A Levels – has exams twice a term: 6 in all for a year, which seemed excessive.
- Mr Vinnie railed about teachers who just sat in their chair and basically said “get on with it”: we agreed that this could not be described as teaching.
- There was a bit of head nodding to these points from others, such as the young woman who teaches Islamic Studies, a guy who teaches Business Studies etc.
- To be balanced, I pointed out that parents wanted their child to succeed at exams, so it wasn’t entirely the school’s fault, especially as these exams were primarily aimed at English kids.
- I mentioned the heavy use of after-school classes and the general feeling seemed to be that this was caused by the poor quality of education out here, the lack of inspiration and limited choice of subjects. Someone also quoted figures suggesting there are nowhere near enough University places out here and thus entry becomes very competitive.
- I tried to temper my views by repeating that I‘d only been here a month and was hardly an expert: I was just giving first impressions.
About this point, Mr Vinnie went off to supervise an exam and I was asked to sit in with his year 12 class. What a nice bunch of senior pupils: a class of seven 16/17 year olds. We chatted about them, their families, my background etc. and they were absolutely charming. Out of 5 boys and 2 girls, five wanted to go into business, one wanted to be an aviation engineer and I wanted to be a fashion designer. I really enjoyed our time and introduced some new English phrases to them, not least “glass ceiling” when discussing the role of women in society. Their English was good, though heavily accented and a bit muffled: two of the lads seemed to tell me their fathers were in the gym business: one of them in Madagascar. This seemed unlikely but I accepted it until it turned out they were talking about gems, not gyms. When I later mentioned some of this to the Art teacher, he opined that doctor, engineer and businessman were high status jobs out here that all aspire to.
After this, having no classes due to the exams, I sloped off back to base and had another go at visiting the head teacher at the Thomas Gall School (TGS).
This attempt was more successful and I had a good chat with American Rick Sievert who is the present incumbent: a man getting on for my age, in shorts and tee shirt who has taught in a number of exotic places. It seemed to me we got on really well. Of course, after discussions I’ve mentioned above, and the offer of some work with senior pupils, I was in a slightly awkward position. I don’t want to just bugger off and leave my current place in the lurch, especially if there is some agreement on the changes needed and as so many of the staff – including Mr Ruhan who got a roughish edge of my tongue earlier – are committed, doing their best in difficult circumstances, friendly and welcoming. On the other hand Mr Rick seems keen to have me on board and the ethos seems more conducive to education. TGS only takes kids up to about 14 at present: he’s another head teacher trying to turn a school around, but he’s much more holistic in his approach and was encouraging me to get involved with his class which is producing a newspaper marking 10 years of TGS. He also seemed keen to get me doing some simple programming with the class, which would be fun.
We’ve left it that I will try to go in tomorrow for his English class, assuming I can get away: I have no timetabled classes on Wed. and there are exams on, so it may be possible. If jumping ship seems to be unfair to my International School colleagues, I might try to get involved in both schools, maybe working four days a week instead of three. He seems quite relaxed about me being flexible in my days, so I could still have some 4 day weekends when I wanted them.
To celebrate this development and to break my fast, I headed into Galle Fort and had Jumbo Prawns, chips and salad, washed down with a ginger beer and a real one. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.