Today’s been fun and interesting.
About 11am I met up with Rick – Head Teacher of Thomas Gall School (TGS) – to catch up on what I’ll be doing over the next couple of months. Of course, having been here before, I had a good idea of layout, pupil numbers, courses etc.: nevertheless, it’s a thought that I’ll be teaching 4 or 5 year olds tomorrow. I’ve never taught any class that young. Mind you, there’s only two of them, so at least a riot shouldn’t start up.
The school is struggling. If you’re not interested in my thoughts on SL education, Life, the Universe and Everything, you can skip the next three paragraphs, though you might miss something!
My original plan a couple of years back envisaged me teaching in a mud hut, dozens of little dark brown faces and twice as many big white eyes looking up and hanging on my every word… The first school I landed up in, with help from Sylvia Macdonald – to whom no blame attaches – was pretty awful: a fee-paying school out of my childhood with school Houses (Minerva, Ares and something – relevance to SL?); the syllabus included a section on housing in mediaeval England; large classes of spoilt kids – immature little boys and girls who did seem much more motivated; the Head Teacher’s “you’re here until the end of March, so you’ll be up to page such and such by the time you leave”; and a management that seemed – not to beat about the bush – incompetent. I got no initial support at all from the teacher whose classes I was taking – the junior head – not as much as an introduction to the pupils or a run-down of who needed watching etc. and I was only teaching for one or two – if that – classes a day. I was staying at Sera’s where I am now – another story – and saw the Thomas Gall School (TGS) across the road. I jumped ship and offered my services at TGS. It has a lovely atmosphere, great surroundings and a friendly staff who not only teach in English but can speak it well. Education in the previous place was in an English so accentuated and localised as to be incomprehensible: I often thought colleagues in the staffroom were speaking Sinhala when in fact they were addressing me in English. I don’t want to sound snotty about it: here’s nothing wrong with a SL “take” on English until they come to teach it as a form of international communication.)
Anyway, Thomas Gall School in Galle (no relation) is named after an Australian judge who specialised in children’s cases and family law. When he died, his wife Libby (whom I met last year) set the school up in his name, just over 10 years ago. Although it charges fees – quite high I suspect – it is apparently a non-profit organisation and is struggling to keep its head above water. This is a great shame as it’s a super school with huge potential. The problem basically comes down to numbers: the school doesn’t keep enough pupils from about 14/15 years to make it possible to pay the required subject teachers, which feeds a vicious circle. Up until exams begin to loom, families seem to trust the holistic approach of the school, then parental anxiety sets in. Currently the 5/6 class (10/12 yr olds) has two pupils. The 7/8 class has another two. You might think that’s precarious for a school, but wait till I tell you all four kids are in the same family! Education out here really is a hot-house: I commented many times last year on the huge numbers of tutors, after-school colleges etc. that proliferate out here. There seems to be a massive personal investment in education: financially and organisationally (logistics for lifts to after school classes) on the part of parents but also, of course, on the long-suffering potential beneficiaries, the children. All this is partly driven by a shortage of university places: I’m told that only 10% of those applying get in.
With the departure at Christmas of the IT teacher who was here last year and various other changes, the school management have to consider to what extent the school should realign itself in terms of age range, target pupils, subject cover and so on. I think my arrival has given Rick a little longer to try to sort out his thinking: I don’t envy him the choices ahead.
If you’ve jumped ahead and just rejoined us, you’ll probably get an opportunity to pick up some of what you’ve missed at another time.
After the visit to the school, I collected some kit and got whisked (sans helmet) on the back of Rick’s motorbike to his house where we met up with Kris, his wife, who is in the pink again after a hip op whilst I was out last year. She and I went by tuk-tuk to their “club” at the Lighthouse Jetwing Hotel a couple of miles out of town, where Rick joined us on his bike. We had a bit of a workout in the gym, then sank a couple of beers and had a late lunch: it was very pleasant and I enjoyed our get together. I’m already pencilling 25th January into my social calendar.
Eventually, it was time for us to wend our way home: Rick and Kris by motorbike. I spotted a tuk-tuk driver fiddling at a back wheel with a tyre lever and got a lift to the bus station where I climbed into what must honestly be the most crowded bus I’ve ever been on. I had to physically push my way through the door to get on and momentarily wondered if I’d be better waiting for the next one before I was trapped by the folk behind me. I found a space where I could get both feet on the floor and waited for departure, which took longer than the circumstances warranted. My “Ambalawatha” to the conductor resulted in me paying the pittance required and we headed off.
I’ve not travelled much in Galle at night, which always adds a different aspect to a journey, nor could I see more than my neighbour’s armpit to help me spot my stop. I identified one or two landmarks by the screeching of brakes and steep tilts on corners and was beginning to think it must be time to get off when a local with whom I was in danger of being intimately entwined nodded at me and said “Ambalawatha” and I knew it was my stop. (Either that or he was saying “You touch me there again and I’ll punch you.”)
So, it’s about 9pm. Tomorrow I have to teach two “Bridge Year” 5ish year olds about IT, followed by a couple of P2/3s then the two P4/5 family members, followed by their older siblings. In case you thinks that’s all there is in school, the biggish numbers are in Kindergarten, where they have three substantial classes I think, but they’re beneath my notice.