When Everything Goes Pear Shaped Just Sing

By Angela Sharp – Project Fundraiser & Volunteer

This was my mantra during 4 weeks in Aandhimul village teaching teachers how to use the materials I had brought from Australia. The teachers in Aandhimul School have NO MATERIALS AT ALL to work with. This is quite difficult to imagine, almost impossible really especially coming from Australia, the land of plenty. As a piano teacher in Australia this compares to me teaching students how to play the piano with no music and no piano, just telling them how to do it.

All of the teachers in Aandhimul told us of their frustrations. We asked Mina, Pampha and Kissan to write down their top 5 difficulties. Overwhelmingly it was the bad behaviour of the students. These kids, they said, didn’t concentrate, were easily distracted, and were quite disruptive during lessons.

The Nepalese method of teaching is as it is throughout most of Asia – rote teaching or the lecture method.

Try to imagine a group of 25 little ones – 5 year olds – sitting at desks and listening to the teacher drone on and on and on. They copy work from the board and recite whatever they hear from the teacher. No interaction, no questioning, no negotiation with peers, no fun at all. This is not completely the fault of the teachers as they are only teaching as they learned themselves.

Joli and I wanted only to give the teachers a little more latitude in their skill base and some materials to inspire their teaching. This would hopefully then renew the interest of the students in their learning, leading to better classroom behaviour.

CLASSROOM BEHAVIOUR – the only discipline obvious to us while in Aandhimul, and while we taught in Bandipur last year, was the use of a large stick to intimidate and occasionally hit disruptive students. We tried to give the teachers a few strategies to use first.

These included having classroom rules – negotiated by all involved. Using a 2 warning then timeout system in the classroom. Also encouraging the teachers to give the students positive feedback when the class behaved well.

USING “I HEAR, I SEE, I DO” in all lessons – We encouraged the teachers to plan lessons allowing the students to be involved on all 3 levels. For example:
– Have the students recite the first 10 odd/even numbers.
– Have each student place a coloured pebbles on the pattern numbers ( these pebbles were painted as part of an art lesson while we were in the village and I took over large laminated number charts from 1-100)
– Ask each student to write an odd/even number on the board.
– Ask the students to form odd/even numbered groups.
– Repeat the lesson over many days until everyone in the class is an expert. This is really important as a large percentage of students, especially the girls, miss a lot of school. Family responsibilities take precedence over school in rural villages.

STORY TELLING – Aandhimul school has no library, as they have very few books, and the ones they do have are kept in the staffroom cupboard, with library written on it.

Joli and I asked the 3 teachers to tell us a story appropriate to a class of 5-7yos. The first day this happened Joli and I nearly fell asleep – it was read in Nepali of course but the droning voices were very, very boring to listen to – I felt sorry for the students. We talked with the teachers about facial expression, body movement, voice changes and eye contact firstly before asking them to repeat their stories the next day. Already there were improvements. We then encouraged the teachers to ask questions of the group every 2/3 sentences to keep them involved.

By the third reading the improvements were huge. Suddenly the stories came alive with each teacher clearly enjoying the experience. Now they were feeling confident we asked them to read their stories to a class and the results were amazing. What we saw were happy teachers and quiet and attentive students who loved being asked questions. The teachers then told the class how great their behaviour had been. A WIN/WIN !!! The teachers were enthusiastic for more and worked really hard with us for the 15 days we had together.

The large suitcase I took with me contained materials bought in Australia from donated funds and other materials donated by my wonderful group of friends. I took many flashcards for numbers and letters – we also had the teachers make their own flashcards in Nepali on the blanks I took with me. I took jigsaw puzzles, dice, tape measures, scissors, card games, magnifying glasses, rulers, art equipment such as coloured paper and glue, building blocks – please see the great photo of the kids using these – maps, balls and skipping ropes.

Time will tell how successful this venture was – whether or not the teachers continue to use the ideas and materials. Having Mon in the village will enable us to have some feedback each month.

I absolutely loved being able to share a few ideas with Kissan, Mina and Pampha. Having to work through a translator most of the time ( Kissan and occasionally Mon) made for slow progress but also made me very aware of using clear language.

As I said at the beginning of this article “WHEN IT ALL GOES PEAR SHAPED JUST SING”. Each night I spent a lot of time planning the activities for the coming day. There was at least one time each day when I threw my hands in the air in frustration. Frustration at not being prepared enough or clever enough to communicate something clearly to teach these eager teachers. A big smile and then a song always reenergized the room and calmed me ready for the next activity.

The power of song is truly amazing. Teaching an Aboriginal song to a group of Nepalis is a privilege – hearing them still singing it the next day is even better.

Education is a powerful tool for change and the children of Aandhimul deserve so much better. They deserve better resourced teachers and a better resourced school and I hope we can slowly make this happen through the Aandhimul Project and its numerous supporters.

Angela

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