Teaching


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Oceania » Vanuatu » Ambrym
October 17th 2007
Published: October 17th 2007
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No I don’t have access to a computer in the bush, I’m just inundating my poor sister with blogs to update you all with.

I can’t say things aren’t happening with building the training center, but it’s slow. To update you all on its complexities would also require me to discuss the culture and other such things. In short, I could ask for money to build a classroom, manage the school, and teach the classes myself, but that is not sustainable. So we have not begun. Some days, I’m optimistic, some days I feel like I’m wasting my time. With that said….

In efforts to put my time to good use I’ve been ‘teaching’ at the local primary school. The classes are joint years 1+2, 3+4, and 5+6. I have the class with 5th and 6th graders. To imagine the situation…my mom recently sent me photos from a trip she took with my sister and niece to see the places in which Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. In the photos, my niece, Seulgi, sits at a wooden desk in a one room school with a small slate for practicing writing. I tried to explain to the children here that this was the way children schooled a long, long time ago in America. Ironically, the fact remains, my 5th and 6th graders sit in a classroom built from coconut palm leaves, behind wooden desks much like, but not as nice as, the one Seulgi sat in (in the photo) and slates, well, they have them too but they’re so old they’re useless.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for these children. In fact, I see clearly now how donations of toys, money, etc. can spoil the good behavior of people who get by without. No, many will not continue their education past year 6 or maybe 8, but they will go nearly every day even though the school is an hour to walk each way.

They all play nicely together by using what is available around them. A game similar to jacks is played with small stones or those stones can be used to play a different form of tic-tac-toe. Vines can be knotted together to form a large jump rope. Coconut leaves can weave a ball to toss around. Coconut shells are mounted to be knocked down like bowling pins. There are some luxuries the school does have, like a soccer ball and a partially deflated volleyball. Yet, their athletic abilities are amazing. There is no need for gym class or after school organized activities. There is no janitor to keep the classrooms clean and the school grounds tidy-the children take on that task, too. But I’m not writing to tell you how good these kids behave. I want to tell you about my teaching experience.

So every Thursday I walk to the primary school with the intention of giving a cultural exchange through books to my students in year 5 and 6. This is a Francophone school and I don’t speak French so I read them children’s books (with lots of pictures) in English. I start by introducing them to some English words on the chalkboard. Which, they immediately write in their English vocabulary sections of their notebooks. Then I begin to read. I read a little in English and then translate into Bislama, always walking up and down so they can see all of the illustrations. Most people in Vanuatu speak 2 if not 3 or 4 languages. The children spend the early days of their childhood speaking nothing but the language of their village.Then around age six or seven, they begin to be able to correspond in the national language of Bislama and then, as in the case of my community, they are schooled solely in French.

Despite English being the fourth language they are learning in their short life, they listen and give me their fullest attention as I read in a language unfamiliar to them. One parent told me their child (who is not in my class, she just overheard me) came home saying, “Mama, Malikon (my custom name) taught school today but it was in a language I never heard before.” Oh of course, she was young, most have heard and can understand English especially because it is used in Bislama.

When I was in Vila recently, I took the opportunity to use the computer to create some word searches using the words they have been learning. When I presented the class with the activity, they were thrilled. In fact, they were so excited to get these word searches done they wouldn’t go home after the bell (an old tank they hit with a stick) rang. I explained these were theirs to keep and take home. After a little discussion they said ok, they’ll go. Despite the understanding, all the way home the notebooks were out to support the paper and their pens continued looking for and circling the hidden words. I felt so proud as I really didn’t know what to expect. I guess I kind of thought, boring, toss this one aside. Seeing how much they appreciate these little things makes me so happy for Thursdays. I love teaching the children and if it is the only thing I succeed at while I’m here, I’m ok with that.

In case you’re a teacher reading this or you just got the same question…the cultural exchange they experience is, well, many things. It is the explanation of a fairy tale or of snow. It is the experience of a holiday as we would celebrate it back home, i.e. Halloween and Christmas are coming up and not only will I read a story and introduce vocabulary words but we’ll also do a craft. Hey, they teach me their customs and here I teach them mine.

Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

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