I have been back in Canberra for three months now and am still reflecting on my amazing year. Being in Thailand for the last military coup made me abruptly aware of the power structures that exist there and the role of education in their maintenance. I still reel when I remember the regular use of the cane in the poor, rural high school I worked in. Even the kindest teachers felt they needed to cane boys to carry out their jobs and one of the more up-front cane users entered my classroom several times to whack students, usually while my back was turned to the board. My preferred method was to work hard to engage reluctant class members. Some of my best memories are those times when those students succeeded, even in the smallest ways, and smiled with pleasure when they received good feedback. I realise now how lucky we are in Australia that our education system values questioning over subservience, that we can discuss politics openly and safely, and can learn that there are many ways we can view subjects, especially history.
But it is the role of English in keeping social structures intact that troubles me the most. The contrast between middle class, English speaking students and the rest of the population is stark. They, of course, usually get the best education that private wealth can buy, secure the best jobs, make more money and have a better chance of becoming powerful members of society. The same is also evident in India. In Dharamsala, I was lucky enough to attend a premier of the film Vara: a Blessing. From the start of the film, there was a strange dissonance between the setting and the language spoken by the characters, which was English. The audience members were mostly young Indians and the use of English was the subject of the first question asked of the great writer/director Khyentse Norbu following the screening. He openly expressed his own dismay and advised that the choice of English belonged to the producers. I also noticed upper class Indian families who were visiting Dharamsala using English with their young children and, meanwhile, probably ensuring that their offspring lose their parents’ first language. This was a phenomenon I also remember from Indonesia, particularly Jakarta.
So what is the role of an English teacher in countries where the use of English is controversial? I can tell myself that my role is to help the disempowered and then make sure that these are my students. Ironically, I strongly believe that part of the role of English teachers in these situations is also to help students to appreciate the immense value of their mother tongue and do all we can to encourage them to become literate in that as a priority. I found this story, How English Ruined Indian Literature, in the New York Times particularly interesting and hope you do too.
I only have a few weeks left teaching at Thungmaprauwittaya in Thailand. Shortly I will be taking a break in Laos and then heading for New Delhi and MacLeod Ganj in India. My flights for India have been booked and today my electronic … Continue reading →
Although a lot has been happening here, just lately I haven’t been posting to this blog. I have, however, been working hard at school, all the while reading and reflecting on the incredible experiences I am having as a teacher in Thailand. This article from the Guardian, directed primarily at teachers returning from holidays, appeals to me because of the author’s humility and dedication.
High school students are not always easy to teach, even in Thailand (despite its reputation for respectful subservience). While the behaviour of the senior students is usually no less than angelic, unfortunately at other times a couple of my classes have resembled a minor battlefield. The article helps to keep it all in perspective.
Currently lessons at Thungmaprao High School have been suspended while the students play sports and undertake other activities for a couple of weeks. So this week I taught at two contrasting three day English camps. Both were for government school students, but the first was at a five star resort and the other was in a primary school located in a very small Muslim village.
The camp at the resort was for the most proficient English students from a large high school in Takuapa. The other camp was the first one ever at the little primary school and you can see from the tears in the farewell picture (top left) that it was something very special for the children. The younger children were fascinated and were often found watching at the door and, at the end, some of the mothers were there too.
Both camps were wonderful experiences for me and I have picked up a few new tricks from some of the other teachers. The pictures show that the students enjoyed themselves too.
I have just found out that I am required at Thungmaprau on Monday morning to attend an event and give a speech. As long as no-one puts a microphone in front of me and asks me to sing “If you’re happy and you know it” again, I should be fine. Anything but that, please!
Thanks to WordPress blogger Cornish Kylie, I found out about a great school in Thailand in a small village called Kapong in the province of Phang Nga on Thailand’s west coast. It is where I am going next and I am thrilled about this opportunity to work on my teaching skills in a wonderful environment.
After reading Kylie’s post, I read everything else I could find about the school and contacted them to ask if it was too late to apply for next term which starts in mid-May. After several emails, an application form and two Skype interviews, I have been accepted and am arriving there on 8 May, instead of going to Chiangmai as previously planned.
Yaowawit school is part of a project founded by a German philanthropist following the 2004 tsunami. The Youtube video above tells you a little more about it.
The school is home for over 110 children from socially and financially underprivileged families. They have good quality accommodation for visitors too, which helps support the school and provides opportunities for vocational training. So if anyone wants to come visit that would be great.