Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year!

Here's wishing you a very Happy New Year !

.... Clive takes a swig of boiled water....  

.... then goes to bed.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Fascinating Fotos

Today I went up th the junction to buy a mains extension lead.  I needed one with a 3m lead - but could I get one?!  So I thought - one plug, 3m cable, one double rubber socket... they don't do double rubber sockets.

But they do do wooden boxes, pre-cut paxolin panels, cable, switches, sockets and screws!

I had three Christmas presents this year and here are two of them.  This kind of thing is REALLY popular in India.  Made in China, of course!

When has not having a perfect cricket pitch stopped an Indian from playing??  And you can tell by the worn earth how just much it doesn't stop them!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Looking Ahead

Thankfully the temple music only lasted two days and actually was less intrusive the second day. Since then I was hoping to find time to sit down and start preparing a plan for the new term but I keep procrastinating and being side-tracked. I've been distracted by concerns of what I'll do after my visa runs out and I quit SISP next March.  I did a bit of Internet surfing and found a project in SW Sri Lanka which might need a volunteer. I've fired off an email to them and have also started a VSO application. With the VSO I'm sure I could get a posting if I wanted to work in my profession field but I don't. I want to continue this teaching of Computing but I'm not qualified so I doubt VSO would want me.

Finally today I've go myself comfortable and have looked back at the work of the last year so that I can plan what we'll do next.  A year ago, as computers were new to these kids, it was a matter of getting them familiar and confident with using them first, with plenty of practical work.  Now it's a case of shoe-horning them into a more structured and graduated learning scheme, at the appropriate levels.  To help me, I've started looking at the text books used by other schools. There's a lot of rubbish in them and very few decent examples but I can get a feel for where they're going and then try to plan my own approach for reaching the same end points.

This is a long-term plan and, the trouble is, if I leave SISP at the end of March I'll feel I haven't accomplished as much as I could.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Damned Temple Music Again

Boxing Day, and the music from the Hindu temple woke me. The volume got progressively louder so that by 6am I couldn't stand it any more and had to get up. The loudspeakers aren't immediately outside my house this time but, even so, it was bloody loud. I wonder if it's Hindu retribution for yesterday's Christian festival.

Despite playing Tina Turner and M-People at full volume I wasn't able to drown it out. I couldn't stand it any more and had to get out! Just as I was shutting the door there was a power cut. Silence! Golden Silence!

I went for a walk to the beach and stayed down there for a while. It was sunny, very hot and humid. It would be great to find somewhere quiet and shady to just sit and relax but there's nowhere. I suppose I could sit at one of the restaurants but I'd have to buy something and I begrudge their high prices (relative to non-touristy areas). And anyway, there's no real peace and quiet anywhere.

Eventually I got back to Kovalam Junction, had lunch and then called in at SISP. I'd been asked by the Dance Leader to take a few photos. He wanted them for some advertisement which was to be published in a couple of days' time. I took twenty or so for him and got them to the guy who's going to do the editing and layout. Here are a few poses for your entertainment...

When I got home there was still silence, even though the power had returned. Perhaps it was over?! No such luck, the noise soon returned. I'm trying to ignore the din as I write this. I'm trying to stay calm.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas,
Clive in India

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Chalk and blackboards

I dunno why the temples seem extra noisy this morning but they certainly are. Can't say the wind is in the wrong direction as there isn't any! It's not the full-blast, speakers-in-a-tree volume but it was loud enough to wake me early. Perhaps it's a competition between temples - I took a walk down that way a few weeks ago and found that there were no less than four temples, perhaps two or three hundred metres apart, all along the same little road, and each with its own particular aural pollution.

For the last week we've had no computers at the school. The supplier's technicians turned up with one hour's notice apparently, but the first I knew of it was when they'd arrived! And I didn't know we'd actually decided to wipe all the hard disks, reinstall Windows XP, and buy and install Kaspersky AV. No one tells me nuffing! So, I had to rush around, pulling off vital students' work onto my USB stick, while the technicians got to work. By the end of the day they'd wiped the disks and reinstalled XP. By the end of the next day Kaspersky was in place but we couldn't use the machines because the latest updates and virus definitions were needed from the Internet. And the next day the technicians didn't turn up. Nor the next day, nor the next. If I ask anyone, they shrug their shoulders (or give an Indian head wobble) and say "This is India!"

Yeah, what else should I expect!

It's going to be another chalk and blackboards day...

Saturday, 19 December 2009

From Kovalam Beach

I was down on Kovalam's Lighthouse Beach this morning, visiting a friend. The fishermen were pulling in the nets and that always makes for a good photo. The nets are vast, and it takes more than an hour to haul them in. I didn't stay to see the catch but no doubt it will be filling a few stomachs in the many beach-side restaurants this evening.

What always strikes me when I see this scene is not how romantic or evocative it is but that it would surely be more efficient if the rope didn't turn a corner.  If the last few guys were really doing any work then those just in front of them would be struggling to stand upright!

This giant hedgehog must be a good metre and a half in length. I think it's just what's left of the stump of a palm tree after being tossed about in the sea for a while. It would look great with some eyes and nostrils painted on it!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Monday grumps

It's Monday, and we're having a bit of a re-shuffle. Following the exams in November, in the four lower groups one or two of the most able children have moved up a class, one has moved down, but the majority have stayed where they were. There have been some more significant changes at the top. B-Group has become the students who hope to achieve the public "7th Standard" exams, and A-Group has become those hoping to achieve "10th Standard" (I'm guessing that that is approximately equivalent to GCSE ('O' Level) standard in the UK). Five students formerly in A-Group have been moved to B-Group leaving only five at the top. And then there are six students, mostly ex-B-Group, who are older but who won't achieve either exam. I call them the "A-minus" students. So now we have an additional group but no extra teachers. The Head's idea is that we teach both A groups simultaneously, but with the A- group doing simplified worksheets. This will be a big burden on the teachers, me included. We have to produce extra lesson plans/worksheets, and manage two vastly different ability groups in the same classroom simultaneously. I can't see how this can work out well. Trouble is, the school can't afford extra teachers.

Personally I'd just kick the A- students out. Two of them are disruptive and lazy, and the other four are somewhat slow and backward. They must all be 16 and older, and despite investing a lot in them already, they've achieved very little. I can't see the point in spending any more of our limited resources on them which is certain to be to the detriment of the teaching quality for the A+ students. Putting it kindly, the A- students are not academically inclined. Ideally SISP would be able to offer them vocational training but it's proved impossible - we don't have the money or the time. As it is, these kids are doing negligible work in the classrooms in the mornings. In the afternoons some do "work" in the craft workshops - only they chat and disrupt rather than work, despite the best attempts of the coordinators. As I say, I'd kick them out. In my opinion we're doing no favours keeping them at SISP, other than keeping them from sitting around at home doing nothing. However, the management team are more caring than I am and take a softer approach. I lack compassion.

Right... my day starts at 9am with an hour's computer tuition for one of the craft workshop coordinators.  She's my age and is entering November's production figures into a spreadsheet.  She's done this every month for the last nine months but still struggles. I suppose that she's lived without technology for so long that this is all a bit abstract for her.

Then there should be a welcome cuppa and a sandwich at 10am. The cook has been in the kitchen since 9am so you'd expect it to be ready on time, wouldn't you? It rarely is. There are twenty minutes before the classes start and ten minutes have already passed. So we have 60 or so noisy, hungry kids, running around, creating merry hell. I go to find out why it's so late. The cook is just sitting there, ostensibly preparing lunch. The tea and bread are ready but she tells me that none of the students has been to collect them, and the woman just shrugs her shoulders and can't be bothered to take any initiative. Fortunately, before I blow my top, some older students arrive and carry the tea and food up to the hall. The kids now have less than 10 minutes in which to queue up, drink and eat before the bell goes.

Up in the hall there are still the decorations from Sacrifice Day two weeks ago. It's the same old story - if someone thinks to put them up, no one thinks to take them down. Meanwhile they get destroyed. I remove a string of tatty flags, screw it up and put it in the bin.  Within minutes it's out and being pulled over a table-full of tea and sandwiches... somehow again I manage to not go berserk.

The computer lab is really an area at the far end of the dining/assembly hall, which has been sectioned off by some movable wooden screens.  Then there is an area for A-Group classes with three blackboards separating it from the main hall. At lunchtime the heavy/awkward blackboards have to be moved, and the chairs have to be taken out of the computer lab and classroom for sitting at the lunch tables. The chairs and tables already in the hall have to be rearranged too. I cannot recall a single day when anyone has moved the chairs or blackboards of his own volition. Not one. They always have to be told. And this is a task that needs doing every single day. Then at the beginning of classes, as now, the boards and chairs have to be moved back again, usually achieved by dragging them screetching across the tiled floors.

There is no sound-deadening between A-Group, the hall, and my computer lab, and the dividers are only half-height. Consequently we suffer from noise pollution. And it's self-perpetuating - if outside is noisy then my students have to shout to be heard, causing the outside students to shout even louder....

My timetable shows that I have one lesson in the morning, but two teachers haven't turned up today and I have to teach in the periods I'd hoped to use to prepare lessons. Consequently, nothing is prepared, and I have to improvise. This happens often, but somehow or other I've managed to never come unstuck, or at least not badly. At worst I might forget that the youngest kids have the attention spans of gnats (hmm ... perhaps gnats actually have good attention spans, but you know what I mean!) and I might try to teach them for 60mins rather than 30mins of computer and 30mins drawing or reading. Normally I take a register and record the activities for every class and that helps my aging memory in continuing tasks already in progress or avoiding duplicating stuff.

Three mornings every week I have free first periods.  On paper, at least.

OK, so that's Monday morning out of the way.  Now lunch.  Guess what?  It's EFFING late EFFING AGAIN!  The kids are champing at the bit, fighting and running around like half-crazed lunatics.  And have the blackboards been moved?  Guess!

 But be happy for me - feeling grumpy is good for me!  I'm not entirely convinced - perhaps I need to relax a bit more and be a bit more Indian.  These problems are my problems, not theirs!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Games and Fun in Kerala

As I sit here writing this, my Internet cable connection has failed and there's no mains power. A couple of hours ago we had a bit of rain so the outages are not unexpected, at least not by me in my corner of India.  What is unexpected is the rain. The months following the monsoon are usually dry, as they were last year and the year before, but this year the monsoon didn't really happen and we've been having occasional unseasonal downpours instead. Other than the loss of connection I don't mind too much but the rain must come as a nasty surprise to the tourists who've now started to arrive in significant numbers.

I'm pleased to say that no more water has been coming out of the power sockets!

It's my afternoon off and I've actually just returned from a meeting with a couple of tourists down on Kovalam Beach. They are supporters of SISP, the organisation I work for, and I wanted to ask them if they'd mind if the money they'd recently donated was spent on something other than what they had requested.  They didn't mind at all and, in fact, added another £200 to their £150 donation. Nice folk!

We've now come to the end of two weeks of exams and team games. Thank God it's over - it was exhausting! But not as bad as last year, I'm pleased to say, and at least the chaos felt a little more organised this time.

As an incentive to do well in their exams, the marks the children achieved were added into their team's results. I'm not convinced the ploy worked. Anyway, I was in the 'Hunters' team and, like last year, it's teams like mine which generously allow others to come first, second and third ;) Despite my protestations, I was roped into doing three of the team games: chess, tug-of-war, and relay sponge. Surprisingly I won the first game of chess but I think my opponent's non-appearance may have had something to do with it. In the follow-up game I was annihilated! My team came second in the tug-of-war and I didn't fall over or get dragged along the ground like last year, so that was some kind of success. And in the sponge relay, where you fill a bottle with the water from a sponge, my team triumphed, but only after a false start because my bottle had holes in it. Subterfuge has not been ruled out! All in all it was good clean fun and kids of all sizes enjoyed it, including this one!

We have fifteen PCs at SISP. Eight are used by students, two by social workers, two for accounts, two by management and one by teachers.  They all run MS Windows XP (unlicenced), MS Office (unlicenced) and Photoshop (you guessed it), and other software. At least thirteen of them have viruses. Because the MS software is cracked the Help features don't work. Because XP doesn't have the latest service packs applied it is (presumably) more fault prone.  And because the Antivirus software (AVG) is free it gets blamed by the system retailers for all the crashes and breakdowns that we have. Or it's the extra-noisy mains power in Kovalam, the dust, the salt-air, powering-off before properly shutting down... whatever.  Rarely does a day go by when we don't have at least one PC out of action, and we have no spares. One of the problems is that volunteers here use USB pen drives to work in Internet caf├ęs and to carry their work (plus viruses) to SISP.  Or students use memory cards from mobiles to transfer music files (plus infections) via USB adaptors via our PCs, while others sometimes pop dodgy MP3 disks into the disk drives. It's a nightmare! And we can't repair or reinstall because we don't have any of the 'original' cracked software disks ourselves, so we have to wait several days for the technicians to arrive, then often several days more for a fix.

I would like to move to a Linux distribution (like Mint), OpenOffice and Gimp etc. At least then we'd be legal, more virus resistant, and have the disks ourselves. I use OpenOffice on Vista on my personal laptop and find it's excellent.  But no one else has confidence in the move, and finding someone to support it after I eventually leave SISP might be tricky...