On New Year's Eve I finally got to bed at 1am, what with fireworks, texts and emails. But I woke early (5-ish) with the sound of some big engine outside. It went on and on - just a low but loud rumbling sound - and it turned out to be a large machine for making tarmac to repair the road. Making tarmac - tar and ground rock go in one end, it's all heated and churned about in a monster cement-mixer drum, and hot smelly (in a nice way!) tarmac comes out the other end. That's what they did all yesterday - a gang of workers and little 3-wheeler trucks whizzing about. They did the same in 2007 and will, no doubt, do it again in 2012. Preparation is not their strongest point - I notice that they've even tarmac'd over mud up the road! So not much sleep, and I woke even earlier today.
Apparently, on New Year's Eve, there was a staff meeting at SISP but I only got to hear of it by accident the day before. Why had no one told me? Anyway, I decided to spend the day with, as it turns out, some nuns. Yep, nuns! I'd been thinking that what I am doing at SISP is not as effective as it might be so I thought I'd go and see how Computing is taught elsewhere. I went to SFS School, which is where the neighbours' children go, and discovered it was run by nuns!
The whole experience was a bit of a revelation actually - the kids there were so well behaved. And polite. Bright and confident too, but not over-confident, if I can judge from a single visit.
Class sizes were up to 45 per teacher - and yet there are no discipline problems apparently!! The classes I saw had around 30 children each. It's a private school, costing parents Rs.450 a month per child. That's £6! No doubt there are other costs too, for books, uniform and transport. The parents value education and want value for money; there is big school-parent interaction, with the parents encouraging firm discipline (because it's always others' kids who misbehave).
The lab had 25 computers and when there was a power cut the kids didn't go crazy - they just sat, and chatted quietly, and waited for the power to return. Up to three kids per computer and yet the kids all worked cooperatively. Amazing! But I did notice one teacher using a small stick on one child's legs - not so good, but it wasn't excessive.
The lab was in a dedicated room with ceiling fans and air conditioning. All the windows were shut and dust sheets were over some of the computers - I didn't notice the dust problems we have at SISP. There were stools for the children, not chairs, so you could pack the kids in and they (the chairs!) could be dragged over the floor without making a screeching din. There were two large UPSs (uninterruptible power supplies) and a few computers were fed from direct mains. Because of the holidays the batteries of the UPSs had become discharged and were giving problems while recovering, but the kids just got on with it.
The nuns gave me lunch, a cup of tea, and a cup of coffee, and I had several long chats with the Principal - Sister Vincy. Turns out she had visited SISP - I remembered her coming and she remembered me - so I didn't need to grovel to get to see the lab or watch the lessons. She actually gave me a complete set of ICT text books which she'd been given as a publisher's sample. I've now browsed them - not wonderful, but I can get some ideas. Cool nuns!
New Year's Eve eve was spent alone. What did you expect?!
So today I've been mulling things over. I've decided that my work at SISP is not so easy because:
- Kids not well disciplined - chat, shout, fight, and are disrespectful, and there's no real ultimate threat since many parents don't care whether the kids go to school or not. Management is soft with them anyway, probably out of necessity, because these kids have hard enough home lives.
- Kids barely speak English and I speak no Malayalam I'm afraid to say. That's my own fault - I should have tried harder, even if I thought I might only be here a short time.
- Difficult planning a meaningful programme of work. A year ago, all of the kids were at exactly the same level - all beginners. The oldest kids have had to be brought up to speed extremely quickly but perhaps they're missing the fundamentals. It's difficult to teach theory - they don't understand the language!
- The classroom is noisy and there's noise from adjacent classes/activities.
- No real value is given to teaching Computing - it's like Art, a fill-in between Maths, English, etc
- I've had no school text books until recently. You can't buy them in the shops. Now that I've got them I find they're good for ideas but I can't use them quite as intended with one book per year class as SISP's kids are grouped by ability, not chronologically. We have six groups, mapping to Standards 1 to 10.
- On-line resources are geared to kids with on-line connections - which we don't have!
- On-line resources are geared towards the latest gizmo - Facebook, Twitter, "Web 2.0", on-line games, whatever. Sure, they have their place, but basic skills and understanding are more important IMO.
- And I'm not a teacher!