In this blog post, I’d like to share with you an experience that, in my opinion, is very valuable to know!
While here in Norway, I was very lucky to meet a very special girl who decided to devote 6 months of her life to teach to children in three Asian countries: Nepal, Vietnam, and Indonesia rotating 2 months in each country.
Her name is Nouk and she has just started her third project in Indonesia. I asked her to share her first experience, the one in Nepal.
It is important and also beautiful, in my opinion, to open up to different cultures, to different ways of living, different situations; it is a way to grow, learn, understand and open our mind to new horizons.
AN EXPERIENCE AT THE FOOT OF HIMALAYAS…
How do you teach English to children who can’t read, have any knowledge of English, and with whom you don’t share any common language?
For eight weeks, I lived in Pokhara, the second biggest city in Nepal, a very relaxed town with an amazing view of the Himalaya.
In Nepal, there are two types of primary schools: private and public. The private schools are mostly run by Nepalese people who have studied abroad for a number of years. Most of their classes are taught in English, and the children are grouped together based on their age. Children have to pass an admission test before they can enter, and monthly tuition fees amount to around one-fifth of the average monthly income.
Public schools, on the other end, are free of charge, accessible to everybody, and classes are grouped together based on educational level rather than age. The advantage of this educational grouping system is that they don’t have to reject anybody who wants to have a chance to go to school, and children can start school at different ages. The disadvantage is that some classes are simply enormous, reaching up to 80 children per class in some cases.
In both private and public schools, families have to buy a school uniform and books, in addition to paying for an exam fee. Because of the costs, not everybody can afford to send their children to public school. But for some families, if their financial situation eventually improves, it means that their children may be able to go to school at a later age.
I worked with some of those children who initially couldn’t afford to go to school. The center where I was helping out started a free-of-charge ten-month program to teach children the basics of English, maths and Nepalese to prepare them for public school.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, my understanding of a classroom was in no way comparable to the classroom I was facing on my first day at this center. Ten children aged between 7 and 13 were yelling and running around the room. They didn’t understand a word I was saying and even if I managed to get one or two children to pay attention to me, there were eight or nine other children doing eight or nine other things. Some of them knew how to multiply numbers and could read the alphabet, others could not even count to ten. It was impossible to teach them as a whole, they needed individual guidance. But I was alone! There was another Nepalese teacher, but she sat outside chatting and would only occasionally come into the room to create some order if the chaos of screaming children got out of control.
In an act of desperation, I visited a public school to find out what kind of future I was preparing these kids for. The public school teachers begged me to come to teach at their school. They didn’t care who I was or what my qualifications were. Just the fact that I was educated enough to speak English was sufficient. In Nepal, they don’t have higher education for primary school teachers. You just start working in a school and learn as you go. They are desperate, not only for people who can teach children but for people who can teach the teachers. I couldn’t help them, because I already had a class of my own. But I learned that teaching methods at the public school were pretty similar to the chaotic little class I was trying to help out.
In the end, I decided to toss everything I thought I knew overboard and went with the Nepalese teaching method instead: start as a blank slate and learn as you go. I stopped trying to create order in the chaos and focussed on the few kids who did seem to pay attention. Slowly, the kids who were more advanced started to explain details to the little ones who didn’t understand me as well. They started to take over part of my class by reciting words I’d written down on the blackboard. They would even correct the kids who weren’t paying attention and eventually got them to participate. After a few weeks, I found them using phrases that I had taught them. My little classroom became slightly less chaotic because of those few little heroes.
And when they start school in a few months, I’m certain that they will be successful at it.
Sometimes, the best way to teach in a foreign country is to just try to blend in, granted that you are lucky enough to have a few little heroes to help you out.
P.S.: A very special thanks to Nouk for sharing her experience and her photos!!!