Today I met Sandi who was tasked with getting me to work on the bus in one piece and on time. From the Dagon centre, which is a brief walk from my front door, we caught the number 48 bus to the Shwe Baho hospital, a 30 minute ride away.
The local buses can be a bit of an adventure. They cost almost nothing though and are actually reliable once you know which route you need to take. For me, it is more complicated because I am unable to explain exactly where I need to get off. We took a second bus, the 181, which travelled across the bridge over the river and on to Thanlyin. The monastery is slightly after the main village, but I made sure to take note of the local tea shop and egg sellers so that I could make the journey unaided for subsequent trips. Although there are designated bus stops, the scheduling seems more free here, and so the bus came to a standstill right outside the lane leading to the school.
I had previously met three of my students when Van and I visited in July to set up the teaching course. All eleven of my students were on time and enthusiastic to start learning! This is the kind of attitude I love in my pupils. We started with an ice breaking game to get to know one another and for me to check the basic level of English and comprehension of instructions.
The teaching room is actually a computer lab. The monastery gives course in word processing and Excel to local residents on Thursdays. There are 12 computers and a projector. The whiteboard is attached over the window at one end of the room, which is beside an enormous hall where the 800 children attending the school have assembly and pay homage to the head monk who is the principle of the school. When he started the school 15 years ago, he had one building and around 100 children who came for classes. Currently, there are some 8 buildings which have been donated from Taiwan, Germany, and Japan to house over 800 children from Grade 1 through to Grade 8.
As we stood in a circle at one end of the narrow space, we were joined by the librarian monk and his tablet. He took photos and some video footage of what we were doing. At first, I feared that he disapproved of such frivolous activities for a group of adult learners. The typical education model here is lecture by the teacher and repetition by students. Myanmar students learn English grammar very well, but they are unable to apply that knowledge into a usable sentence. However, my students later told me that he is an ex-solider turned monk, which explains his stoic nature. The time went past quickly as we introduced ourselves and each other. After the ice breaker, we moved onto the topic of what makes a good or bad teacher. Unanimously it was decided that hitting children makes a bad teacher, as well as not enjoying the job or caring for the children. Corporal punishment is still something which very much exists in Myanmar schools. Even in the adjoining assembly room there are four teachers who patrol the aisles with a long wooden rod for correcting misbehavior.
The return bus journey passed without comment or anything remarkable, which as I learnt from later journeys is the way I prefer it! After we got off the bus, Sandi flagged down a taxi to return for an afternoon of work in the office and I felt very enthusiastic about the warm reception and general atmosphere of my class.
My students have a low level of English, which means that teacher training will have to be put on hold as I need to improve the English ability of my teachers before they are able to teach. I know that it is simply a different method of instruction. I will teach the teachers the activities which they can then use in their own classrooms. It might be slightly more mechanical than I would prefer, as usually I like my students to use my lessons and instruction as a platform for which to create their own activities. I do firmly believe that leading by example is very important when it comes to teacher training, and I am expecting good things from my first class in Myanmar.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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