In our village in Rakhine state, we have electricity for 3 hours a day. When I first visited, the power was on from 6 pm - 9 pm. It is now active from 7 pm to 10 pm.
Generally speaking, this has a huge impact on the way we are able to plan and run our lessons. Fortunately the supply is pretty reliable and there have only been 3 nights in total that there has been no electric at all. The time is a little more variable and sometimes we power down at 9 or 9:30 pm. We always get a warning flicker before the final off; a final fanfare of electric courses through the hand-laid wires before we are plunged into the darkness.
There was the day of the test for the Present Tenses when my flustered trainee came in 20 minutes late clutching a sheaf of papers. There was the day that we both frantically wrote out words to cut up individually after the printer decided it was not a suitable working day. There was the time that we had to read the lesson plan from the computer and the time we read from our phones. Then there was the time when the computer stopped working halfway into the lesson and we were left with no plan. There was the time we had to draw the test subject on the blackboard, twice, rather than print and copy the necessary pages for the students.
The monastery benefits from a generator. To run it for the time it takes to photocopy and print materials for two classes of 20 students takes 2 liters of petrol costing around $1 with current exchange rates. The head monk doesn’t always appreciate the generator being run for such activities as printing. Oil is precious and his students need the power later into the evening to study for matriculation exam of grade 11.
It is fair to say that the generator can slow us down and limit productivity in ways which I had previously taken for granted. It is hard to plan for lessons which may not have access to the printer.
My trainee normally plans lessons in the night. He charges his computer during the ration of electric and then as his family drifts to sleep, he carries a candle upstairs into his room and types away until the candle ceases to burn and he falls asleep. In the morning I check his efforts. I have to be quick at this because there is normally only about 20 minutes of power left on the device. The first time I was checking, I forgot about the battery and ended up unable to give feedback because we couldn’t see the plans due to the battery being too low. Now, I am more used to it, and either hurry up or transfer the document to my computer which inevitably has more battery as I sleep in the night. We tend to use the charging time to watch a film; we plan to use one to teach the past tense but I foresee some difficulties in keeping the computer on for the 2 hours it takes to run the whole film.
Tests are normally difficult. We have 30 students in total to test and so it’s difficult to re-create the same material that many times over by hand. The first day when my trainee ran in looking like he had committed a murder in a black and white silent film, it was a huge surprise to me. I later learnt that it was just copy ink from the rather unreliable photocopier that dares anyone who cares to try to use it at their peril.
There was the unenviable morning when we tried to print, failed and frantically copied out 20 pages of words which then needed cutting up individually so that our students could then put them back together to make sentences.
The printer completely gave up after about 3 weeks of me being in the village. Possibly from being over-worked I considered. The wire which connects the printer to the computer is rusted over and only works about 20% of the time with some persuasive wiggling to keep it in place. However, it was worked out eventually that the printer itself had become infested with small but potent insects which were keeping the ink tank from traveling back and forth as necessary. It works now. After evicting the temporary tenants.
The printer does not need the generator to run, unlike the sullen photocopier. Instead the printer is simply plugged into a battery pack which has been charging either from solar energy or from the night time electricity. Sometimes there is no power left in this small square and as often happens, it is fast deteriorating with time and the elements which are in no way conducive to the smooth running of electronics.
We do our best; sometimes we fumble in the dark, but we must always remember to follow the light and to never be afraid. More than occasionally we have to revert to plan B, or even E, but the students are retaining information and they are more engaged than ever before.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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