With the grade 9 students, if the lesson is engaging, they are motivated to learn. They like talking to me and they are quick to copy phrases I use. They have been presented with a foreigner in their village, and their English textbook has essentially come to life in front of their eyes.
However, the teachers we are working with are in that tricky age bracket. They are young enough that they are still under the government of the head monk and their parents, yet they are old enough to be finished with school and to accept that they probably won’t be starting exciting new lives outside of the village any time soon.
In this remote society, rice farming is the only real occupation while the women become ‘good
housewife[s].' The monk tells the young teachers to learn, but they have no interest. Perhaps they think it is better to be chastised for not trying than to be seen to try yet still fail. As one student told me; “I get married [to] the boy in my village. We live together, yes, in my village.”
The head monk wants them to learn English. His motivation is clear; his school. He has admirably increased the pass rate of the final school exam in the area from 0% to 15% in the past 8 years, but understandably he wants to make quicker progress. He thinks that learning English will aid this progress process. There are many books and resources in English available to this generator-run, internet-less village.
After 2 months of being in the village, the students are beginning to warm to the idea that English might actually be useful to them. Three of the girls pop by once or twice a week to converse with me, including the one who stated her already forgone fate as a good housewife in her village. The faces during class, whilst not eager are no longer hostile.
The head monk is at once the motivation and the stumbling block. Without him there would be no school and there would be no chance of the teachers coming to class. However, on the flip side of that, those who did want to learn would be there under their own steam and we might find that they actually do possess some inner motivation for learning the language that still currently dominates the world.
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
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