VISIT TO HTOO CHAUNG VILLAGE
I got up at 5 am and met the daughter of the village vet who is also on the village development committee. We are already partnered with the village and they have two NEH laptops and a tablet for use in the village.
We took a taxi into downtown where we caught a minibus to the village. The minibus seated 19 people and was about half full at 7:30 am when we departed. After an hour, we reached a huge bus depot on the edge of town. Here there were many people waiting at the entrance and a huge glut of buses waiting to go to various locations. Some buses looked in better condition than others and I assume that those coaches will be making the longer journeys to the other states and divisions in Myanmar.
Ours seemed to be the only minibus, which meant that it was very simple to change bus with no danger of getting confused! There is a different driver’s license needed for the town and the highway, so this is the reason we switched buses and drivers. It seems that one bus and driver makes repeat journeys up and down the highway while the other makes the same repeat trips between the downtown depot and the highway bus station.
It took another 2 and half hours to reach Htoo Chaung Village, with one brief pitstop at a gas station to re-fuel and use the restroom. Here, each passenger received a complementary bottle of water to take on the bus. We arrived at Htoo Chaung and were dropped outside the small school which teaches a surprising 375 students and employees 30 - 40 teachers! This seems like a large number to me because there was only one long building and two smaller structures opposite.
The school grounds are small but neat. Before visiting the library, I was lead into the room next to that one which I believe was the grade 5 room. There was a table with a dainty white tablecloth and chairs behind it. Facing the table there were 3 rows of chairs. This room had a lot of the green and white posters that signify a government school. I don’t understand these posters, but I suspect they are something to do with the syllabus and the name/age/location of the school.
I met the headmaster of the school. It seemed a bit of a rarity to meet a layman in charge of a school as up to this point the schools that I have visited have been by and large monastic affairs with a monk as the principal. I was ushered to sit behind the table facing out to the rows of chairs, and the vet’s daughter took a seat next to me in order to translate. Seated in the front row were two of the school’s teachers. One was around 50 years old and the other was young, possibly straight from university.
The room soon filled up with another 15 young students who would be attending the training that I was here to discuss the possibility of. It was a little difficult for me to fully understand the situation, as the people in front of me were university students, and seemed not to want to be teachers when they graduated. I was told that I would have around 20 -25 students for training, all of whom would be teachers from the school. However, it also seemed to be the case that included in the 25 would be these 12 people in front of me.
I explained a little about what I intended to do, but being unsure of my exact target audience, I was a little at a loss as to how to describe the proposed training. The general level of English seemed pretty low and many of the villagers also seemed very shy. I think that the training here will have to be aimed more towards the English end of English with teacher training.
Although, as I have mentioned, I think that copying example curriculum and lessons are actually the best way to train teachers here initially because they have such little experience with active learning that it is hard for them to apply the knowledge. Of course, copying a taught syllabus is not the way to sustain teacher training in the long term. I want for the teachers to be able to create curriculum for themselves using the principles that I have taught and shown in training.
However, it is often said that the best way to learn is through doing, and the English of many of the teachers that I have met is low enough that teaching in 100% immersion would be hard for them to do. The temptation to use their native tongue is simply too great when their students are beginners and they are only upper beginner themselves! I am now thinking that if the teachers can teach the lessons that I teach to them to their students, they might be able to see improvements in motivation and ability which will ultimately lead the teacher to investigate other student-centered ways to teach.
I met my guide’s father properly and was then taken for lunch at their house. It is a concrete structure which he designed and built himself. The garden has a large collection of rose bushes in many colors which her mother sells to the local people. The rose bushes are ordered specially from Mandalay, and despite the best intentions to keep the colors in separate sections of the allotment, they inevitably end up as a bright patchwork of color! The family also has betel leaves growing, as do most of the villagers. They are harvested every 10 days or so when the leaves are big enough to wrap around the tobacco and other ingredients which go into the little packages that people compulsively chew here.
The village seems very peaceful and the weather here is considerably less humid than Yangon. My guide says that she returns here every weekend from her job as a software programmer in Yangon, and I can see why. There is significantly less noise and there is a wonderful breeze. The family owns a farm which the father runs. It has three large fish ponds, geese, ducks and a handful of cows; one of whom had just had twins when I visited.
It seems strange to have baby animals in November. Growing up in a farming village, I have been conditioned to associate spring with new life. Of course, the weather makes a significant difference and I can hardly expect animals to give birth here in April which is the height of the summer season when temperatures soar to 40 degrees Celsius! At 3 pm. the minibus called to say that it was en route from the next village, and 20 minutes later it pulled over on the side of the road to collect me and take me home to Yangon. It was an easy reversal of the morning journey, lasting around 3 hours.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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