This week I have been to visit Gyandaya school in Okaldunga. This is our most remote school and probably our poorest in terms of finance. Getting there involves a 2 hour motorbike ride (only half of which is on pitch roads) and a 40 minute walk for the last part. Having no access to the village for vehicles is clearly difficult in terms of bringing in materials, communicating with the rest of the world or even obtaining emergency medical care. However, one compensation is the beautiful views of the surronding hills and blissful peace and quiet. There is a new road being built which will make life in the village much easier once completed.
I was welcomed very warmly by Manu, the English teacher, and Khum, who's family I stayed with for 4 nights in the village. After a quick lunch and welcome ceremony I was able to straight into teaching. I joined Manu for an English lesson where the topic was computers. The text book was quite horrendously dated, with lots of talk about floppy disks (kids, ask your parents what they are!), but the biggest problem of teaching this was that not one of the year 10 pupils had ever used a computer. I was able to show them my tablet, so they could at least experience a keyboard to help them relate to the material, but touch screen technology did not feature in the ancient textbook!
The pupils in all classes were very quiet during my first day. They are clearly not used to discussion and thinking questions, every time I asked them for an opinion I was met by long blank stares! But I kept persisting and after a few more fun activities the children did warm up to a bit of actual participation in lessons. It is important the teachers at the school keep this up and I have asked them all to ask the children 1 "big question" that requires an opinion in every lesson. If this is followed up I believe it will make a big difference to the children next time I visit.
The classrooms for years 2-5 are the poorest I have ever seen and completely unsuitable for teaching. The exterior is made up of corregated iron, which doesn't reach the floor or the roof. The separating walls are made from bamboo, with lots of gaps, and don't come close to the roof. The floors are mud with no covering. Inside the rooms is very noisey and can be really dark. I got the kids outside as much as I could, but clearly this can't be done all the time and school desperately needs new classrooms. They are in the process of building 2 new rooms, but work is currently stalled due to lack of funds.
The evenings in Okaldunga were amazing. The big speaker came out every night for an " Okaldung disco ", which meant lots of children (and a few teachers) dragging me up to dance to all manner of Western and local music. The unitended side affect of this was a large 'dance program' during my thank you assembly meaning I had to get up and dance to Justin Bierber with 2 year 5 boys in front of the entire school. Needless to say this gave all the children a very good laugh and is an experience I won't forget any time soon!
I really enjoyed my time in the village and there is lots of potential for the school to make great strides forward if they follow a few simple bits of advice, most importantly getting the children talking and thinking during lessons! I look forward to returning in a few months and seeing if the advice has been followed.