Having come to Morning star school later than everyone else (I was initially at another school which was much bigger and better equipped) i was quite shocked at first by my surroundings. I was initially assisting a teacher in p1 (children aged about 6-10). My first lesson was maths and the teacher told me that they knew times tables 1 to 7. I quickly realised that they were learning numbers by rote and had no real concept of what they were doing, so my lesson became about getting them to understand what a 'group' was, and asking them to draw 3 groups of 2, and so on. After about an hour, some of them began to grasp it and by the end of the lesson, i think most of them did. What struck me during the lesson was the eagerness that the children had to learn. During the lesson, the only interruption was when one of the wooden desks which 4 children were sitting at, collapsed and trapped one of the boys inside it. It took myself and two of the other children to free him, but as soon as he was free and sitting on the bench again, everyone continued working as though nothing had happened!!! Some of the other children had no desk at all and seemed to be sitting on the sandy floor. No complaints from them though. When we tried to practice reading English, i discovered that they have no books or reading scheme and we ended up using a random book that one of the children had brought from home.
The following day, i watched the teacher conducting a maths lesson and noticed she was using the exact method i had used the previous day to revise it with them. I was ecstatic, and it was a sign that perhaps what we are doing here is relevant and necessary. After chatting with a few of the teachers, i decided to move to a different class, whose teacher has a young child that she brings to school and therefore needed an extra pair of hands.
So i moved to kg1 (children were about 5 or 6 but some were as old as 9). This was different to my first class in many ways. The children were much noisier, and had a much shorter attention span. This teacher also used caning as her main method to keep them under control, whereas the p1 teacher didnt seem to use a cane. I found this quite shocking and difficult, especially because she seemed to cane them harder when they cried more. Their tears were a sign of weakness and weakness is not really tolerated here. The teacher and i had several conversations about the disciplinary methods used in England. The teacher seemed interested in what we do and i was honest about it, although i tried to show respect for her culture. She then decided that she wouldnt cane them in front of me, although she threatened them many times, saying she would cane them when i wasnt there. This made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.
However now a few weeks have gone by and i feel like i have really bonded with the children in my class and with the teacher. I think she is beginning to see that although my methods take longer to work, ultimately they do achieve the same as the cane does. She has not made any threats in about a week and i see that as an achievement - she doesnt NEED to threaten them as much anymore because what i am doing is perhaps working to her satisfaction. I expect the caning will continue after i have gone, but i am (perhaps naively) hoping that something i said or did will sink in.
It does make me feel a bit helpless though. We can't change a culture while we are here, but maybe there is something more long term we can do when we get back to England. I hope so. Caning has definately been one of the hardest things i have witnessed since i got here and i don't think i will ever get used to seeing it.
Despite the hardships that i see the children facing, there is something wonderful about them that i will never forget. They have such an eagerness and willingness to learn (my class requested homework today!), a desire to please and an amazing respect for us. They battle ill health so frequently (a day doesnt go by when my of my children is off school with malaria) and yet never seem to complain. They gain so much pleasure from even the tiniest bit of praise, and always seem so appreciative. It really makes me realise how important it is for us to not only consider issues going on England, but to think about other countries and other religions and try and do what we can.