1– 15 February 2016
THE TREK IN
Our trip to Batase started with a 2-day trek to the village from Kathmandu. Chloe and I were escorted by Phulmaya and Anil along a jungle route through the National Park that hadn’t be done by Take on Nepal before. I enjoyed the walk although I found it challenging because I chose to carry my own pack. The monastery near the start of the walk was the highlight for me. Staying the night at Chisapani was also very nice, although the earthquake damage there was disturbing. We arrived in Batase in early afternoon the next day. Phulmaya and Anil did a great job guiding us, even though Phulmaya hadn’t been this way before.
The school was bigger than I imagined it to be, with about 250 students ranging from Year 1 to 9. I understand Year 10 will start next year. Total destruction of the original school by the earthquake last year means classes are now being taught in temporary timber and tin constructions with dirt floors. Classes run from 10am to 4pm to give the students from outside of the village time to walk to school. The teaching day started with an assembly where students were given instructions for the day and little quizzes and rewards to get them thinking about school.
It took me many days to work out the teaching structure of the day. English classes ran from 10am to 1pm so we were only involved in part of the teaching day. We would be told what class we were teaching and when. This could mean teaching English to any grade at any time. The students in each class had English text books for their grade level. While these were useful, they were often from other countries and the materials weren’t very relevant to Nepalese life. As English teachers we are taught that lessons are far more effective if the students can relate to the material. However this is a problem that can’t easily be fixed so the teachers must work with what is available.
For my classes I would get each student to read from the text so that I could hear their pronunciation and identify any weaknesses. I would then give a lesson on fixing those weaknesses, whether they be problems with pronunciation, vocabulary or grammar. If there was time I would try to end the lesson with a competitive game to add some fun. The students liked this. They love to compete with each other.
I enjoyed the teaching and the children were well behaved and interested in learning. The teachers showed an interest in learning as well and it would be useful to be able to fit an English lesson into their busy days. I would help with some of the teachers when I wasn’t teaching a class.
The other volunteers are trained school teachers and contributed so much to the school in both instruction for the teachers and resources. Jadhe and Madeline have been here before so they were furthering work they started previously. They identified class behaviour as a problem on their last visit and helped the teachers by introducing behaviour management. They also introduced a phonics program to help the students with their pronunciation. Chloe is a trainee teacher and this is her second time as well. Jess is a teacher and here for her first time. Bec is a professional photographer and videographer. She volunteered her time to produce a promotional video for Take on Nepal. She did a great job getting it all done before we left. Even these little productions take so much time and effort to produce.
On the final Sunday afternoon we had a meeting with the teaching staff to demonstrate how to use the new materials and methods introduced by Jade and Madeline. Its one thing to provide these extra resources but the teachers need to feel comfortable and confident with using the materials. I gave an explanation on what I was doing in the class and how they could use that.
OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM
For the volunteers, classes would finish around 1pm so this left plenty of time in the day to do other things. Phulmaya, Mane and Anil would find us places to explore. We spent many hours walking the hills and through the villages. Anil particularly was good to me, showing me around the village and explaining village life. And he was very interested in wanting to improve his English. We would spend time reading books in English. I also spent time with Mane and his book about cricket in Australia.
We got the kids playing cricket. Young Cebus (Class 3) had two cricket bats and a ball. I made some wickets out of bamboo and cricket became a feature of many afternoons. The kids loved it, boys and girls, and adults. Playing cricket on the side of a mountain has its challengers. Fortunately there were plenty of enthusiastic ball getters amongst the children.
After dinner there were often things organised. We had a couple of movie nights (including viewing the Take on Nepal video) and the kids from the hostel would come in and sing songs. Chloe brought marshmallows so one night was around a huge Mane-created fire, teaching the kids how to roast marshmallows. The hostel kids sang again.
A special mention has to go to the cook (sorry I’ve forgotten his name). The food was consistently fantastic. He managed to add variety to keep us guessing. We sat and it was all served to us. Fantastic!
The experience for me was a very positive one. I gained so much from teaching English to the different classes but I also loved experiencing and learning about Nepalese village and cultural life.
The teachers do a great job but they will admit themselves that they need help with their English and how to teach English to the students. Following the text books can provide some tuition but there is more that a teacher can do to engage the class and make the lesson more effective.
All of the volunteers identified pronunciation of English a challenge for the students. They are far more capable of writing English than they are speaking it. This can be traced back to the old style of teaching where we were taught that the letters of the alphabet make only one sound. Even the teachers would have been taught this way. Of course letters can make many sounds. Jade and Madeline’s phonics program should help with this.
We were all impressed and moved by how we were accepted by the community. The school treated us like royalty throughout our time there. We were not only invited to any community event that was happening, but given special status. At the end of our time at the school we were given a moving and respectful sendoff. You felt that the school really appreciated our efforts. Our welcome at the start was the same.
~ Angus McColl
© Take on Nepal 2021