We are making progress in Nepali! Tisso does not in fact refer to a watch, but to the Nepalese word for “cold”. And it has been rather nippy this week! Houses are not insulated as at home and it is sometimes rather difficult to warm up… but that is without counting the improvised races in the playground with all the pupils, when the temperature is considered too low for working. In my class, it is the song “We are all all all horse riders” which has made us breathless : that is, me at least, as at 2,800 m you run out of puff quickly singing in French under the amused glance of 14 pupils!
This week has been entirely devoted to teaching and it is with pleasure that I have adopted the rhythm of the pupils. Here, school starts at 10 am, undoubtedly in order to give the pupils time to arrive from various areas. Generally, there are primary schools in the villages, but as of Grade 5 (12 years old), the youngsters are grouped together in the school centre. Some of them have to walk more than 1½ hours to reach Chaurikharka.
The junior classes, from the infant school to Grade 5, comprise 15 to 20 pupils, but as of the middle school it is more like 35 to 40 pupils who form a grade. Youngsters study here up to Grade 12 (18 years old) and then head towards university. For the majority, they will go to Kathmandu to study.
At the bell at 10am, the 350 pupils line up in the courtyard, according to class and from smallest to tallest. It is well organised, I can tell you! The lead pupil of the day takes the floor and sings the Nepalese national anthem, followed by all his colleagues. It is moving to see them sing out strongly this theme written after the fall of the monarchy in 2008, encouraging development of the country, gratitude for its beauty and unity of its inhabitants.
Just afterwards, another pupil speaks up on one subject or another, such as education or sustainable development. I have to admit I have a great deal of trouble understanding what is said – even when it is in English ! Ah ha, long live the Nepalese accent!
This gathering comes to an end with one of my preferred moments of the day : brain gym ! To a background of Nepalese music, we are all taking part in movements related to “body awakening”. Aurélien, during the tea break of the workers on the opposite building, makes fun of me and my approximate gestures: too bad, I like participating! Then, all the pupils go to their classrooms – in a line, if you please, and sing the class anthem while waiting for the teacher.
The day is divided into eight periods of 40 minutes and finishes at 16.05h. With my Grade 3 (10 years old), I start the morning with the reading programme. Just recently, particular attention has been placed on the capacity of the pupils to talk in English. The authorities are fully aware of the importance of mastering this language, particularly here in this tourist region. Nevertheless, the school still struggles to give the pupils adequate tuition. One of the reasons for this difficulty is the low standard of the teachers’ English. Having followed the government training, they have not studied in an English-speaking system (contrary to the private teachers) and it remains a bit difficult for them to catch up. An international organisation, Action for Nepal, helps to raise the standard by proposing a concentrated programme of reading for Grades 1, 2 and 3. Thus, we work on reading, writing, talking and comprehension during 90 minutes every day.
These are interesting moments with the pupils, since they are required for instance to explain their traditions and their ways of life. I discover their culture and their way of thinking. Sometimes, it is difficult to understand each other, but it is a very good exercise – for them as well as for me!
After reading, we work on maths and then I leave my place to the Nepali teacher. 40 minutes later, it is English that I work on with the pupils… By then, they are hungry and singing is something that keeps them motivated. And there we all are dancing to “Such a happy day” by The Monroes… It makes me smile to hear them still humming once the class has finished.
After lunch, I have a short pause during which I have my own lesson in Nepali (oh, yes !) with Sucila and I terminate the afternoon with social sciences. Imagine me teaching about the three heroes of the country in the 1800s: I can tell you I shall be unbeatable at the next game of Trivial Pursuit!
Here, the pupils are very (too) used to copying from the blackboard without really understanding what they are in the course of learning. Hence, when I ask them suddenly to share their knowledge, I feel they are a bit destabilised. After a week, I do however see that they are gradually understanding this procedure and I have to admit that I was very proud of them when they were able to present their three national heroes!
Aurélien has had plenty to do this week, from cutting and stocking planks to moving material about on the worksite. A whole pallet of iron bars and the future walls of the science lab had him occupied with numerous journeys back and forth!
The infant school building is in the process of being insulated, the work is going fast, so much for the better! They will soon be dismantling the temporary building that housed the Grade 3 class, from which we moved this morning. In no time at all, a mass of pupils came to the door to transport all the material towards the new classroom in another temporary building. A slight worry: the planned classroom was too small… What? No problem: just remove the separation panel ! 10 minutes later we had a magnificent double classroom, the children were delighted!
Apparently the absent teacher will be returning on Sunday: we’ll see, Nepalese expectations are sometimes a bit uncertain!
Many thanks for reading this rather long text and for your kind comments of last week: it is great to feel supported!