This weeks blog is taken from a letter I sent to my friends at Marist College in Auckland, NZ. I wanted to tell them how life was going at the Marist school in Ranong. If you are a teacher, or you have a child in school or you went to school you may be interested in this!
The school day for Mike and I is long but nowhere near as stressful or as busy as life in Auckland. We arrive at school somewhere between 8:30 and 8:45 having negotiated the port traffic on our motor scooters…not my favourite mode of transport. We finish teaching at 6pm but have a good break in the middle of the day.
The school here is made up of four groups,
- The preschool and kindergarten which has three classes, 2 pre-school and 1 kindergarten. Students here are aged 4-6 years of age. When they finish here they go (hopefully) to one of the 11 learning centres for Burmese children available in Ranong. Some return to family in Myanmar to continue their schooling. Some are able to attend Thai schools.
- Years 1,2,3 & 4. Learning centres only teach students until they are about 11 years of age. Many go to work from here but some are able to return to MMR. They then have another 4 years of education, learning Burmese (the language of Myanmar), English, Maths, Social Studies, Science, Computer, Health, Music and on Friday afternoon there is sports!
- MMR offers a bridging programme for students hoping to go onto further education. Currently there are 17 students working on this and their focus is improving their English to an academic level. For some there is the possibility of continuing onto the diploma programme offered by Australia Catholic University(ACU). This class includes current students from MMR, 1 preschool teacher from MMR, teachers from other learning centres and people interested in further studies. Everyone on this course must be over 18. It is very rewarding teaching these students and watching them grow. They are SO KEEN to learn.
- ACU on-line students. ACU offer 40 places to Burmese refugees/migrants, most of these places are available to people in Mae Sot (N Thailand) where there are a number of refugee camps and only 9 are available here in Ranong. This opportunity is re-negotiated each year by MMR and ACU. These amazing students are working towards a diploma in Liberal Studies, they have completed papers on English communication, international development studies, intro to foundation of management, intro to human rights, global health, environmental change, intro to photography and professional development (teaching skills). This class includes 3 current teachers here at MMR and former teachers from other learning centres. Classes occur for 2 1/2 hours, 5 afternoons a week. This is an intense and full on course for these students, many of whom are also working. The youngest person on this course is 18 and the oldest is 38. Working with these people is the best part of my day. Click the links below to see the story of some of the ACU students we are teaching, hint: you may need tissues.
Kyaw Naing’s Story http://www.maristthailand.org/2014/04/collecting-rubbish-university-studies/
- In total there are about 160 students attending classes at MMR.
The school day starts with the Years 1-4 (12 -18years old) gathering to raise the Thai flag, this is followed by 10-15 minutes of meditation which all students participate in. Then it is off to class.
The preschool and kindergarten rooms are colourful and lively. Students are thriving in this happy and safe place. Their day includes a nap after lunch and in the heat I often want to join them. The cuteness factor here is very high.
Years 1-4 is an interesting mix. Mike and I are teaching English to two Year 1 classes. The students in our two classes range in age from 11-18 so there is a range of maturity levels in each class. There are also more girls here than boys. Most students are keen to learn and are aware that education is their ticket to a better life, however, like teenagers everywhere they are easily distracted. Lots of laughter occurs in these rooms but this does not take away from the sadness of the life some of them live. One of our students is a very sad young person who experiences verbal and physical violence at home, another has just returned from burying his father in Myanmar.
The school has a computer room and a library, both are well used. The library is also available for parents to use. The staffroom and online room has air conditioning. Guess where we spend most of our time?
We are also teaching the Bridging Programme and the On-line ACU students. While I knew I was going to be teaching academic English I had no idea I would be teaching Blooms Taxonomy and the finer points of 21st century learning and how this will work with the Education Law Reform that came into place in Mynamar in 2014.
We have been out on the school bus to and from school and seen where some of the students live. Some are in factory compounds where workers are provided with accommodation (at a cost) this is typically one room made of concrete. Much of the housing for Burmese is terraced and is made up of only a few rooms, usually with running cold water and electricity. Conditions are very basic. Some families have a motor scooter but many only use a push bike. This naturally limits what families are able to do and where they can go although it never ceases to amaze me how many people can get onto one scooter or bike. The roads around many homes are dirt roads and in this weather they are very dusty. Ranong is the wettest place in Thailand with rain falling for over 8 months, so these roads are sometimes muddy and dangerous. There are dogs everywhere, many of them wild but most are not vicious, probably in part due to the Buddhist belief in the importance of feeding these animals (karma).
How is it different? The teaching itself is the same, student centered but class sizes are about fifteen. The room has painted concrete walls and a tiled floor. Everyone takes their shoes off when entering the classroom and the floor can be quite cooling first thing but they are warm by mid-morning. We have a small whiteboard and a very limited supply of whiteboard markers. The big difference is in the resources available. There is a photocopy machine that is new but slow, it is hard to access any art supplies. Things I buy for my department by the dozen, scissors, glue sticks, marker pens, packs of paper are scarce here. The other big thing I notice is the surfaces that people are working on are all hard. The sports field is made of loose stone and preschool floors are concrete. No-one is bothered about falling down and when they do they just get back up. Students share their chair with their school bag. It is seen as disrespectable to the books to put them on the floor near your feet. Burmese people will also not sit on tables.
Friday afternoon is sports time for Years 1-4, it is not compulsory but almost all students participate. Boys and girls play separate games. There is nothing gentle about the sports and the students are competitive and enthusiastic. Many of the teachers join in and this time is marked by laughter and cheering. The sports equipment donated by Marist College has been put to very good use.
Students here are affectionate towards one another and show genuine respect for their teachers. One sign of respect is to ask your teacher how old they are, the older you are the more respect you have. So we consider ourselves fortunate to be older! The work being done here is truly Marist, it is feet on the ground, meeting the needs of the people where they are at. The students are known and loved, here is an example, on our first Friday night in Ranong four boys from Years 1-4 were on the school grounds playing football (everywhere in Ranong boys are playing football) it was about 7pm and dark, they were arrested by the police for being out with no ‘papers’. The students contacted their principal who along with one of the Marist Fathers went to the police station, got them and returned them home. If their parents went to the police station and also had no ‘papers’ then there would be more issues. We also go out with our ‘papers’, a photocopy of our passport, visa and our international drivers licence. Mike has been stopped once by the police. The lives of these children is quite insular in some ways. Being a Burmese migrant in Thailand, whether you are legal or not, often means that you stay close to home. Transport issues, finances, ill health etc restrict much of what they are able to do. Also, no parent wants their child picked up by the police. The Marist Fathers are making a difference to each of these students and their families. It reminds me of the starfish story, they can’t help all the Burmese children in Ranong but they are helping these ones.
While life here is not for the faint of heart, I am truly glad we have come. We seem to be continually processing what we see and learn and I do know that we are changed for the better. An experience such as this helps you see life from a different point of view. I hope we don’t lose this sense of wonder and awe that we have right now.