Beauty before brains
There is no wonder kids literacy levels here are shockingly low.
1/ Kids and/or their parents can decide if they want to go to school or not. Some kids aged 6 don’t go because they’d rather hang out at home or their parents want them to do household tasks. Some parents won’t let their tiny kids come to Carla’s English class.
2. At age 16, the only further education option is to go to a town an hour away every day (by boat, tuk tuk, then bus) to La Gomera and learn machinography – a big machine resembling a typewriter – for a year. After this time you ‘supuestemente’ (supposedly) can then work in an office. It seems crazy that they are not being taught real computer skills for the real world. In El Paredon, there are no formal, or semi-formal education opportunities, just learning how to fish, crab, agriculture, make roofs, from your family.
2/ At any opportunity, the school shuts. Two weeks ago, the entire school closed for 2 days as a 16 yr old student, Dayana, was in the regional junior beauty queen contest and the whole school (and us) went to support her.
Last week, the school closed because one of the teachers’ sisters’ husband was shot in the street in Sipacate. On Thursday, there were no classes because a teacher had a baby shower (a big event here involving different women putting balloons up their Tshirts and the soon to be mum pretending to feed a baby doll).
A few days ago, kids started leaving my class halfway through the lesson as one of the teachers was taking them to the beach, without telling me first. The next day, they left halfway through to take an exam. Having said all this, the kids have fun. School seems fun. There aren’t whistles or boring assemblies. Bullying doesn’t seem to be a major problem. Teachers have a laugh with their students. The boundaries are less defined. And life and education seem to be more mixed than back home.
It is tricky preparing a lesson, without any resources, then it getting shot out the window. But you just have to go with the flow. Most days, kids wander in and out of the class to buy snacks from the tuckshop – empanadas, juice in plastic bags, chopped mangoes, flavoured crushed ice, tacos. It is hard not to get influenced by this lazy approach, to be late, to be less conscientious. I need to get stricter, probably, but the good thing is they come, voluntarily, my core group of about 8 teenagers, and often other randoms who come and go, and they are starting to learn. And the Mayor has agreed to buy us some English language teaching books which we have ordered from Amazon and they are getting shipped to a contact in Antigua, who will bring them to us. That will transform our teaching here – no more ‘what shall I teach today?’ and desperately cutting out things from magazines. My adult night group are keen – a hotch potch mix ranging from the school English teacher to the local painter and decorator to two women who cannot even say hello in English. Again, this is not an easy group but we have fun and it gives me back a feeling of being useful, skilled, needed and seeing them improve and get confident is really rewarding. I am focusing on language they will need to become tour guides – names of animals, ‘you should wear a long sleeved top’, ‘don’t jump off the boat’.