Volunteering in Nepal: finished teaching English at the CBIA

A week ago, before the start of the exam period now, I was still teaching four classes a day to the second, third, fourth and fifth grade. I already mentioned this in a previous post, but there is one thing I should also mention here because I had never expected I’d ever be doing it. When I taught them English during the last days before the exam period I sang a song, ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’, and had the class sing it sentence by sentence after I did. They did quite well with pronouncing it, and because they liked the activity more than writing sentences or something else it also helped with keeping the level of unrest in the class low. Two days later I tried ‘I gotta feeling’ by the Black Eyed Peas because it was one of the songs recommended for use by a Spanish teacher of English on her website which I found through Google. I felt silly doing it because getting the rhythm with this song was harder, but it wasn’t a failure.

I’ve already made some remarks about the level of English of the schoolchildren at my school, but the education system here continues to surprise me. The Dutch women from Heiloo recently wrote on their blog they noticed a child in the school writing ‘I go to the toilet’, with a Nepali teacher then ‘correcting’ the sentence to omit the indefinite article ‘the’. No wonder I noticed the children I’m teaching writing ‘I go to zoo’. The training of the teachers really leaves something to be desired.

These errors in English show up in many different places outside the school as well. The official health warning for smoking you see in a lot of places where they sell cigarettes is ‘smoking is injurious to your health’. On some restaurant menus I noticed they write ‘milk schack’ instead of milk shake or ‘posed egg’ instead of poached egg.

The most extreme low point regarding mistakes made in English is that not only the English books used by the students contain mistakes, but some teachers also made mistakes in composing the exams the students have taken this week. For example ‘the peacock mocked at him’ or ‘Ploughing brings lower layer of soil to ‘. Patrick, a volunteer from New Zealand who has been living here for years, was annoyed by this because he asked all the teachers to let him proofread their exams. He noticed mistakes in past exams as well, but not all teachers submitted their exams to him. Fortunately there are also teachers which do not make these mistakes when they write exams, ironically they were the only ones to let Patrick proofread their exams.

Nevertheless, because only English is spoken in the school (except for a few Nepali songs during the morning assembly) the level of English is quite high compared to Dutch schoolchildren. In the Netherlands dual language education is the exception rather than the rule, but in Nepal it’s the other way around.

As an invigilator during this exam period I had to explain to students that their exams contained mistakes. They also ask a lot of questions during the exams, most of which I and the other teachers refuse to answer because they shamelessly ask you to give away the answer to the question. Because of the lack of space many students have to take their exams in the hall, which is not a room but merely a space outside some rooms covered by a roof. With the temperatures here sitting in the hall is not a problem, but due to the limited amount of benches and space students sit practically next to each other. This is an ideal environment for cheating and talking and as an invigilator it’s primarily my job to prevent that.

The exams started on Sunday 20 March and will stop at the end of Monday 21 March. Exams are taken from 10:00 until 13:00, after that I spend time on teaching a small group of students who need more help. At least, that was the plan. On the first day due to a communication error they had left already because they arrived earlier than I was told and found no one to teach them. The second day I was told that it was not possible to teach because there were no students who needed tutoring anymore because they already had their English exams, or something like that. At that day I tried to make the best of it with some bored students who were hanging around in the school and did some small English exercises, I played hangman and a word game with them.

The next day all I could do together with the Dutch women from Heiloo was tutor a few students who needed extra preparation for their mathematics, physics and ‘social’ classes. My knowledge of these subjects is quite rusty since it has been such a long time I had them myself in high school, and in high school I chose a profile (we can choose from four profiles which focus on different subjects in the later years of high school) which didn’t focus on these subjects. I tried to understand their physics book and example exam questions they gave me, but I didn’t have a clue.

The Dutch women fared better than me because they just finished high school a year ago with some of them having specialized in maths and physics, but even they don’t know what to do with the ‘social’ subject, which concerns questions like the population of Nepal, the mother of Buddha, etcetera. It’s very centered on Nepalese culture so you can’t help students effectively with it if you don’t know much about Nepalese culture.

Just like the Dutch women I’m disappointed I can’t tutor English during the exam period, tutoring English is how we can contribute best at the school if you ask me. Being invigilator is something which might just as well be done by a Nepali person, and it doesn’t give me the feeling that I’m utilizing my unique skills. On the second day the job became a little bit more attractive to me because I turned it into a game to catch the cheaters and talkers, warn them and eventually send them out. But I’m merely doing it because I have no alternative work to do in the mornings now. I’m also disappointed that this was another surprise, because I was told by the vice principal that I could teach English the entire exam period.

Because I had and have nothing to do in the afternoon of the exam period for the past two days and the upcoming days, I decided to help out a teacher who works at the school, Pramod. I’ll discuss him in a separate weblog post which will follow.

The CBIA building

Some arrangement is going to be made for the school holiday which starts after Monday at the behest of the Dutch women, possibly giving them the opportunity to teach English to students during the holiday. Sugandha also told me that with the school holiday, I can’t work at the school in Kaskikot, the small village near Pokhara. Four days ago two Norwegian women arrived who also intended to go to Kaskikot and work there. Yes, one them has the stereotypical Scandinavian female physical appearence with blonde hair and blue eyes, which is quite nice. The most important fact is that they’re not Dutch.

They leave to Pokhara this Saturday (tomorrow) and I will be joining them. This might have accelerated my plans to leave for a different place in Nepal by a week, but it’s more fun if we can keep each other company. The four Dutch women can do all the extra classes here in Pepsi Cola after the exams, so I think I’ll be more useful in Pokhara where there are no volunteers (of VSN) at this moment.

The three of us go to Pokhara itself to work at an orphanage there rather than one of the smaller villages surrounding it. Teaching at the schools in the villages is not possible with the school holiday starting after the exam period. I’m not sure if I like this turn of events, I thought the opportunity to work in Kaskikot or another small village near Pokhara would have provided me with the opportunity to see the life in small villages in more remote regions, which would have given me an experience totally different from life in the busy capital city Kathmandu.

I’m not sure what is going to happen next, Sugandha still needs to hear at which host family I can stay and he is going to inform me of the possibilities later this afternoon. As far as I know the Norwegians can stay at the orphanage, but because there is no more room there I’ll likely stay with a host family. Both the orphanage and probably the host family as well are located in Lakeside, the tourist district near Pokhara’s large Phewa Tal lake. From everyone who has been there, both volunteers and Nepali, I hear only positive experiences about their stay in Pokhara, which is a lot nicer than Kathmandu with it’s smaller size and surroundings according to them. So I’ll probably be content with working in Pokhara itself as well, I’ll see what happens.

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