Everyone rose early and breakfasted, and the girls were escorted to school. Once they had gone, it was my turn to go to school. On the way we stopped at an apartment where a workshop had been set up with a sewing machine in the main room. However, I learned that cooking was more popular than sewing, and I was shown a cupboard full of jars of many different kinds of pickle. Some ladies had asked for help to earn their living, and so this project had been set up, making and bottling pickles to sell. They are expected to sell well in the run-up to Christmas.
Next it was off to the first school. A truly heroic head teacher, J, was supervising a small team of teachers and classroom assistants educating 70 children in a 3 bedroom apartment. Please pray for this school. They are doing an amazing job, educating children to National standards. Today some were doing revision and some were doing internal exams as preparation for the external exams they will be doing later in the academic year. But some of the neighbours are not happy about a school in the apartment block, and J had been shaken by a torrent of abuse from one of the neighbours shortly before we arrived. The landlord has increased the rent by more than for the other apartments in the block, which is also making things difficult for the school. J asks us to pray for better relations with the neighbours, but also that larger, more suitable premises will become available for the school.
A couple of students were pointed out to me who have undiagnosed learning disabilities and I arranged to meet them individually with their class teacher in the afternoon. Of which more later.
After this we went to the Bengali Basti slum area, which many of you will remember was ravaged by fire earlier this year. As a result many families have moved to the other side of the road but their children still cross the crazy dangerous road to come to school. School is a framework of bamboo poles covered in corrugated tin, overseen by B, another wonderful young lady. Today was pleasantly warm with temperatures in the upper twenties, but when the temperature hits the forties in the summer, it must be unbearable inside.
I have been asked several times today if I was shocked – people thought I ought to be, and maybe I should. I don’t feel I saw anything unexpected today, though. I’ve taken an interest in the work in this area for a long time, and I’ve seen the pictures Karuna Action have posted of the Bengali Basti, and so it looked as I expected. I saw impish children and earnest students at work today – some things are the same the world over. I do, though, have the most profound respect for teachers who are accomplishing miracles in the hardest working conditions imaginable.
Inside the school building, 12 students sat cross-legged on the floor in 2 classrooms taking a written exam. In the other two classrooms younger children were being taught. This again is a school in urgent need of new premises. They would like to be able to provide a lunch for the children, but with no running water they have no means of cooking or washing up, so they are restricted to giving them snacks. A possible building has been identified, so please pray that everything works out smoothly.
This afternoon I went to the church building and wrote some notes on diagnosing learning disabilities and on strategies for teaching and learning with disabled children. My own knowledge could only take me so far, but a laptop was made available for me to do some research online. By the end of it, I had a list of diagnostic questions, some information on teaching strategies with slow learners, some material on writing social stories, some useful teaching strategies, and information on writing and implementing SMART IEPs. Teachers will know what I mean by that – Individual Education plans can be written for children with additional needs, setting SMART goals for them – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-limited. I’m hoping to help some of the teaching staff to do this for some of the children I’ve met today.
I looked up from the computer to a pleasant sight – the pizza delivery man bringing lunch. Among all the things I’m loving here, the food is definitely high on the list – again tonight the girls here cooked a really delicious dinner.
My first student was J, a girl who had no education until she was 16 and a traumatic background of abuse. She speaks and can now write her alphabet, but beyond that, can’t read or write. She seems incapable of remembering any instructions she is given. It’s hard to know what will help this student – for children with cognitive disabilities early intervention is often a key to success, and so a window of opportunity has been lost. Very cleverly, rather than put her in a class with far younger children, or in a class of her own age where she’ll be laughed at, they have made her a teaching assistant in the nursery class, in the hope that she will imbibe what the nursery children are learning. It seems to be working – I saw some maths work she had done today, and it showed that she had picked up what I saw the nursery children being taught.
The nursery class teacher is one of the girls from the home – she teaches the children by day and studies at home in the evening. She wants to train as a teacher. I think she will achieve it – she seemed a natural today, with lots of eager hands going up every time she asked a question.
The second child I saw was R, a small boy who is very bright, good at maths and fond of books, but his behaviour in school is a problem. It quickly became apparent that he ticks most of the boxes for a classic autism spectrum condition. That is the area where my own knowledge is most secure, and I feel sure I’ll be able to pass on some useful behaviour management strategies that will be helpful.
Next I was introduced to a little girl, N, who appeared to be about 3, had just started to walk, and doesn’t yet speak. I was surprised to learn that she is 8. She was a tiny premature baby and has serious health problems. Teaching her is going to be a challenge, but I thought back to how we used to break down every learning task into its tiniest components for Ellen and teach her to master them step by step. I hope this approach will help her to make progress, because her guardian couldn’t name anything she has learned yet in school, other than to become a bit more sociable with other children.
So – lots of challenges, and I feel that at best I may be offering sticking plasters for broken limbs. But then I remember that I’m here along with One who could use a handful of bread and fish to feed 5,000 men and their families, with twelve basketfuls left over. So I offer Him the little I have and trust Him to multiply its effect beyond anything I could hope to achieve.