Last Friday I'd arranged to go to the Malapatha School to help out with the computing classes. I was looking forward to it and had twice phoned to confirm that I'd be coming. It's a small rural school with about 80 kids, grades 6 to 11, and they come from fairly poor backgrounds. Many of the parents make rough clay pots for a living, the type you see everywhere for containing curd/yoghurt. The school has decent computing facilities but the teachers need a little bit of training. Excellent, I thought. This is what I'm here to do.
When I got there the classes had all been cancelled, of course, and no one had bothered to tell me. Instead, the kids in every class were making lanterns for Vesak, and the teachers were mostly sitting about, doing not a lot, as far as I could tell. To be fair, they told me it's not normally like this.
I sat with the kids in the various grades for a while, chatting and watching them make their "atapattama" (literally 8-sided). The older children had found some bamboo, cut it down and split it, so each class had a length of split cane. The children then had sharp knives and bits of string, paste and tissue paper, and were fashioning lanterns without any guidance from the teachers. Even the youngest was happily splitting, chopping and trimming. They do the same thing every year at home and at school so I guess no guidance is needed, and they were surprisingly enthusiastic.
I talked with the teachers for a while, about integrating IT into their classes. The general response was "not a hope". The science teacher said that at best he had one free period a day in which to prepare and do admin, his curriculum was so thick and wouldn't allow deviation, the kids couldn't speak English and wouldn't understand, the timetable couldn't be altered to avoid clashes over the computers, the kids were being trained to pass exams and not trained to understand, and so on. But he wanted my phone number so that we could meet and he, sans class, could practice speaking English with me. The negativity is disheartening.