Sunday, 25 July 2010

Exploring Future Possibilities Here

OK, well, I'll get straight to the point of this blog post. Which is that I'm seriously thinking of staying here in Sri Lanka another 6 months. Friday, certainly the day before, I would have said No Way José, absolutely not, but I've changed my mind. I need to sleep on it a little bit more but there's a good chance I'll go for it.

So, why this sea change? I'm not 100% sure! If I lay out my thoughts then maybe I'll begin to know what I'm thinking:
  • Sri Lanka - it's a beautiful place, of course, but I am here to do a job. Like India, the place is not so important to me.  Having said that, I do want to see more of the island and I'm aware that time is ticking away.
  • Everything is available here though it can sometimes take a while to find. Services are a lot better and population density is a lot lower.
  • It's a whole lot quieter, less polluted, and cleaner than India.
  • The people on the whole are friendly, smile hugely, are curious, have a go at communicating with me, especially prefer the British, but Sri Lankans are not to be trusted, apparently. Those last are not my words - I've been told them often enough, even by Sri Lankans themselves. Maybe it's a hang-over from the civil war.
  • Some locals seem suspicious of what I'm doing or why I'm doing it. I ignore that and do what I do.   
  • There are touts (= solicitors) who sidle up to you and casually ask how you are, where you're from, where you're going, what you're doing, all the time with an eye on your wallet. And there are others who are simply being friendly. You just have to be aware.  It's not a big problem.
  •  I pay for the colour of my skin, but it's not excessive.  
  • ASL, the organisation I work for, appreciates me.
  • Sri-Lanka doesn't FEEL like there's no money about. I wonder if the poorly-equipped schools is more a case of mismanagement rather than lack of money. Do I want to help people who won't help themselves?  Or maybe they can't?
  • There's no abject poverty that I've seen. I'm a bit uncomfortable about this - I would rather be working with the poor and trying to improve their lot.
  • I have done three months and have two and a half months to go. I haven't achieved a lot so far. I've only just started teaching the teachers for example. Sure, I've got this thing rolling, but I'd be happier if I saw results. Having said that, I know that I'll never achieve as much as I'd like to.
  • I'm not teaching children. I really miss that. I'm teaching teachers and am hoping they'll pass what they've learnt on to the kids, but I miss being with all those blank canvases, open hearts, trusting, eager, lively little souls. Or the older ones who are starting to make progress and just need a bit of direction. Am I looking at this with rose-tinted spectacles? Probably! They're not all angels, I admit, and some are a real challenge, it is quite hard work, but give them the right environment, encouragement, opportunities, and not stressing when they don't jump through the artificial hoops a teacher can create, the progress that they achieve, it all adds up to making teaching kids a real pleasure. And when they learn from you and then start teaching you things - that's so unimaginably rewarding! Then there's the hugs... But as I say, right now I'm not teaching children.
  • I really miss those SISP children I taught in India. I look at all their photos and get nostalgic. I keep wondering if I might surprise them (and myself!) by going back there.
  • Sri Lanka is more expensive than India. Although I upped it, I'm struggling to keep within my budget. The unexpected dental work (another appointment next week, folks!) didn't help. I can easily afford to continue right now - it's just that it affects the future. I'll have to monitor it, and perhaps not buy Kellogs Cornflakes!
  • The team I work with here are good. I don't need to elaborate - there are no problems on that front.
  • I feel I'd like to work in Cambodia. The people are reportedly very friendly but teachers, librarians, academicians and others are in short supply because old Pol Pot knocked them off. It's a poor place in many senses, and rich in others. I might be able to do my little bit to help but haven't found anywhere from my Internet searches just yet and time is pressing. 
  • I think I'd be better off in Sri Lanka than in Cambodia if I ever needed medical attention, and there's reason to think that I might.
  • When I eventually quit Sri Lanka for the UK at the start of October when my visa runs out I would need to get somewhere abroad by the end of October. Living in the UK is not cheap.
  • Getting a further visa extension for Sri Lanka would be unlikely and very expensive, I'm told.
  • I try to be organised but it's difficult.  Teachers keep changing their appointments, turn up early or late or not at all. Some teachers appear out of the blue. I get names confused. I mix up schools.  I can't hear or pronounce either. I forget who's achieved what. These guys don't always have control over their punctuality - it's not always their fault if they're early or late. I know I can't please everyone but I also know I could do better.
  • The classes with their very mixed ability are difficult to manage, but I can't regroup as some teachers can only come on certain days at certain times with certain others. But maybe I could re-group a little.
  • The school hols are coming up which shortens teaching time and I'd like to take a couple of weeks off. But it might be a possibility to work with keyboard and mouse-challenged teachers during the time I'm here.
Here are some other factors:
Opposite my office there's a large modern primary school. During school hours I can see the kids' heads just above the window sills.  In the mornings I see them coming into school, and at 13:30 I see them waiting and leaving in their buses, tuk-yuks, vans, or on the crossbar of their dads' bicycles. They have no computers or IT teachers at the school and they're not in ASL's twinning scheme.

Last week I was discussing visas with the senior managers at ASL. I had understood that getting a further extension would be unlikely and expensive. I hadn't realised that if I go back to the UK then the clock is effectively reset. And going back to the UK to see family and friends for three weeks every six months is in my master plan.

Despite the chaos, all teachers (apart from two) have thanked me for helping them - they have learnt things in my classes they tell me.  That's rewarding!  And those two have their own agenda, literally. They expect me to fix, or to answer, their list of immediate problems. Unlike all other teachers, they've been given release from school to come to my sessions in the mornings.  All other teachers are coming in the afternoons in their own time but these two say they are too busy then.  They've been given permission to come only four times and I've already spent one of those times doing something not on their list - showing them web browser and search engine options, how to change the home page, how to bookmark and put bookmarks on the toolbar. How to search effectively.  I worked really hard on them, to the detriment of the other teachers there. But they just wanted to be spoon fed with answers or facts.  They don't realise that I'm trying to equip them with tools to help themselves.  One of them - the IT teacher - just spent the whole 90 minutes yawning and I don't think she was tired. It's disheartening but I haven't given up.  I'm going to continue doing what I've been doing but get them to search for the answers they need on the Internet.  Maybe it'll work but I've heard these two are quite lazy.  We'll see.

During the week our office was visited by a Canadian organisation.  They have a small twinning scheme and they also supplied a load of computers to a guy for free use by schools.  This guy turned it into a commercial enterprise and kept all the proceeds.  I heard on Friday that the Canadians are pulling the computers out and donating them to the primary school across the road.  Thud! The penny drops - that could be a very convenient opportunity for me!

My very last group of four teachers on Friday was an above-average group. There was an IT teacher who had never used the Internet before but was keen enough and she came with a really first class English teacher who had used email before but not much else and was very enthusiastic - she had turned up the previous week and was attentive and quick, and pleased with what she'd achieved. I set her to teach the IT teacher everything she knew.

The other pair were a very able English teacher and another IT teacher. The latter even taught HTML and wanted to design a school website!  I can do that but it's not in my remit and when I asked her if she needed support in any other area she said she didn't.  So I basically set them to answering some standard Internet queries I had knocked together as a kind of quiz. I thought I probably couldn't help her and she was visibly unhappy about that.  Just to check, I threw a few theory questions at her and she knew all the answers. So I thought I'd attempt to show her the options for building a website.  She'd used a crusty old version of Frontpage before but had never heard of Dreamweaver. She didn't know about Weebly, Wordpress, Joomla or Drupal.  She didn't know what a blog was or a wiki, CMS, FTP, Facebook or Twitter, Google Docs or even Google Images.  She'd hardly used the Internet at all, didn't know her email password and yet she taught HTML!  I set that pair to research blogs, wikis and Weebly on the web. One was helping with the language, the other with understanding of the technology and how it might be applied. When I stopped by a bit later her whole demeanour had changed!  She was excited to search and discover these new technologies for herself. She could see new possibilities opening up and how she could find out more. They were empowered and delighted!

Unfortunately, I felt I'd rather neglected the other pair, although when I checked they seemed happy with what they'd been doing. Getting one to teach the other had actually shown a few holes in their knowledge which I'll address next week. 

I thought about all this later, on Friday night and Saturday morning.  I need to confirm but ASL seem keen to have me for as long as I want to stay.  I can see a way of organising myself a bit better to manage the timetable. I think that getting a visa should be easier than I expected and maybe I'll be able to get the correct employment category this time, with ASL's help.  They may even be willing to pay for it!  I can see how I could work with children again by getting involved in the school across the road, and it shouldn't impact much on the teacher-training. By staying longer I'll buy time to find my next project, in Cambodia or wherever. By staying longer I'll be able to achieve something more significant and meaningful. Finally, I can see how I can help even the most-able of  the IT teachers. And their enthusiasm is infectious!


  1. Clive, this is great news!! I am happy you are considering to extend. Once you start working with the kids, you will feel you are in the right place. Visa is just a matter of money and sponsorship... Smiles from the east coast!

  2. Clive, you seem to be able to find an answer to any problem that arises and have a lovely attitude to your obstacles. Thanks for sharing your journey ! Good luck with whatever you decide.

    from one of your new PLN members

    Celia (Melbourne)

  3. Hey Clive!
    Very cool blog... I can relate with much of what you say even in this article alone.

    I'm curious, before you started this work were you an ICT teacher? Do you have any good recommendations for online resources (or offline) for teaching teachers and students IT. I'm finding it difficult to know where to start, and the schools I am working in are not internet-connected.

    Any tips/ideas would be great to hear.


  4. Dear Nora, Celia and Paul,
    It is wonderful to hear from you! I really appreciate you dropping by and leaving a comment for me - THANK YOU for the smiles, the good luck, and the curiosity!

    Nora, I look forward to meeting you in person whenever you decide to pop down to the south coast! You have ideas that I find very stimulating!

    Celia, yes you are one of my PLN's key founder members! I appreciate you telling me you're enjoying my blog - I like yours too and thanks for putting me on your blogroll!

    Paul, there's a little bit "about me" if you follow the link at the top of this page. Wow, I have a 'cool blog'! I feel like I've truly arrived! No, I was an engineer in my former life, not a teacher. I spent 18 months in India before coming here, teaching ICT at a non-Internet-connected school. As you know, it's a challenge! I had to invent all my own resources but I was lucky to have some volunteer helpers for the classes. I hope to build up a wiki for people like us by putting the material there - one day! I've started but it's a lot of work. Meanwhile, if I might have anything which could help you then please drop me an email.

    To anyone reading this, I highly recommend you follow Paul's exceptional blogs:

    Thanks guys!

  5. Thanks for the links and endorsement Clive! I appreciate it.

    A wiki sounds like a great idea, but a fair bit of work to maintain as I recall from my days of setting those beasts up. Let me know if you need a little contribution to content, perhaps I can add something :)


  6. Hi Paul,
    Actually wikis are really easy these days so long as you don't do the hosting! Wikispaces, PBWorks, WetPaint all provide free hosting for educators and a decent storage space.
    I have a link my wiki from the top of this page - but like everything, it's a work in progress! The "provisional driving licence" is probably the most complete. Cheers!

  7. I love the photo at the top of this page - especially the kiddie with the hat right in the middle :)