I've started working with the little Muslim School up the road from the office. Here are a few of the younger children. Just look at them - gotta love 'em!
You don't have to look hard to see the same enthusiasm, zest for life, dreams, aspirations, sense of fun, capacity to learn, liveliness, and potential as any kid in the West but I expect few will reach the same heights. Only a quarter will go on to A-Level and a fraction of those will go any higher.
This school has three computers - two are old and broken. I'm told the third works but there's no Internet and no computing teacher. More importantly, there's no electricity. There's no power for computers, or indeed the lighting, fans or photocopier, because the Department of Education won't pay the bill (the limited funds they do have seem to go to the bigger schools first), and the community is too poor to find the money. I wonder if it's pure coincidence that this is a mainly Tamil (minority) community. Computers are not the root problem, of course, just a symptom. Others include the fact that there don't appear to be enough teachers, there were certainly no locum teachers covering leave or sickness, the school buildings and facilities are poor, and the lack of health care affects attendance, as do various other family concerns.
I've been to the school three times. The first time, both English teachers were present. The second, only one. The third, neither. I couldn't understand the reasons for their absences but I'm meant to be assisting, not deputising. Last Thursday I ran five classes on my own! Luckily I could continue with the stuff I'd been doing previously but it'll be interesting to see how this works out.
Meanwhile I'm enjoying working with the kids immensely. On both days I start off with grades 9 and 10 and then swap to the younger children. One of the reasons I survive, I think, is because of the novelty of being a white person there - when that eventually wears thin they'll probably run rings around me!
On Thursday the older children were analysing pieces of English text to discover a person's job and reasons for doing it. We discussed what jobs they'd like to do as adults. The girls mostly wanted to be teachers and doctors. The boys wanted to be a singer, business man, scientist, civil engineer, CID (Criminal Investigation Dept) officer and more. All excellent goals. I hope they achieve them.
Their goals contrast markedly with those of the Indian kids I worked with before coming here. The best many hoped for was to become mothers or Tuc-Tuc drivers.