Thursday, 25 November 2010

Edublog Award Nominations

I've learnt a huge amount from the many blogs I subscribe to (280 of them at the last count!) and of course I have my favourites. I'd like to nominate a few of them for these annual awards.

My Nominations for The 2010 Edublog Awards are:
  • Best individual blog : "What Ed Said" by Edna Sackson @whatedsaid
    Edna is a prolific writer of consistently thought-provoking posts and a true professional in her field. I have learnt a huge amount from her.
  • Best individual tweeter : Shelly Terrell @ShellTerrell
    Despite the funny voice and quirky love of pugs(!) this dynamic lady is one powerhouse of ideas and thoughts who is always working for the greater good of the education profession.
  • Best new blog : "About A Teacher" by Greta Sandler @gret
    Very human stories from a lady who is a natural educator with an obvious empathy for, and love of, her students.
  • Best class blog : "JuniorsJig" by Year 1/2 students in Melbourne Australia, Verona Gridley @vgridley and Michelle S @msmscott
    It's wonderful to see how these youngsters are developing a global awareness. The blog itself must be so informative for parents too.
  • Best resource sharing blog : "Free Technology for Teachers" by Richard Byrne @rmbyrne
    Day after day, Richard finds new resources and shares them with the world. No idea how he does it but I consistently find treasures in his blog and have a lot to thank him for.
  • Most influential tweet / series of tweets / tweet based discussion : #edchat
  • Best librarian / library blog : Jerry Blumengarten @cybraryman1 "Cybrary Man's Educational Web Sites". Although his website is a bit old-fashioned, I've found it to be a cornucopia of "good stuff". If ever I'm stuck I know I'll find a resource here. Great to have as a backup. And Jerry is one of life's good guys - always helpful.
  • Best school administrator blog : "The Principal of Change" by George Couros @gcouros
    George is passionate about the learning of his students as well as his staff, with a keen interest in edtech and enthusiasm to involve parents. A very honest and human guy too - a great Principal.

Having a little fun with Xtranormal:

Submarine Story
by: clivesir

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

About AdoptSriLanka

I realise that I've told you very little about AdoptSriLanka, the organisation I volunteer with, so this is my attempt at remedying that. They have a website ( where, with a bit of hunting, you can discover more, but I'll give you a brief summary. By the way, the website is not great but a replacement is being developed as we speak!

ASL was established in response to the devastation caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. It was involved with the rebuilding of affected homes and, critically, schools in the south of Sri Lanka. As time passed the needs changed and it evolved so that now the major project is TWINS - a scheme to promote the learning of English in schools through cultural exchange with schools abroad. Funding for ASL's small team comes from various sources including the founder, Geoffrey Dobbs, a local businessman, and his friends and associates. ASL works with 80 mostly rural schools which are split almost equally between the two offices in Galle and Tangalle. I work in the Tangalle office with the TWINS Manager, Jo, and two Field Officers. Bec, the manager, is in the main Galle office, along with the accountant, Special Projects Officer, Logistics Manager, and two more Field Officers.

TWINS sets up long-term, meaningful connections between schools. The connections are maintained by the four Sri Lankan field officers who keep in constant communication with the local schools. The cultural exchange takes the form of projects, penpal letters, skype chats and more, and the field officers also help with mailing, printing, copying and delivering. The British Council occasionally fund reciprocal visits between the Sri Lankan and foreign teachers. On top of that, the Special Projects Officer coordinates children's events, teacher training workshops, conferences and a programme of teachers' professional development. So, as well as investing in the children, ASL also invests in the teachers. The children here and abroad both benefit through the cultural connections, and the local children also improve their language skills through meaningful dialogues.

My role is to work with the teachers by giving them training in the use of computers. The idea is that by building teachers' confidence, they'll be able to boost their own development and improve students' learning through use of resources on the Web. They'll be able to communicate electronically through email, Skype, social media (Twitter, Facebook, Blogs...). And, instead of using the field officers to write and send emails, edit photos, burn CDs and so on, they'll be able to do all that themselves using any existing computers in schools, or Internet cafés, or by coming into ASL's Tangalle office.

I do enjoy working with the teachers immensly but I found I was missing working with children (something I'd done previously in India) so I've been taking a bit of time out from ASL to help with spoken English at a small local Muslim school.

That's it in a nutshell! If you want to find out more about the twinning programme or are interested in the projects that the schools undertake then take a look at the ASL TWINS page. ASL are keen to partner up more schools so if you're a teacher and want to add a global dimension to your teaching, please get in touch!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Why I'm Uncomfortable

these kids are not shy in having their photo taken!
Perhaps I should explain why I'm uncomfortable working at the school while the two English teachers take time off. It's not that I can't handle it or don't enjoy it; it's the thought that my presence might be doing more harm than good. If the teachers are off because they know I'll stand in for them then the kids' learning will surely suffer. Certainly, my spoken English is way-better than theirs but that only benefits the kids if they can actually understand what I'm saying.  These teachers can explain things to the children in their own language - a huge advantage.  They are also following a structured curriculum and teaching plan - they know what comes next and how long they should spend on each activity. And being an effective teacher is not only about following a workplan, formal or informal - it's also about knowing your students, their culture, their home situations, pressures, hopes and fears.

In certain circumstances I'd also be concerned that I was taking away a local teacher's job, though that's not the situation here.

On top of that, I'm not qualified and they are, with all the benefits that being qualified brings.

As I see it, the kids are best served if I help with spoken English in the presence of the regular teachers, and having two adults present will give more individual attention and help keep the children on task.


Update 21/11/10
Both teachers returned to work last week. They told me they'd been ill, not taking time off because I was there. They understood the potential to take advantage of volunteers and my unease. These are two professional teachers and they offered to phone me when they were next off work. I know they understand, so when they're off again I'll probably go in anyway just to fill the gap for the kids.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Little School Up The Road

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.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Presidential Visit

I heard that the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was in town again today so I nipped up to see what was going on. It turned out that there was going to be a ceremony to remember his father who died 43 years ago today. He was an MP and there's a newish-looking statute of him in the little park near where I work.

The security services were out in force again - police, army, navy, air-force, military police and loads of plain-clothed security guys. I positioned myself opposite the president's family home on the Matara Road from where it's a short walk past the Food City supermarket to the little park.  I managed to get a few photos as he, his wife, son and brother emerged from the gates and walked with fifty or so selected folk up to a marquee in the park.

As they moved up the road I kept up with the official photographers and somehow bypassed the security checks at the side of the road.  I found myself the only civilian anywhere near the president - all the locals and other onlookers were on the opposite side of the road! You can get an idea of where I was positioned in the videos below. A local later told me that the security people wouldn't challenge a white-skinned tourist like me because of their lack of English. Perhaps that's correct because I noticed another Westerner come past me later but I'd have thought it possible to communicate "Get over there, peasant!" nonverbally quite effectively. Whatever, it sounds a security weakness if ever I heard one!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Road Re-Surfacing Causes Tiredness

 While I was in the UK the Tangalle council decided to resurface Mediketiya Road - the road which runs from the town centre to the beach in front of my house, and Deepankara Road - the side road which joins it beside my house.  When I came back I found the roads had mud spread all over them and a big machine was being used to roll the dirt and vibrate it flat.  It all seemed pretty pointless because as soon as it dried it turned to dust and blew about the place, so they had to come back to damp it down and vibrate it again.

During two recent nights at about 1a.m. there was a raucous noise outside with droning horns, drumming and chanting. Apparently it was the Buddhist monks blessing the roads. Our two dogs didn't like it a lot and started howling in sympathy with all the other dogs up the street.

We have a wall right against Deepankara Road and the council was threatening to knock it down so that the road could be widened sufficiently to be called "two lane".  I'm surprised the wall didn't just come down on its own - the whole house was being shaken so much by the big vibrating roller. Anyway, it somehow stayed up, and they ran out of time to demolish it before today's 6th November deadline.

At nine o'clock yesterday night the trucks and heavy machinery started arriving. I thought they'd just park up for the night but no, that's when the real work started. The sound of machinery outside my house went on until 3a.m. and the shouting carried on until 5a.m. as the tarmac-ing continued up the road. And then the dogs started up again. This all comes on top of the jet-lag so, needless to say, I'm feeling shattered today!

I hadn't realised that the deadline was a true deadline and not the usual unrealistic product of fantasy. The roads HAD to be completed by today because His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in town to open them! I'd been aware of the flags and increased security around the streets but I'd thought it was because he was opening the new court buildings in the town - I hadn't made the connection with the roads.

Well, the roads were tarmac'd and opened on time, and they do look good, as all newly-surfaced un-muddied roads do. I just wonder about the necessity for the work at all - the roads were in a reasonable state already and the various bits of road furniture (telegraph and electricity poles mostly) didn't cause too much of a nuisance. Although the poles have now been moved back (hence all the power cuts we've been having recently), the space available is really no wider than before, and the poles did give some protection for the many pedestrians, cows, dogs and cats!  Maybe the new tarmac stretches a little wider but there's nowhere for people to walk apart from in the road; they can't honestly be called two-lane which is what the council is boasting.

I missed the opening ceremonies and the unveiling of the obligatory monuments but I did manage to take a few photos a couple of hours after the hubbub finished:

Flags in Tangalle centre

Heightened security

Mediketiya Road

Inevitable Monuments

Deepankara Rd


Deepankara Rd
(my house on left)

Not the busiest of roads!