Friday, 29 April 2011

Wrapping Up

Today, the 29th of April 2011, the day of William and Kate's Royal Wedding, I find myself with a bit of spare time and an Internet connection, and so able to write a few words to bring this blog to a close.

It is three weeks, almost to the hour, that I landed back in the UK. I have stayed eight days with my sister and her family in Guildford, twelve days with my parents in Farnham, and now I'm here, renting a small room in a house near Oxford. I have spent some time with my family (fantastic) and have met with one or two friends (great), but I have to say that I really, really miss the people, the life, the climate and the beauty of Sri Lanka. But mostly it's the people.

There are two or three more articles I want to write about my time in Sri Lanka just to wrap things up a bit but I haven't felt in the mood to write them. I can use the excuse that I was busy at my sister's or that my parents don't have Internet but that's only part of the story: I could have had access if I'd really tried. You see I'm struggling hard to readjust to coming home. In Sri Lanka I had made a real connection with good, honest people who needed my help and were truly grateful for the time I spent with them. To have men weep at your leaving party, well, I don't see that happening here, do you? Not that I wanted them to weep - I'm just trying to illustrate the emotional connections I made. When I feel able to I will write those articles and retrospectively date them to precede this one so that they don't seem out of sequence.

Anyway. The most pressing matter is that I need to get a paid job. In case you don't know, even though I've been teaching abroad I'm not actually a qualified teacher, I'm an electronics engineer, so I'm looking for work in engineering for now. I have sounded-out my old place of work - JET at Culham - and there are a couple of possibilities. One is web work. The other, somewhat less certain one, is electronic system enhancement and maintenance. Each will be around two days a week which will give me one spare day to work on educational matters. This is great news and I'm extremely grateful to the managers there who have gone out of their ways to try to make this happen for me. But... this is my old life! This is not me now! It doesn't thrill or excite me like my work in India and Sri Lanka did. I don't feel passionate about it. It's not working with people. It doesn't have the immediately obvious impact on lives that teaching has. But I have to be a realist - it's what I've got to do, at least for now. It is a beneficial field to work in and in this economic climate, and at my age, I am actually extremely lucky to get good employment. So, the hope is to work in the UK for at least a couple of years and then to go volunteering abroad again in the future.

I plan to cold-call on local schools and put out feelers to explore the possibilities of improving my teaching skills. That's a story for another day and another blog. Farewell for now! Thank You to everyone who has followed me or has read my postings. I hope you enjoyed this part of the journey - I know I have!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

From ASL's Newsletter

In Adopt Sri Lanka's newsletter there was a nice article about my 12 months' work at their Tangalle office. Such a great team to work for and such great teachers to work with!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Not Goodbye

OK, you're going to think me a right old sentimentalist when I tell you this: I couldn't bring myself to say "Goodbye" to my friends in the Polla, the market. It was just too hard. I couldn't do it! I tried, I really tried, but I found it impossible. Stupid, eh? But even now, as I write this, I'm reliving it and it brings tears to my eyes. "How ridiculous" you must be thinking! Well imagine how ridiculous I felt. See, I didn't just think of them as anonymous stall holders, I thought of them as my friends. Even though they didn't know my name nor I theirs, they were still my friends. After a year of getting to know these guys - visiting their stalls once a week, negotiating to buy my fruit and veg, having a little chat and a laugh with our limited common language and lots of gestures, being treated with familiarity and respect, and never being taken advantage of - well, let's just say I felt we had a bond. Good people. So I wanted to not disappear without a word or explanation or wish of luck. My last chance came three days before leaving Sri Lanka, at a time when the market was at its busiest. Was that a good idea? Who knows, but it gave me the cover for circling and approaching and retreating, shaking, without being noticed. I knew that I wouldn't be able to bring myself to answer that question "when will you be back?" or "when will I see you again?" with "never," because that's what I truly think it will be. Crazy? Oh well, that's me. This is a theme that repeats itself with my every farewell from this beautiful place.

These are a few of those friends. The banana lady with her son - she was always generous, carefully selecting fresh, fat, tasty hands of Embul plantains for me. The grey-haired lady with the ready smile who sold me big grapefruit-like Jambola. The tomato guy with an eye for the ladies, who was reputedly always quiet when his wife was around, here pretending to plant a kiss on the dark-haired Jambola lady. The lady with the packets of herbs and spices who I only ever actually bought from, in large quantities as presents, a few days before leaving. And the papaya girl, always in that blue dress, who would carefully select and put aside a ripe and a not-so-ripe papaya in anticipation.

More photos from the Polla

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Video - Connecting Globally

This is a short video I made at the request of my PLN friend, Lisa Dabbs @teachingwthsoul, for her ASCD 2011 Annual Conference presentation "Connecting Beyond the Classroom Walls" on March 28th.

For it, Lisa requested the following:
  • Introduce yourself, what country you live in/tell us what you do as an educator
  • Tell us how you got started connecting Globally
  • Share with us what are you doing, currently, to connect Globally
  • How has this positively impacted your work as an educator with students?
Hopefully this will tell you a little bit more about me and my year with AdoptSriLanka

PS, in reality my skin has a bit more colour to it :-)

Monday, 4 April 2011

Progress Report for ASL

This is a copy of a report I sent to my manager, Bec Lyons, just prior to my leaving Adopt Sri Lanka. For completeness I should mention that the scope of the course included: browser configuring and use, effective web searching, email (including attaching, labelling, distribution groups), photo-editing and managing, security, social media, burning DVDs, using USB memory devices, digital cameras and probably other stuff I've forgotten.

*   *   *

Computer Training Report
Clive Elsmore 1-April-2011

This short report covers my period of volunteering with Adopt Sri Lanka, from 24th April 2010 to 8th April 2011, during which time I set up and ran a computing training programme for teachers out of ASL's Tangalle office. The central aim of the programme was to improve the effectiveness of communications between Sri Lanakan schools and their overseas twins, as part of ASL’s TWINS Project.

I spent the first three months of the period establishing a small suite of three computers, arranging a data network and power distribution, writing the curriculum and training materials and identifying resources. Additionally I introduced cloud computing to ASL by converting the eighty or so school profiles from MSWord to Google Docs which benefited ASL’s working practices and allowed me to manage the timetable efficiently.

The Computer Training programme started in early July 2010. A timetable was established by Jude and Sanath, the Field Officers at Tangalle. The schedule needed constant maintenance by them to accommodate daily cancellations and rescheduling. The teachers were phoned, usually in the morning of the lessons, to remind them and to account for unexpected absences, leave, meetings or family matters. The programme needed a fair degree of flexibility to maximise the utility of the computers and my time. Google Documents were again used - a spreadsheet for the timetable and linked documents for training records. These in turn were linked to the school profile documents.

Most teachers came in their own time, after work finished at 13:30. Lessons ran from 14:00 to 15:30 and 15:30 to 17:00. Initially we scheduled up to six teachers per period and pressed my laptop into use. However, because the training was tailored to the individual teacher and the teachers varied considerably in experience and ability, and because the personal schedules of the teachers precluded ability-grouping, this number proved impossible to teach to my satisfaction. We soon reverted to a policy of one teacher per computer, with an ideal maximum of three at a time which allowed my laptop to be used for recording progress, partnering the teacher-student in exercises which needed it, or for demonstration purposes.

Because I kept training records it has been possible to produce a few statistics. (If anything, these figures will under-report hours.)

For the teachers who attended 3 or more 90-minute lessons, records show that:
  • 45 teachers received training
  • 31 teachers are currently receiving training (“active”) and 14 stopped coming during the 9 months for a variety of reasons, or were dropped (“passive”).
  • The majority of teachers were trained in the use of three web browsers, three search engines, and search techniques.
  • A total of 848 pupil-hours’ training has been delivered
  • 20 teachers have started emailing their Twin who were not before
  • 10 teachers who were already emailing their Twin have gained in confidence and ability (for example, they are now able to attach photos or reports)
  • Of the 31 “active” teachers, all 24 who are Twins Coordinators have emailed their Twin and the 7 who are not Twins Coordinators have demonstrated their competence to email effectively
  • The 31 “active” teachers have each received 23 hours training on average (range 4.5-37.5 hours)
  • The 14 “passive” teachers have each received 10 hours training on average (range 4.5-19.5 hours)
  • 16 teachers have received training in the use of photo-editing software (Picasa)
  • 10 teachers have received training in the use of VOIP (Skype)
  • 5 teachers have received some training (though not enough to be considered competent) in advanced social media tools (Twitter, Blogging, Google Reader and Tweetdeck)
  • 2 teachers are now actively Skyping with their Twin
  • An unknown (but significant) number of teachers have received some training in the use of Facebook

I intentionally did not perform any formal assessments of progress because
  • the limited timescale and ‘teaching to the test’ would reduce the scope of the course
  • the fact that marks depend on too many variables and are an unreliable indicator of competence
  • because grading is no incentive for improving performance
  • and because ‘failure’ is a disincentive.

My opinion is that all teachers who attended my course have benefited in various ways - at least in terms of confidence but also in terms of ability and knowledge, some markedly so.

Near Future or “Going Forward”
The teachers will continue to improve their competencies if they continue to practise. We should leave it to them to decide when they consider ASL’s facility/training is no longer of value. A small number of teachers have bought their own computers or are now funding Internet connections at home so they will have less use for ASL’s facilities. A larger number of teachers do not have computer/Internet facilities either at home or in school so ASL’s facilities are important in terms of maintaining/improving skills and communications with Twins. Field Officer Jude Lasantha is competent in all the necessary programs and has the temperament to be a good trainer. Using Tangalle’s computers, he could provide support on a formal or informal basis. For the next twelve months or so I will also endeavour to provide support via Skype and email from the UK, though I do not see that as long-term arrangement and is dependent on many unknowns. Finally, my curriculum, exercises and links to resources are all available online and, given time, I expect to add to them :

Response from Bec:

Clive; this is brilliant. It is great that you have been able to present the stats and outcomes so clearly. Thank you!

You have made such a fantastic impact on our work in Sri Lanka. I have seen the skills and confidence of all our team grow as a result of your support. The introduction of google docs and picasa have been real time savers and makes supporting the team and monitoring their work from Galle so much easier. The teachers all have such positive things to say and thanks to you they can now access so many new possibilities.

We all really appreciate the time and dedication you have given to our organisation.
Looking forward to seeing you on Monday/Tuesday. I hear the teachers have arrnaged something special for you on Sunday. Enjoy!


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Sunrise on the Last Mornings

The last few days I've been waking early. Really early. Like 03:30 or 04:00. It's impossible to go back to sleep with so many things churning in my mind. Today is Saturday 2nd April. In seven days time I will be waking up in the UK.

I might just lie, or read a bit or turn to the Internet. Sunrise is around six - probably a bit before, but recently I haven't seen it come over the horizon because of low, distant cloud. If I get my timing right I'll take a cuppa across the road and watch the sun emerge over the sea, red, orange and gold through the thinning haze. And, with luck, light will be reflected in a broad, wavering carpet stretching towards infinity.

The sea at this time is silver-grey and almost merges with the cloud. Nearly out of sight there's the silhouette of a container ship or a trawler boat. Little single-man fibreglass boats are dotted right across the bay - at night time the sea is sprinkled with sparks from their kerosene lanterns. Already, some are returning to the harbour - rowed by lean, fit, burnt, sweating bodies. It's a huge distance for some and it must take an hour or more. Progress is imperceptible. The ones further away pull up on a closer beach - perhaps their catch is sold to local guest houses. Often there are little thatched covers along the beach where a bicycle lives nightly. Maybe the fish are taken to market on two wheels.

All the time there is a roar from the sea as the waves erupt and unroll with a thunderous din, seething, boiling. The sand now is much higher than it was six months ago - but perhaps the same as a year ago. It covers the bottom treads of the make-shift wooden stairways. And the beach is dotted with holes - some one centimetre, some ten. The crab inhabitants emerge, scuttle about for a bit, visit other holes and then are on the sea-line. Maybe the foam contains rich pickings. They venture further and get washed into the depths.

The sea-roar is constant. On wilder days I swear you can feel the ground judder beneath your feet. But today there's nothing but the noise. And as far as I can see - which is miles - the beach is empty, save for a few fishermen pulling in a huge net. There's gentle sweeping and brushing-up of leaves going on in the hotels, guest houses and restaurants behind me. My time here is trickling through my fingers but the calm, the coolness, the light, the view, and the natural order of things - for now, they're all mine!