Monday morning (two weeks ago) we followed Kelsey to school where she teaches English (all volunteers in Cambodia and Thailand are English teachers). It was immediately apparent that when school started and when the change of classes occurred was on a softer schedule that what you would be used to in the States. We hung out in the teachers room for a while and Kelsey introduced us to the other teachers and showed them Samoa on the globe.
She introduced us to her co-teacher who is an awesome guy with really impressive English skills. We followed them to class and became Show and Tell. At first I was concerned we were interrupting their syllabus, but for reasons I will explain later we weren't really disturbing anything. Kelsey introduced us to the room and then asked the students if they had any questions. It took a little prompting and most of the questions came from one student with pretty good English, but before you knew it we were explaining the size and population differences between Cambodia and Samoa (including the size difference in the people) and teaching Cambodian students how to say "Talofa" and "Fa'afetai." I am not sure if that is Third Goal, but it is something.
There was some confusion over whether or not the bell had rung (I never heard any bell while we were there, but I don't think I knew what to listen for. I didn't see any empty gas canisters around to bang a stick against) and then we started all over again with another class. At the end of that class there was some confusion while determining that the third class for the day had in fact gone home. So we did too.
So why was it that it was no problem for us to show up randomly at Kelsey's school and interrupt the day? Ah, because typically there is no teaching or learning in the average Cambodian school day. School kids only go to school for half days (maybe four hours). The explanation I have been given for this is they do not have enough classrooms or resources for all the students, so half the kids go in the morning and the other half go in the afternoon. Interesting. In Samoa we didn't let that bother us and just crammed more kids into the room. Though I believe here the secondary and primary kids are sharing a single school, which I don't believe happened frequently in Samoa. Apparently, during these four hours of school, nothing of consequence happens (at least not for the secondary school students). Instead, the students all attend what are called private lessons or classes at other hours of the day. These classes will have a smaller number of students and may take place at the school or the teacher's house or somewhere else. The added bonus is that the students have to pay to attend these classes. The harder the subject and the more important the subject is to the students' exams the more costly the private classes are going to be. So, for example, higher-level math classes can be the most expensive classes to take.
Kelsey, being a Peace Corps volunteer, is not allowed to teach private classes (because no matter how it was done, people would still think she was getting paid for it). Instead she has to teach during school hours. I know, craziness! The down side to this is that she can have as little as one class a day. The upside to this is that her co-teacher gets to see her in action and work with her in the classroom and then gets to put it into practise during his private classes. Her co-teacher talked about how excited he was to work with Kelsey. When they first started working together two years ago it was his first job out of teachers' college.
So we weren't really interrupting a class, because all those students will be doing their private English classes at some other time during the day or week.
Kelsey also talked to us a little bit about the curriculum she has to work within. Apparently her Year 12 students are working on talking about favourites. The materials they are supposed to use to learn about favourites are stories about people with Western names talking about their favourite islands and their favourite things to do on these islands. Mary's favourite island is some island in Thailand (sort of close) and John's favourite island is Corsica. Corsica? Granted it is great for the kids to learn about geography and whatnot, but this is an ESL class of sorts that is supposed to be teaching favourites. Shouldn't they learn how to talk about favourite things that they might actually interact with during their lifetime?
Several days after our visit we got a text message from Kelsey:
"So...in a discussion about favourites with my students today...Favorite beer, anchor. Favorite food, pizza. Favorite place, samoa island :-)"
How awesome is that? Kids who can't drink love Anchor. Kids who have never eaten a pizza like it better than all other foods. And kids who just recently learned where Samoa is on the map call it their favourite place. Mission accomplished.