This post was written just a week into my trip. To keep up with the blog, please visit http://abhita.tumblr.com !
No, the World is not Flat, and Other Mind-blowing Facts
Of the five full days I’ve come to school thus far, I have yet to witness both teachers remain at school for the entirety of the day. Rather than allow the students without a teacher to run around and fight all day, I have been filling in for the absent teacher. Today, I was in charge of 4th and 5th classes for the full day. When I arrived at school, I was told the students were to do their English lesson for the first portion of the day. Their English lesson normally consists of the students sitting by the teacher’s desk, as the teacher stumbles through a simple English story. The teacher then gives the students the answers to the lesson’s questions, without any explanation, and marks a check in each of their books. The students are then given the rest of the period to do as they please.
I wasn’t sure where to start, since I knew the older students were familiar with the alphabet. By the time I quickly formulated a lesson plan in my mind, the other teacher decided to send her 3rd class students for the English lesson. I didn’t mind, as my lesson plan did include a bit of basics. While the 5th class students are able to read simple words in English, they have nearly no knowledge of how to speak (which is the important component of English proficiency for job prospects). So, I began the lesson by writing out the alphabet and asking the students to yell out the sound of the letter. Once that was over, I taught the students how to exchange a few sentences:
“How are you?”
“I am doing well, and you?” or “I am ok, and you?” or “I am not doing well , and you?” (depending on their mood – of course the wisecracks yelled that they were not doing well!), etc.
Once I felt the students had a clear grasp of the sentences and their meanings, I had them break off into pairs and practice. Eventually, I had a few of the pairs come up to the front of the class and perform.
I was pleased with their progress, and had a bit of time, so I thought I would teach them a few emotions – happy, sad, angry, sleepy, confused, and tired.
Rather than a dry lesson, where I had them pronounce the word, then write the Telugu translation out in their books, I decided we would play a game. I explained the various emotions to the students almost entirely through facial expression, which I had them act out on their faces. Once they understood the words, I began to yell out different words until they were so rapidly changing their faces that we all eventually burst into laughter. My personal favorite was angry, as I could just imagine these extremely cute children making such faces at their parents when asked to drink their milk every morning!
After the lesson, the 3rd class students returned back to their classroom, and I had 30 minutes to spare. Curious to learn more about these children, I asked about their parents’ professions. Most students’ parents were in Kuwait. I will save the Kuwait conversation for another post, but briefly, many adults travel to the Middle East to work as servants/nannies for years at a time. The salary they receive in Kuwait is far more than they would receive if they remained in the village and tended to their (apparently unsuccessful) crops. Unfortunately, many of them never see their own children grow up. The conversation eventually turned to me, and my lifestyle, in which the students, who were now crowded around my seat, were quite interested. Questions began pouring out of their mouths such as, how did I arrive in the village? How close is America to Madras (Chennai)? How many people live in America? Is America really next to Kuwait?
As I began to answer each question, I quickly learned how little these kids were told about the world. First, I explained America was not next to Kuwait, and in fact was quite far.
“Have you never seen a world map?”, I asked.
They answered that there was once a world map at the school, but someone took it home, so no, they had never seen what the world looks like. I was astonished, and scrambled to draw a world map on my paper. Obviously, my mind was buzzing with facts they might not yet know. I wondered if they knew the world was round, but as I had drawn it on a piece of paper, they said, “Of course it’s flat”.
Thus, we began a long conversation about the world and its various countries. Once they grasped just how far India was from the US, they wondered if it were possible to travel there by car (by the way, most of the students at the school have never sat in a car before). I then realized I needed to explain between the continents were gargantuan bodies of water, which they all regarded with awe. Many, many, many questions later, we arrived at the most surprising of them all –
“So the world has more than 1000 people???”, one student inquired.
I wasn’t sure who was more flabbergasted, the students, once I gave them an answer, or me! I told them about China and India as the two most populated nations, and how India would soon surpass China in its population.
I don’t think we realize just how fortunate we all are to be afforded this knowledge throughout our lives. Imagine the belief that only one thousand people existed in the entire world. Somehow, it reminds me of a beautiful publication and the 2005 Kenyon College Commencement Speech: “This is Water” by the late David Foster Wallace. I will leave you with the link, which I highly recommend you take a minute to read: