5 Sept – 11 Sept
School visits this week have been interesting. One of the schools is three hours from Dili, through the mountains and across a dry river. The river bed has become the road as there has been no water since the rainy season. Not possible to visit in the wet.
The lesson I observed was terrible, no planning, no preparation, lots of work to copy from the blackboard, nothing creative or even mildly interesting for the Grades 1 and 2 students. The teacher had her young son with her being a little noisy and then a dog wandered in. After a while, the teacher went out of the room with her son and the dog. They came back eventually. The next lesson was not quite as bad. The teacher was teaching Natural Science. He spent most of the lesson writing on the board. Finally, he dragged out some plastic bottles, dirt and salt and conducted his little experiment on mixing things with water with all the students crowded around one table. My feedback for both lessons was a bit harsh.
I realised that I was looking at these lessons through my very privileged western eyes, too ready to make assumptions and criticise. In this village, Wednesday is market day. Whole families leave home at 4am to get to the markets which might take three to four hours walking, carrying their goods for sale or pushing a hand cart. Only some have horses. Very few people out here have motorbikes and no one owns a car. The roads are very tough on bikes and cars. We struggle to make it up rocky inclines many times in our air conditioned 4WD. We drove all day and passed one truck going the other way.
There is no power in this village or in the school. Water is collected daily from a central point near the village so it is precious. It has to be used sparingly so washing clothes is not a priority. There were lots of bare feet, dirty hair and clothes on the kids who were in school.
There are no whiteboards and each class has only a very small blackboard. The school is quite new and is the most solid building in the village, all concrete so everything has to be stuck onto the walls with tape. There are no class sets of books, coloured paper, pencils or scissors. The students have one exercise book for all subjects. The teachers have to work with the materials they can gather. The teacher in the Science lesson had used stones, dirt, recycled plastic bottles cut in half and a little bit of salt. Not nearly enough for the whole class. They can’t just duck out to the shops to get what they need, there are none. The village is all they have – grass roofs and palm frond walls.
There was a good reason why the female teacher was not prepared. She had just returned from three weeks sick leave. She had had a baby and the baby died.
I know that everyone will immediately want to send stuff. This is always my reaction as well. There are 34 schools in my district. A bit too many boxes of anything to take with me.
Sadly, also, the postal service here does not exist. People wait for someone to go to Darwin if they want things posted. Posting things here takes up to six weeks and as there are no official postal addresses, you have to send stuff to a company or an NGO or the embassy. Not feasible. I could not tell you my address because I have no way of knowing what street it is even in. I can tell a taxi driver the roads that my house is near, I can point to the lane way and I say that it is near Timor Travel – which by the way I have never found! If anyone wanted to come to my house, I would have to show them the way first.