July 7, 2008
Today was a turning point in the trip.
Our group is in charge of improving the English program at the 15 May School. We started out as the “English Championship group,” (EC group) in charge of directing an English Championship to motivate the children to learn English. However, upon arriving on site and analyzing the situation for ourselves, it became apparent that the problem was far bigger than originally thought. The problem is not so much a lack of motivation in the children but the way the English program is set up. The teachers are not native speakers, and are not able to engage the children in class (attendance had dropped from 80 to 30 since the program was started by PV07 last year). This is not to say that motivation isn’t an issue at all, just that the resources the children have are a far worse one.
The situation had been bothering me since yesterday. The problem with the teachers is not one that can be easily rectified, since the school runs on limited funds. The ESL experts that came into the school had good intentions but were somewhat unequipped to deal with the cultural barriers that they faced. They offered to coach the teachers, but what else could we do? We came to Vietnam to bring about sustainable aid. How do we help the students to learn English?
And so, today, while the rest of the group went to the Binh Loi shelter, the EC group met to discuss possible solutions to the problem. We came up with the following:
-Lack of motivation on the part of the students
-Lack of proper skills on the part of the teachers
-Lack of awareness of the learning resources available to students
-Emphasizing to them how important it really is to learn English, to motivate them to learn outside the classroom, to use the internet, to read, to take that extra step in their education.
-Having our high school mentees teach the kids, as their English is far better than that of the teacher’s
-Working with computing to figure out the options available in regards to software and learning on the internet
We then split the EC group into 2 teams, one of which would be in charge of the actual event planning, and one of which would prepare daily English lessons for the kids while we were here, and help them prepare for the event. The situation is really frustrating. Like one of my team members described, “It’s like going to a village with the intention of purifying their water, only to realize that they have no water at all.”
We proposed the ideas during our debriefing session (which went more smoothly than it ever had!) and they were approved by the group. Things are looking good. Now the EC Team finally has an end goal (motivating the kids to learn English) and solutions for the problems. I’m hoping that things will run a lot more smoothly from now on.
P.S. My father’s advice to me (which I think is really good) is to listen to the kids. It seems really silly, but the only way to find out what people want is by asking them, and listening, with no preconceived notions or ideas of what you think they want. So I plan to have a good talk with some of the kids (with Hung as my translator!).