Late Learners (LL)

I am working on several posts at once, one about our trip to the science museum, one about our achievements in building infrastructure, and this one:  Late Learners (LL).  I have been immersed in learning about educational methods, theories, material… and I have been sitting in on our classes here.  Changes are ahead, changes that continue a process that began with my bringing on a special educator teacher, a special educator consultant, and a learning disabilities educator consultant.  This is me relaxed.

I am looking now for a teacher to teach English, as well as to coordinate the full teaching program, setting curriculum, coordinating projects among the teachers. working with the big girls similar to how our special educator works with our handicapped children.  Our English teacher is leaving so this was an opportunity to re-think what I want.  Today I was writing the ad to go in an online service.  Tomorrow we will put an ad in the newspaper, but it will be short because of expense.  It's taken me much of the day to think this through, to find the words I want, to conceptualize what is needed.  Here are the basics of the ad:

Small NGO home for orphan girls, with focus on academic achievement for late learners (LL), slow learners (SL), and children with multiple disabilities.  The new hire would be joining a Special Educator already in place for the severely handicapped children, and subject teachers for the LL group.

Candidates must have the following attributes and skills:

  • Curriculum planning including lesson plans with ongoing evaluation and feedback.
  • Experience with multimedia and interactive learning techniques and software
  • Conceptualizing, researching and producing learning materials for the children
  • Coordinating school projects, education trips, national and international calendar events.
  • Teaching English as a learning subject in Bengali Medium environment.
  • Creativity, innovation, enthusiasm, willingness to work hard.
  • RCI Qualified or Equivalent
  • Interest and commitment of inclusive education

Experience: At least five years of teaching experience in the  field of learning disabilities.

Salary dependent upon training and experience

Interview process will include project demonstration and class teaching under observation.

I began this home very specific goals. One was to educate girls who are usually considered too old to begin an academic education.  They become streamed into a group who may learn some very basic skills language skills and are given vocational training that may or may not be marketable.  Mostly they find themselves still relegated to the life of the uneducated woman.

Yesterday was a holiday, with no teachers coming.  The girls love to do drama, so I asked them to do a play, in English, and I would watch.  (This was also a "no TV" day.)  They spent a very long time preparing, having a lot of fun in the process.  Then they presented the drama to me and the staff, and the little ones.  The drama was about a wicked elephant who stole a baby bird.  The mother bird kept flapping her wings in distress and looking for her baby bird.  Eventually it was found.  Then she wanted the elephant to be punished.  Two girls with a sheet over them became the elephant, who was lured to the middle of the room and punished by the others.  The girls did a wonderful job and felt well appreciated.

I gave the girls another task, to do a drama and this time to include the little ones in the drama.  This seemed to be more complicated.  By then Preeti, Gibi's daughter, had come to spend time with the girls so she helped them do it in English again.  The drama this time was about a mother bird whose babies were lost.  They had been spirited away to a place where they were kept inside a circle made by the big girls holding their hands and dancing around, keeping them in.  Then the mother bird flies to this area and finds them and everyone is happy.

This is their theme, mothers and lost babies, who are eventually found.  This is their theme now, but for a long time, all their drama was about violence and death.  When they played, it would be reenactment of beatings,yelling, and murder.  The other recurrent drama was about death, a body lying on the ground and they kneeling over the body, while swaying and howling.

But back to today and trying to articulate what I needed in a teacher — and the realization as I looked at categories of learning disability like SL for Slow Learner, that our girls are LL, Late Learners.  The designation helps me think about the problem and to identify this group I care about so much.  It just seems so sad and makes me angry to have a child "written off" by the age of eight.  But that's what I kept seeing here in the years before Shishur Sevay.

A friend called this evening and asked what I hd done today, and I said, "I spent the day thinking."  He asked what about and I said about education, about who I want to hire, about how I continue to implement what is on my mind.  I spent the day thinking.

Yesterday's newspaper had a story about problems in education here and the use of private tutors for high percentages of students.  The various educational groups responded with suggestions of adding ten minutes to lectures, computers, interesting lesson plans and activities, actually teaching IN the class time.  Those are the problems I'm finding and trying to overcome at least for my girls here.  For Kolkata these are extremely innovative. Then today there were two more interesting stories about education in West Bengal.  This state has the sixth highest percentage of drop outs from primary and secondary school.  The headline read: "State tops ‘out of school’ children chart." Thirty one percent of children drop out from primary school — up to class IV.   Another article described a high drop out rate from colleges because of lack of English skills and the inability to do content work in English.  This is the backdrop.

Thinking today, and talking with our special educator as I worked on the application, I asked if special educators are leaving the country.  I  asked because there are training programs and school, but few highly skilled teachers in the market.  As expected, i learned that "the cream of the crop leaves."  We have brain drain and I can't say I'm surprised at all.  The education isn't highly valued.  Innovation and creativity are not consistent with cultural norms of doing exactly what your elders and "superiors" say.  The teacher we have already rejected offers to go to the US (she is cream of the crop) because she wants to stay close to her family here.  I told her we would find others.

A third article I found this morning was about a trip down the Ganges in rubber boats, environmentalists checking the water, but also learning about the people living along the river.  One day there will be commercial trips along the river, with all the predictable good and bad effects.

The trouble with trying to blog as the day goes on, is that I keep wanting to add the things that are happening.  About an hour ago, Rani was on the floor in the big room, keeping an eye on me at my computer.  The little ones all keep an eye on me.  Well, she scooted along until the doorway and sat there for a while.  She waved to me.  I waved back.  Then she decided to come into the room, and as she tried to scoot in, I yelled out, "No Rani, No."  She turned around to leave.  This was so incredible!!!!   

Another day, as I was too tired to write more.  This morning we are getting ready for the "Sit and Draw" competition at the museum. I kept everyone home from school.  I was initially only planning to take the ones entered.  But, they all want to go, and the entrants also want everyone to go.  We will also take Ganga, since she is the only one of the four little ones who will understand and pay attention.  She will learn something today.

I'm starting to differentiate what we do with whom.  Having "proved" to myself we can manage all 12 just about anywhere, and we don't leave the handicapped children out just because they are limited in mobility, now I am looking at whether the trip is meaningful for them, and what resources are needed, that also take from the others.  Today I want to be fully "present" for the girls entering the contest.  Choices, priorities, realities of limited human resources, so much harder than just saying, "everyone goes."  This is part of the thinking I'm doing these days… lots and lots of thinking.

to be continued….

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October 2009
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