Saturday, 25 April 2009

Work and play

The last few days have been an interesting mixture of the above. Some of Wednesday's lessons were successful, others less so.

On Thursday, there was a workshop/discussion involving the teaching volunteers, the Peruvian English teachers, and the regional director of secondary education. Most of the time was taken up by a discussion between the teachers and the director, so that I in the end didn't have time to give the presentation I had been asked to prepare. I've got used to this sort of last-minute change now: whenever it happens, I just say to myself "It's Peru!". In fact, the discussion was very interesting. The teachers began by complaining that since the goverment had introduced a new area of evaluation in English (oral), they would now have to spend all their time evaluating, not teaching The director however made the very good point that an extra evaluation area does not necessarily require more time - teaching and evaluation can and should be done together. Moreover, oral skills in English are arguably the bit of the language which will be most important and useful to the kids in this area.

However, there's no denying that English doesn't have enough space in the timetable. At the moment, the schools average two hours a week (one and a half in my school). Since this consists of just one lesson, it is very difficult for the kids to make steady, consolidated progress. The teachers were asking for just a third hour. Unfortunately, it's not within the director's power to change this. It's all horribly complicated, but essentially each school has a large degree of autonomy over the teaching time in "non-core" subjects like English. So, some prioritise Quechua instead. Now, I'm all for rediscovery of cultural roots, but this just doesn't seem to make sense. Besides, as my host mother told me, most of the kids speak Quechua better than their teacher anyway.

So, that was the major work event of the last few days. On Friday, there was a volunteer "social", which involved running around Urubamba answering riddles and was a lot of fun. On Friday I also met two new English volunteers, girls from Reigate and Croydon. As if that wasn't spooky enough in itself, I have several friends in common with one of them. The Gap year world really is tiny.

We were out in Cusco on Friday night, and then on Saturday morning four of us went horse riding in the hills above the city. As this was an all-male excursion, one member of the group dubbed it "Brokeback Mountain". Two hours came in at the princely sum of S/.25 (about 6 pounds). The weather was glorious, and the views of the city stunning, so it was tempting to imagine yourself as a conquistador, exploring an unknown land. I have no doubt, however, that the Spanish were far far better horse riders than any of us (not difficult). Saturday night was again out and about in Cusco, and a lot of fun. As a result, Sunday has been a very slow day, culminating in some lesson planning this evening.

Every Monday morning, there is a patriotic ceremony at the school, involving flag-raising, singing and marching. This lasts half an hour, and therefore one of my final year classes only gets 1 hour of English a week. This annoys me quite a lot. What's more, there are rumours of a teachers' strike this Wednesday, so my teaching this week may be minimal. You can't escape the feeling here that secondary education is of secondary importance. And this is what frustrates and saddens me the most: I see bright kids in my classes every day, and I know that the chance that they will fulfil their potential is very slim indeed. For the girls, especially: marriage and childbirth happen very early here, and before they know it they'll be in a domestic role, another of the bowler-hat wearing Andean women. There are so few who break out of this.

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