I knew it would be challenging to teach English to the Basotho children in my rural school in Lesotho, but I never expected the level to be this low.
In Lesotho, all subjects (except for Sesotho, of course) are supposed to be taught in English, but most of the teachers are afraid of speaking English (so I was told) and so they revert to their own language. Another major problem is the “repetition” method of teaching. Some teachers think that the louder they, and their students yell, the more likely they are to remember. I was walking past second grade, and heard the teacher saying, “I have a right to an education,” and the children shouted this phrase ten times. I then asked the teacher if the children knew what they were saying in English. She asked them in Sesotho, and they had no clue.
I decided to teach English to Kindergarten, first and second grade, as they are not learning the basics. They all know how to respond to, “How are you?” they repeat this during morning Assembly, “We are fine and how are you?”
The first grade teacher admitted, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never taught first grade.” The kids don’t know the alphabet, and due to a lack of supplies, and a lack of teaching skills, memorization and repetition with the teacher pointing her long stick to numbers and letters on the blackboard, seems to be the only way that the kids are taught.
I subscribed to a website: http://education.com, so I could come up with some ready-made worksheets. The only problem is we don’t have electricity, or a photocopier or printer at school. Our Principal keeps telling me there is no money for supplies, photocopying, or printing. She does have a nice flatscreen TV and leather furniture in her convent though.
I want to show the teachers that there are so many other things we can do than simply repeat and “yell,” so I printed some worksheets in the capital city, and tested the second graders with an Alphabet Blocks worksheet. I was shocked to see the results. Not one child could write the upper case alphabet. There were 12 letters missing, and they were in sequence. Even though they can sing the “A, B, C’s” they have no idea how to write the letters. Some even put numbers instead of letters, or several lower case “h” and “ba.” They are so used to copying from the board, and not ever thinking about what they’re writing, saying or doing.
I decided to buy a few pairs of scissors, and some play dough, to cut the letters out and use their fine motor skills. The teachers have never tried these techniques, and the Principal laughed at me, as though I’m just making the children have fun, and not learn anything from the government book, that they are incapable of reading, let alone discuss any of the second grade assignments. (see the topics below.)
The second grade teacher did not show up today, (quite common for teachers to skip school) so we took out the scissors and felt pens, and I made them cut out a lower case and an upper case “A.” They loved it, and concentrated so hard on cutting out the letter, and coloring it. This was the first time they were given scissors and felt pens. I then played the ABC phonics song on my phone, and we sang together. Here they are working hard and enjoying it.
With a pass rate of only 17% in 7th grade, my school has to make some changes in order to improve. I’m helping my 7th grade English teacher, who is a young enthusiastic teacher. He is the one who asked Peace Corps to send a volunteer to the school. I admire his hard work and dedication to making changes at my school.