Solveig Freiling, a long-term volunteer (LTV) from Germany has been working at Nallurpala School in Mysore, Karnataka since August 2013. With four months to go, she writes to us about her experiences and insights so far.
“I was brought up in a very creative family in Germany. My Mother is an artist and my father is a musician. So since I was small, I was in contact with all different kinds of arts. I think that, especially nowadays in Germany, everyone will learn through the new creative ways of teaching. I remember that we did so much in school following this aspect and form of learning. We used to do so many group projects where we made posters with models for certain topics. It is so much easier to learn something this way. For my final exams I learned exactly the same way. I drew some pictures and wrote my notes beside it, so I could easily remember them.
So when I came to my school in India, I was completely confused. The teachers will only teach through just writing something on the board and the children have to copy and repeat it several times. The problem with this method is that the children can’t find, for example, the right answer to the question in exams. Because as soon as the question is slightly different than what they have learned before, they can’t express it in a different context.
Maybe they learn quicker with this “repeating and copy” method but they don’t really understand the meaning of it. I see this in exams here. The children just sit there and they haven’t got a clue what to write. They don’t have their own ideas so everyone tries to copy things from their neighbour until the teacher comes in and says: “Okay you can use all your material!’”. I really couldn’t understand the reason to do exams this way. They don’t have to change the exams. They have to, more importantly, change their way of teaching.
But of course that’s not easy if you only learned that way and it is more work to teach in a different, creative way. You have to prepare more; you need more material and more time and patience. All teachers in my school have their own private lives and salary is too low that they can put more effort into their work. But maybe if the children get used to these other ways, it would be easier for teachers to give a lessons this way. We volunteers are not here to change everything but maybe after two, three, four volunteers work in a project, things will change a little bit. Maybe we are just here to give some ideas, ideas we got through our education in our countries.
When I first came to my project I wanted to change everything. I wanted to put all my effort into that project, but I am not a real teacher and not all things I learned from Germany were useful in that Indian school. I had to think in small steps. First of all I had to get used to the children and they had to get used to me. I became friends with the teachers, even though they did some things (like beating) which I didn’t like.
I also had to find a way of teaching which suits me and them. I used a lot of posters with pictures, painting/drawing tasks and memory games. I wanted to teach in a way we all would have fun, because the other lessons are more exhausting for them. I remember the first weeks where they didn’t have any concentration and they couldn’t listen to me. I was only an English speaking ma’am without a stick, so why should they listen to me? I had to earn respect in a different way.
The situation improved daily. I can’t say that their English got better, but their interest to learn something new grew day by day. They understood the importance of English and they loved to paint and draw. I was very astonished by their talents. They are very creative if you let them!
I started to teach every class the song called “In the jungle” with a little dance performance. They were so good and they learned it very quick! I was so proud that I thought about doing projects with every class. I asked my mother in Germany to ask for some money for material. I did a big shopping tour in Mysore and used all my package left-overs from parcels I have got.
I explained to my students where the money is from and they were very thankful! So I started with the project work. 4th Standard prepared animal masks and colored them. We practiced the “In the jungle song” and did a small animal performance to it. 5th Standard painted a big picture of the world map. First they didn’t know what it was! They asked me if it is Germany, so I explained that this is the whole world with India, Germany, USA… I also showed them all the places where all the volunteers, which came to their school where from. Everyone made a small paper boat with their names and they could decide
to which ocean they want to stick it. After that was finished we put some glitter onto the picture. The students loved glitter and used the leftovers for their faces. 6th Standard built small model of Taj Mahal and painted it afterwards. We used all my parcel-material and newspaper to build it. 7th Standard prepared some jokes and dances for a circus presentation. They also made some masks. Clown masks for boys and glitter masks for girls. Three very talented boys also painted a picture with a huge circus tent on it.
We needed two weeks for this projects and it was not easy to handle all the children and their wishes. But I had so much fun with them and, even though I felt so exhausted after just one day, I was still so proud of my students!
We were busy until the big day came, where all classes presented their projects. That day when we did Saraswathi Pooja before the exam will start. I was so excited and nervous, but everything went well and everyone was happy. 4th Standard did so well, they sang the song without my help and I played the guitar to it. The children wore the masks even after it was over and also on the next day. I was really happy and also the teachers were very happy with the work of the children.
Even the teachers started to paint and draw within these two weeks. They started to ask me for material to do something themselves. That made me very proud and happy.
I was very skeptical, if it would all work out how I wanted it to. But I learned something very important in India. Don’t worry and just see what will happen.”