Naipunnya – day one of school visits.

Another early start, too early for breakfast, we were driven through crazy rush hour traffic to the school. We were met by Mary, our host, and stood at the school entrance meeting all the children as they came in. Many come by buses -the school has 6 very smart coaches, and the tiny children in their smart pink checked uniform, or navy pinafores and shorts, trooped up the steps weighed down by huge backpacks containing all their books. The warm smiles and extremely polite ‘Good Morning Ma’am!’ greetings to all three of us was natural, normal and so very respectful. These children love their school and have a yearning to get learning.

We were formally welcomed with ‘arathiy’ a traditional worship given as a welcome, a ‘thalam’ (a brass dish with flowers and a diva light) was passed around us, jasmine garlands placed over our heads and ‘kalabham’ a sandalwood paste was smeared on our foreheads. We were truly welcomed.

First thing on a Monday is a formal assembly. Each class marches in to the beat of a drum, stands to attention whilst a prayer is sung and a psalm is read. We were introduced to the children and invited to speak. All we could say was thank you for the warm welcome and how much we were looking forward to our day.

We spent the day with a teacher called Tess, whose role is to teach communicative English, speaking and listening, with a bit of grammar thrown in. She is a brand new teacher, not properly qualified with a BEd but on her way to taking that on board along with three young children at home. She was keen to share her own ideology of using lots of ICT in her teaching and making the lessons more interactive than teacher chalk n talk. She was also explaining that she and a colleague plan to enter a British Council led drama festival to celebrate Shakespeare’s work, they plan to write their own version of King Lear, 20 minutes long with a cast of 8. I hope she does well, it sounds fantastic!

She took us into every class. The children have a form teacher and then are taught by different teachers for each subject, from grade 1 upwards (year 2). The lower and upper kindergarten children have one teacher each but much planning is done together with communal lessons taking place. We watched the lower kindergarteners learn the sound /e/ by listening to and watching a story being performed by all six teachers. The sound was emphasised many times at the end, both lower and upper case highlighted and the letter formation shared. This might not be the way that we do it but it works for them, though there were a few wrigglers at the back with me!

The children in all he classes have workbooks. The teacher has her own manual and they work their way through it. We saw some reading comprehension, repeated addition, subtraction and both Hindi and Malayalam lessons. The teacher teaches, then they turn to the book, she works with them all at the same time. Most of the children keep up. What of those who don’t? In this case we were helping out, there are no teaching assistants to support, but this is not a criticism. This week we are there, we are a distraction, I have not had a chance to delve further into this.

Also this week they are preparing madly for a huge festival on Friday. It feels a bit like nativity time at school, grabbing moments in the hall to run through a song or dance. This is involving all the children, well over 300 in the primary section (up to year 3), so it is a bit chaotic and lessons in between are shorter and rushed. The harvest festival of Onam is unique to Kerala, celebrating a character called King Mahabali who sacrificed himself to Vishnu by allowing himself to be used as a stepping stone, thus being pushed into the netherworld. Before going down he begged Vishnu to allow him to return once a year to his beloved people of Kerala. So they welcome him back with feasts, dances, dramas and a fantastic snake boat race, the largest team event in the world with up to 100 people rowing in one extremely long boat.

On Friday we will see the culmination of all this hard work and be part of the festivities, even dressing in the traditional white and gold sari (we were measured for our blouses today!), we will sit altogether on the floor and eat traditional food from banana leaves. It will be an amazing experience on which to end our trip.

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