This morning I was out of the house at dawn. It's rare for me to see my neighbours houses still locked up in the morning although one man opposite was outside taking a 'shower'. As I walked to the college I felt I should have my eyes closed as I saw people brushing their teeth and urinating against walls. All evidence of the lack of facilities in many khmer homes.
Arriving at work I was very glad to have my eyes open, the orange sky as the sun rose over the river at the back of the college was beautiful.
The reason for the early start was a trip northwards to Malay district on the Thai border. It's a remote area where some of our newly qualified teachers now work. There is an extreme shortage of teachers in rural areas so students who have completed Grade 9 (O'Level) are trained on condition that they go back to the villages to teach.
The Director, two trainers, Sokha and I set off in a taxi. The going was good while we were on the main road then at a place called Kone Domrey (Baby Elephant) we turned left. Immediately the situation changed. It rained a lot last night and the road had no tarmac so was very muddy. The taxi slithered along. Fortunately there wasn't a lot of other traffic, I felt very sorry for the heavily laden motorbikes and cyclists we passed. Then the road got worse, huge holes meant the driver had to veer from side to side making it awkward if something was coming the opposite way. Things got tricky when the road also narrowed and a truck got stuck in the mud blocking our way. The poor passengers had to get out, ankle deep, and push. We were on our way again - but not for long - there were signs of oveheating from under our bonnet. Not a good place to be stuck. One of my colleagues looked around and remarked that no amount of money could help if you were hungry as there was nowhere to buy food or water, nothing but land as far as the eye could see. A few minutes of fiddling with the engine and a piece of red skutt (sticky tape) later and the car had a new lease of life. We arrived at the first school with no further problems.
Sokha and I were dropped off here whilst the rest went on to other schools. It was playtime and children were happily engaged in a range of activities such as high jump (over a length of elastic) and marbles. We were met by the headmaster and a very nervous NQT. After interviewing them, I observed a Maths lesson with Year 2. It started well with revision using small chalkboards. And that was it! The children spent the rest of the lesson copying the date, subject and lesson objective from the board! Some of the poor kids could barely write. The objective was to multiply single digit numbers by 10 but it never happened. Giving feedback was very difficult but I hope I managed to provide some good advice. Poor Sokha was having to write very quickly to translate what I'd written. I must admit to being very disappointed as I observed better lessons during 1st year Teaching Practice.
The taxi returned to take us back to the group for lunch. It was terrible to see the state of one of the other schools. Huge portions were missing from the roof, shutters were hanging off the windows and the floor was full of craters. A very difficult situation to teach in but the children all had smiles on their faces.
In the afternoon we all set off for the final school where there were two NQTs. This school had a lovely atmosphere and children somehow seemed more confident. Luckily for me I observed another Maths lesson, they're easier for me to follow. This time it was subtraction but again, a good start led to nothing although this was a bit better than the previous lesson. Most children got the question wrong in their books -yes, there was just one. My colleague helped give the feedback this time, I was glad to be working together as it meant she was also aware of what I had observed.
The hot sun had dried up the road so our journey back was much easier. I am actually glad I experienced the muddy road though, as it made me more aware of the real situation. I asked if the road had been passable during the rainy season and was told yes - but the water would have come up to the seats inside the car - much like when I went to Banteay Chmar. In Britain that would have meant the road was not passable.
The real work starts now as we analyse what we learnt today and discuss ways to prepare trainees better in the future. Another visit is planned to the same teachers to try to support them further.