Thursday, August 18, 2005

What They Need is Adult Education

I've been in New Amsterdam about 2.5 weeks now; not very long but I'm starting to get a better sense of the town. I'm also getting a better sense of what I'll be doing at work come fall, and that's the main point of this entry.

I've been assigned to a place that specializes in teaching community adults. Due to Peace Corps rules and restrictions I am not allowed to say exactly which place it is, but suffice to say we run short classes year-long in a number of different subjects ranging from cooking to welding to communication. (In all honesty, Peace Corps has never said a word to us about electronic communication or about blogs, nor have they even asked which of us have blogs -- so maybe they've eased off a bit at least for Guyana, but I mean to take no chances.)

It's not a really big place; don't picture a college or anything. It's pretty humble, though it does have about twenty to thirty teachers running classes all day during the regular part of the year. During summer there are only a couple classes and so they run summer school for young kids. That's what I've been doing for the last couple weeks -- helping my Counterpart run summer school. It's hell, believe me. The kids are pretty wild, and it's hot in that classroom. It just ended today, though, so - hooray!

Come fall (well, actually come two weeks from now) I'll begin teaching my own classes. They're trying to set me up teaching Report Writing to several groups of adults. This class will teach them the essentials in how to compose reports, do research, cite their research, and all that stuff, including a grammar refresher. I'll probably teach 3 or 4 of those classes. What else I'll do with my hours I'm not sure yet; maybe I'll present myself as a one-on-one tutor available during the early afternoon. My classes will begin around 4:30 pm and last about an hour and a half. With this schedule I won't need to get up until late in the morning and I can stay up into the night, which is perfect for me!

The other class I might teach is "Communication," which focuses more upon the importance and practice of both delivering information in speech form and to properly listening. Not something I've ever taught, and I'm a little nervous about it, but I'm sure I could catch on easily. That class would require students to give short speeches, so it would be nice to be on the TEACHER end of that equation for once!

Finally, yesterday I went out with my Supervisor to the local University of Guyana Extension campus, which is about a half hour ride from New Amsterdam. I met there with three people: the Dean, the Director of the Education Department, and an Education teacher (English falls under the School of Education). They want me to teach out there as well, and were falling all over themselves to get me -- since I'm free, I suppose, plus I was educated in America. Anyway, they offer a twin English course, much like schools all over the U.S., with a fall and spring course one after the next. It's a little different from anything I've seen beforem though: the fall course is purely grammar, while all possible types of essay writing are jam-packed into the spring semester. Both of them follow a lecture/tutorial format. So like 80 students cram into a long room and listen to a dry grammar lecture... it sounds to me like a horrible class, for teacher and student alike. No interaction, no discussion, no essays. Just lecture. Then some other time in the week there is a tutorial where about 1/4th of the students meet to review the lecture, and here the teacher sits in the room while the students fill out handouts. Again, not effective teaching and quite boring for all involved. But I guess that's why the education system in Guyana is failing.

In fact, during this visit two of the men I spoke with railed against the abhorrent state of education here, ranging from student passivity to teacher slothfulness. Literally in the same discussion I heard them condemn teachers for being soft on their slacker students, then I was told I couldn't demand anything from my students were I to teach the course. Just give them the handouts, deliver a lecture, then test them. Blah blah. If I teach there, I'll try to stretch the bounds of the class and we'll see who has better results!

But for now, I'll probably stick with my primary project and not work at U.G. I honestly don't relish the idea of teaching a LECTURE class in grammar to 80 students for four months. Yuck! Instead, I'll wait until Spring semester and do the essay-writing course. By then I'll be better situated and have a clearer idea of what I can and can't do.

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