ESL CLASSROOM ISSUE 3: The poorly resourced school

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Seriously, I’ve seen some horrors in my time in some remote areas of the world. A school of 500 children and nothing in the classroom at all. Go to the Principals office and he proudly opens his safe and there are 15 torn and tattered textbooks in there, and all he has to say is – these are the resources our teachers use – we need to keep them under lock and key.

I understand that some places just have no money, they have no ability to raise funds and no access to getting resources even if they did manage to find some small amount of money, but I have also seen incredible teachers create unbelievably dynamic lessons with children/adults using simply the world around them.

That school was very fortunately to have such a teacher and for sure she/he probably did it as a labour of love too, because they probably would have never been able to reimburse the teacher appropriately for what they did either. These teachers are few a far between and have a calling so deep they need to be called saints!

Then there are other issues whereby the school is definitely open to receiving resources from other places, however, sometimes their local governments reject it as they don’t believe the schools should be receiving ‘second hand-cast-offs’ from the rest of the world. In some ways I agree, as often these resources may be discarded from the previous schools because they are outdated and useless – why are they giving them to other schools? It’s a real put-down for the other school receiving them, like they are not worthy of new resources, like they are only a dumping ground for useless products. I agree. But the question then comes – what are the local governments doing about this to get the school on track with modern innovative resources? Not much.

Years ago, I used to work in Vanuatu (a small republic in the south pacific) and one thing we ‘native teachers’ had to do once a year was mark the national English exam. These were exams done by all the local schools in the outer islands (some of whom had the kind of lack of resources mentioned above). Something very interesting used to emerge. Sadly 90% of the outer island schools would have 90% failure rate in their Year 6 exam, then there would be one school on some very remote island that would have more like 90% success rate. All of us would be shocked and want to know what was it that this school had that others didn’t. Often they had a church on that island and there was a western minister with his wife and children, and while the Minister was delivering the sermon in the church the wife was conducting the classes in the school. She would have access to many other missionary donation outlets and bring by herself all the resources to the school as well as train all the local teachers at the school on how to use them. This was a clear indication that having quality resources and quality teachers who knew how to use them seriously paid off in the children’s education.

So that accounts for that school. The other thing was – what about the 10% who passed at these other schools? Did these 10% defy the odds and allowed their genius to rise up and learn through other means?…How I’m not sure.

But one thing is clear – a well resourced school is good, but if you have no teachers trained in how to use these resources, they may as well be sitting in a cupboard getting ready to be thrown away. If you have a great teacher and limited resources, there are some things you can do but still you can’t rely on having a saint walk into your school every year who’s going to do this.

Great resources are a great tool. Used well they can help even the weaker teachers to even break even, or used with supporting other materials can also be an excellent back bone to the curriculum.

For the school that struggles to find great teachers, spending money on quality resources can at least set you up to get better results.

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