Children here are now enjoying their 2- month- summer break. However, most parents cannot afford to go on holiday. For the kids to be supervised during those 8 weeks without school, some governmental institutions and local organizations, such as my volunteer organization, created the so-called Summer School. Summer Schools can be found in several areas in and around Suva.
The school where I work is located in Nakasi, which is a small town about half an hour from where I live. It is a strictly catholic primary school with many students, though, there are only 100 of them attending Summer School. The school itself is beautiful, loads of space around for children to play, a big playground and there is even a gym that can be used for several activities.
At school, we are between six and nine Care and Teaching Volunteers. It always depends on how many volunteers arrive and leave that week. The most remarkable thing about Summer School is that there are no teachers whom we have to assist. We are the teachers. We are the only people in charge. We have to teach a certain amount of Maths and English lessons, but apart from that, we can do whatever we consider essential for the kids to learn.
I was put in charge of Classes 2 and 3, even though I´d preferred to teach a Class 6. Apparently, my organization was convinced that I´d manage to maintain discipline in classes like that regarding my experience in struggling for respect in Class 4 at my former school. Summer School is a lot of fun. Mostly I used to work together with another volunteer, and we´d share not only teaching but also lesson preparation and marking the tests we´d conducted. I was looking forward to going to school every single day, mainly because I loved teaching the kids new stuff that I considered important.
On our first day, we established rules and wrote them on the board, such as “Be quiet – Sit properly – Treat your classmates just like you want them to treat you – If you want to say something, raise your hand – Don´t scream “absent” if the person is present!!!” (THIS is sooo annoying when you have to check the attendance every morning….). We told the kids to take the rules seriously, and most of them did. Some of them had to write down a certain rule for a few times as a punishment. (By the way, the record: One boy had to write down “Sit properly” 50 times and even after that he would still lounge in his chair…)
Regarding Maths, we mainly did some revision by playing competitive games. Fijian children are very competitive – we didn´t even need to bring prices.
English lessons were mostly spent by revising grammar, such as tricky words (much-many; some-any) or irregular verbs (go-went-gone; see-saw-seen). That´s one thing I really underestimated when I came here: I had thought Fijians would speak proper English. Most of them do speak English, but grammar-wise it is absolutely catastrophic. Even teachers sometimes wouldn´t use the –s in the third person singular. Apart from that, a lot of them don´t know the irregular verbs. It´s not rare to hear phrases like “I´ve just sawn him” or “Have you teached them……” At the school I´d worked before, I even had to correct the draft of a spelling test my teacher had conducted because he spelled two words out of ten incorrectly himself.
There are many things I learned and discovered during Summer School. Firstly, it is important to be strict from the first moment on when you stand in front of a new class. It is essential to draw in the reins and show the kids which rules go for them. As soon as they know the ropes, you can loosen the reins a bit…
I came to Fiji to experience something I´d never experienced before. I didn´t know what to expect from teaching children, and I wasn´t sure if this project was really going to be right for me. It is fascinating for me to see that there is a phenomenon going on here that you are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world. What I mean by this is that those children live on the other side of the world, in a small country, which has not much to offer regarding their future. It is easy to predict their lives. Most kids will finish school. Afterwards, if they´re lucky they will go to USP (University of the South Pacific – the only University here), they will get some kind of job or end up as one of many taxi drivers where they´ll earn just enough money to buy a cabin somewhere in town and food. They will get married, start a family, they will raise their kids in the exact same conservative way as they had been raised themselves. On top of all, they will never get out of Fiji or the Pacific Region. They will never be able to see another continent – maybe if they are lucky enough, they get to visit Australia once. Most of them will never be able to see Europe. They will never be able to see how different and non-primitive life can be in other places on this planet. They will never be able to recognize how small-minded and naive their culture is.
But still, for some reason, the parents of those kids make them attend summer school so that they can learn more and more and to get better and better. Even the children themselves have the motivation to come to school during their holidays because most of them want to learn something. They want to get to know phrases in foreign languages, which they will likely never get the chance to use. They want to keep photos of our families and us back home because some of them will never meet any white people in their lives again. Fijian people have been living this kind of predictable life for decades now. But still, those Fijian kids – forced by their parents or voluntarily – come to school every single day eager to learn something new or improve skills to have a slightly higher chance to achieve something in life. In other countries, like Germany, a lot of children are not motivated to go to school at all, even though Germany is a country where, eventually, it really does matter how much you´ve learned throughout your time at college.
Another thing I´m touched by is the fact that summer school gave me a fantastic opportunity to make a difference in the children´s lives. In the end it´s always the wish to change or improve the world that attracts volunteers to go abroad and help in a country where help is needed. I know I cannot change the world. But I´d like to think that I can change tiny little pieces of this world by sharing my thoughts, my values and my attitudes with these kids. Even small, but significant things like environmental care, recycling or global warming. All of these are topics never dealt with here in Fiji. I hope that they´ll keep some of what we taught them in mind – not only throughout the summer school period but hopefully for the rest of their lives.
PS: I´m part of my organization´s December 2012 – Newsletter. Feel free to read it – there´s also a lot of inside information on Summer School to be found.