Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tahsang Village School - Typical Isaan Elementary School

Tahsang Village Elementary School

Last week as part of our activity for applying for an Immigrant Visa for Duang, we went to Amphur Kumphawapi, sort of like a county office in the USA, to obtain a copy of Duang's first marriage certificate.  Although it was not specifically required to be submitted with our next submittal, the application packet stated that we should submit marriage certificates of previous marriages - if available.  I have had enough dealings with bureaucrats to realize that it is best to over submit documents than to hold back simply because it was suggested and not "required".

We brought Peelawat, our 18 month old grandson, to keep us or more accurately keep me company. The parking lot of the Amphur offices is a hot bed of monkey activity.  The monkeys live across the street in the large trees of the small park.  They cross the city street to mooch food from the people at the Amphur Offices.  Monkeys of all sizes, and ages can readily be seen sitting on top of parked cars and trucks, underneath the vehicles, and in general running all around the parking lot.  Many people feed the monkeys while awaiting their companions to complete their business in the offices.

Duang went in to see about getting a copy of her old marriage certificate while Peelawat and I went to observe the monkeys.  In Thai monkey is "Ling".  "Ling" is one of the few words that Peelawat speaks.  I had taken him to see the monkeys about two months ago.  When he went by the area a week later with his parents he pointed at the area and kept saying "Ling, Ling!"  They didn't understand what he was talking about until Duang explained that he and I had watched the monkeys for a half hour previously.  Peelawat also scratches his face with a huge grin, when you ask him about Ling Ling - just as the monkeys do.

On our last visit to the monkeys, Peelawat was very cautious.  I was too especially after I saw one monkey giving me the eye as I placed Peelawat's bottle of milk in my pants pocket.  I would have preferred to put in a shirt pocket but my shirts do not have pockets.  I am convinced that it would be better to hav e monkey run up to and start grabbing at your chest than at your pants pockets.  Since our last visit, Peelawat has taken on the job of chasing chickens and dogs out of his great-grandmother's village market.  He chases away cats that are often found at the Buddhist Wats (temples).  He does a good job until the animals stop, look at him, and then start to walk towards him.  He stops cold in his tracks, whips around and runs back to an adult.  I was not sure how he would react to the monkeys.

As we passed the shrine to a Royal Prince outside of the building, Peelawat stopped and gave a wai to the statue that was adorned with floral offerings.  He also gives this sign of respect on his own to Monks when he encounters him.  The family, like many Lao Loum families, teach their children at a very early age about respect, manners, and religion.  I pointed out some monkeys to Peelawat and he stopped.  He watched them, looked at me and as he pointed at them said "Ling Ling".  We saw some monkeys closer - sitting on top of some one's truck.  We walked closer with Peelawat holding my hand.  Peelawat let go of my hand and broke into a lively dance - both arms waving in the air to some internal rhythm known only to him, his feet were going up and down, he was "singing" something in his own language and he had a look of extreme joy on his face.  He was very happy to see the monkeys. We watched these monkeys until we noticed a man feeding some monkeys.  We got very close and watched for a long time.  The man gave Peelawat the bag of snacks, a sort of pretzel stick treat without the salt, so that Peelawat could feed the monkeys.  As I held Peelawat so that he could reach the top of the truck cab, he fed the monkeys enjoying every moment.

Duang was unable to get a copy of her old marriage certificate because a few years ago the Amphor office had burned down and many records were destroyed.  I guess that would explain the new cement block building being constructed next door.  No problem - my conscience is clear.  The certificate is not available so it will not be submitted.  Peelawat protested at leaving his furry friends behind but we had another treat planned for him.  We were going to the village school to get a certificate of Duang's attendance.

The elementary school that Duang attended for four years and the school that is still used for six grade levels is located on the main road just outside of Tahsang Village.  When Duang went to school, students attended when they became seven years old.  Today the children start when they are three years old.  The school is comprised of several buildings.  There is the main classroom building - an elevated 8 room wood structure.  There is an assembly hall about 10 meters by 10 meters square with a tile floor at grade.  There is a library building similar to the assembly hall but smaller.  There is a kitchen building.  There is a bathroom building.  A large playing field separates the school building from the road.  The school is typical of the schools scattered amongst the villages throughout Isaan.

Forty seven of Tahsang Village's finest attend the school.  They are instructed by 4 teachers (a couple of teachers instruct in more than one class at a time), a Principal, a Deputy Principal and acting Nurse, and Administrative person.

Typical Isaan School Classroom - Fit For Purpose
There are some differences in this typical Isaan school than schools in the USA.  First of all outside of the building there is a Buddhist shrine near the flagpole.  In the classrooms there is a religious Buddhist picture alongside a photograph of the King and a picture of the Thai flag. The Buddhist religion is an integral component of Thai daily living, Thai government, and Thai education.  Although 97% Buddhist and with Buddhism being the official state religion, Thailand is tolerant of other faiths.  I have seen and visited Catholic, and Protestant churches along with Hindu temples.  I have seen many Mosques and I have seen Mormon missionaries out and about on their bicycles.

School Corridor On A Rainy Day
Besides the religion aspects, there are other big differences between Isaan schools and American schools.  They are constructed out of wood rather than steel, brick and concrete.  The schools here do not have air conditioning which makes sense because the schools do not have glass in their windows or ceiling insulation or wall insulation.  The school windows do not have screens either.  There are a couple small fans in the class room to move the air around - just as in the student's homes.  The floors of the school are broad wood planking - I suspect teak wood.  The floors are smooth from many years of many students walking over them.

There is a TV mounted in a sturdy steel frame on the classroom wall so that media can be integrated into the teaching program.  There was also an old desktop computer on the teacher's desk of the classrooms.

The classrooms are illuminated by a couple of bare florescent tube lights - no reflectors or diffuser grids - just a bare tube - like in the student's home.  The school roof is corrugated steel with no sound damping application which must make for difficult hearing during downpours.  The classroom furniture is heavy wood and utilitarian.  I suspect that some of the chairs and desks that Duang used 39 years ago are still being used.  As in so many aspects of Lao Loum culture here in Isaan, the schools fully utilize what is available and take care of what they have.  There is a focus on items being "fit for purpose" rather than "stylish" or "modern".

There was no security guards at the Tahsang Village school or metal detectors.  Upon arrival, Duang, Peelawat, and I walked up the steep and narrow (for a foreigner) wood stairs to the outside corridor running the length of the building.  Two little dogs were resting outside of a couple of the classrooms.  I thought of either a nursery rhyme or first reader story about some little girl or boy's pet dog following them to school.  I was wrong - the dogs belong to the teachers.  Hell, it still makes a sweet story.  The dogs were well behaved and quiet.  The students seemed to enjoy their presence as the students wandered outside of the classroom to go to the toilet, to go to eat, or whatever reasons they had to be outside of their classroom.   Who knows it may be a head of its time.  Perhaps America will have "Take Your Pet To Work Day" to go along with "Take Your daughter to Work Day" and Take Your Son to Work Day"  Why is it that no one seems to want a "Take Your Spouse to Work Day"?

Peelawat is well known amongst the children of Tahsang Village.  Besides there being only about 250 people in the village, Peelawat's great grandmother sells ice cream cones out of her market.  The ice cream cones cost 5 baht - $0.15 USD with flavors like corn, mango, lemon, chocolate, chocolate chip and strawberry.  The children drop by for a treat and play with Peelawat, as he rests from his chicken and dog wrangling duties, for awhile on each of their many visits.  Peelawat is popular with the 11 year old boy who smokes cigarettes and was asked to quit school.  He carries his cigarette money in his ears.  He takes the coins out and sets them to spinning around on the tile floor much to Peelawat's delight.  He is very good with Peelawat so I suspect that he is not a "bad" boy but merely a "misunderstood" boy a la "The Fonz" from the old TV program "Happy Days".  But I have been wrong before ...

Classroom Entrance - Tahsang Village School
Word spread quickly that Peelawat was at the school.  As we walked along the corridor while Duang handled business with the Principal, many of "our" friends from the village came out to see us.  Peelawat was very interested in the school and students but he would not enter the classrooms.  A couple of the teachers came out to talk to us.  It was all very relaxed and informal.  Once again the Lao Loom sense of community was manifested.

In a year and one half, Peelawat will start school, so we stopped by the 3 year old students classroom to check it out.  They did not have furniture in their room - I suspect that besides being so difficult to keep them seated at a desk and chair, the furniture is too heavy for them to manage on their own.  The students were playing a game - a competition.  It was boys versus girls in a combination of relay race and pass the stuffed animal.  The two teams were seated next to each other in two long lines.  The race started with the first team member passing a stuffed animal over their head to the person behind them and so on.  The last person took the animal to the front of the line, sat down and started the process all over.  The winning team was the first team to get their starting player back at the head of the line.  With the teams comprised of entirely 3 and 4 year olds there was a great deal of confusion, laughing, giggling, and smiling with Peelawat cheering every one along.  I don't know who actually won and no one seemed to care.  They were having a great time.  I didn't spoil it by telling them that they were learning about cooperation, collaboration, competition and developing motor skills.

Peelawat and Gay At School - and you thought that "The Boy Named Sue" was a burden!!
Peelawat and I went back to the Principal's Office and discovered that they had retrieved Duang's record of attendance and transcript.  In one of the many ledgers in cabinets along the office wall they found Duang's records - handwritten in beautiful penmanship.  It appeared that we had arrived just in time with our request.  The ledger was well on its way to decay from non-archival storage as well as high acid content paper.  37 years had taken its toll on this ledger.  The Administration person was in the process of inputting the hand written information from the ledgers into a lap top computer.  It never ceases to amaze me how much hand written paper ledgers are used today here in Isaan.  Oh yeah and keeping them in non air conditioned as well as high humidity wood buildings.  We socialized awhile with the school officials and were invited back for this week's (Wednesday's Mothers Day Celebration)

Just like I have written about the differences in medical care and more importantly medical care costs here in Isaan as opposed to America, I have the same conclusion regarding public education here in Isaan.  A great deal of the costs of public education in America is involved in the physical facilities as well as maintenance of those facilities.  These costs of monuments, vestiges, and trappings of the current education system to greater glory, honor, prestige and power of politicians and local school boards do not necessarily pay dividends in the quality of the student's education.  Here in Isaan the facilities no way compare to those in the USA however the students seem to get the education that they need for this society.

Due to economic or surviving considerations, she needed to work in the fields to support the family, my wife only was able or rather allowed to attend four years of school.  However, she can read and write Thai.  She has excellent addition and subtraction skills.  So it was and even today, for many village children, so it is today

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