Friday, March 11, 2016

School Day

Earlier this week, I spent some time in the first grade.  I did not plan on going back to school but like so many things here in Isan, it just happens and leaves you wondering how you got to be so fortunate.

My wife had gotten a phone call earlier in the morning from a relative out in Thasang Village.  A special ritual was going to take place that afternoon - a healing and fortune ceremony for some people who could not afford to go to the hospital.  The relative wanted to know if I would like to come and photograph the ritual.  I have long ago learned to take advantage of all such opportunities - it is in line with my philosophy to experience life events and locations that are "not on the tour itinerary".

It turned out that the ritual was being conducted in a home located just behind the Thasang Village Elementary School.  Duang had me park the truck at the school for convenience.

We arrived at the school, the school that Duang had attended as a child, just after their lunch.  The school has about 50 students, all from Tahsang Village.  Several children were in the process of returning to their classrooms when we got out of the truck.  We could hear the children announcing to each other excitedly about Ta Allen (Grandfather Allen) and Yai Duang (Grandmother Duang) coming to school.  Elderly people are referred to as Grandfather and Grandmother as titles of respect and endearment.  Duang told them we were going to the house behind the school as we made the very short walk across the school grounds.

We attended the ritual and I took many photographs.  After a while I had taken all the photographs that I needed.  Duang asked me if I wanted to go home but I could see that she was involved in the ritual so I said that we would leave when she was ready.  I had my own idea of how to pass the time.  I think Duang knew what I had in mind because as I was getting up from the floor, she said that I could go take photographs of the students at the school.

I walked to the front of the school and entered a large room that served as the schools auditorium but was now the first grade classroom for all 10 students.  I had entered the classroom because even though it was "nap time", Pear was fully awake and welcomed me.  I knew many of the first graders by name - they are our grandson Peelawat's cousins or best friends.

I paid my respects to the teacher who was multitasking - doing some paperwork while listening to the students one by one reading to her.  I sat on the floor and took photos of the children as they woke from their nap and set about their routines.

The class room was an open class room - literally and figuratively.  The doors on each side of the room were wide open, opening to the outside.  The windows were also open - the wood shutters secured from closing.  As is typical for village schools in Thailand, there are no glass or screens for the doors or windows.  The class rooms do not have air conditioning.  Many of the rooms, this room was one of them, do not even have ceiling mounted fans.  Besides helping with ventilation, the open doors and windows also provide illumination for the rooms.  There are not many lights in the class rooms.

The first grade class room being at ground level has a tile floor where as the other classrooms in the elevated portion of the school have wood floors covered with linoleum.

Ancient blackboards and many instructional posters cover the walls of the school.  Since these were first graders, there was no furniture for the students.  Against one wall of the class room there were some cubicles where each student stored their sleeping blanket, pillow, toothpaste, pencil and paper folder and for many - their personal metal drinking cup.  To keep things organized, each cubicle door was decorated with a unique paper with the student's name and a picture that they had colored.

Student Towels and drinking Cups

Outside the class room, a wood rack stored the student's shoes.  Inside of the class room, the students were either barefoot or wore white socks.  Just inside the class room next to the door was a rack from which each student's personal towel and many of their drinking cups were hung.

As the children arose from their nap, without instruction, they quietly rolled up their blankets, gathered up their pillow, and placed them in their cubicle at the far end of the room.  The children were well aware of my presence but they maintained their discipline and composure.  Although the children were interested in my photos and enjoyed seeing them on the viewer of my camera, order was maintained without any intervention on the part of the teacher.  The students did not act like they were fearful or suppressed.  They acted more like responsible little adults - knowing what was expected of them and doing it as a matter of duty.

Two young girls broke off from the others and sat with their backs up against the low stage at one side of the room.  Sharing a workbook, they quietly practiced their reading together.

One boy sat at a table on the stage studying and doing some work in a workbook.

Opposite of him, a girl was doing the same but had time to pose for the camera.

Some of the children silently left the room after taking both their towel and metal cup from the rack by the door.  Outside at a wash station they washed and dried their faces and hands.  After a drink of water from a water jug, they just as quietly returned to their classroom.  They stopped by the teacher's desk to sprinkle powder from a container on their hands and rub the powder over their faces as well as necks.  I am always amazed at the amount of powder that is applied to babies and children after they are washed.

Once inside the classroom, the children started to work on puzzles - most of the puzzles were wood with bright colors.  It was at this point that I started to work on some of the puzzles with the children.  It was fun for everyone involved.  It eventually evolved into the children teaching me using a special wood puzzle - a brightly multi-colored shrimp with ten pieces each with a unique Thai number painted on it.  I knew the numbers in Thai but I did not know the Thai numerals so it was a learning experience - for me.

At about this time, the school principal showed up.  Was I in trouble?  No, this is Thailand or as Duang so often says "Thailand not same Ameerika".  She was checking up on the teacher and as I was later to find out upon returning home and getting on Facebook - taking and posting photos of me interacting with the students.

One by one the children went up to the teacher's desk to demonstrate their reading abilities.  If they struggled at some point the teacher quietly and gently guided them through the rough spot.

Duang arrived to find me hard at work trying to read Thai numerals and after exchanging some pleasantries with the teacher and the children, it was time to return home but not before each of the children saying goodbye to us.

Omsim says goodbye in her own charming way
Thasang Village Elementary School is typical of all the schools that I have visited in Thailand and Laos.  They are old and "spartan" - no way comparing to the physical standards of the USA.  However the standard and environment of the schools parallels the lifestyle of the children and their homes.

I was appalled when Duang and I lived in America to take care of my parents.  The school district tried to pass a bond issue to cover the predicted $45,000,000 cost to RENOVATE the junior high school that I last attended in 1964.  The renovation was required to convert the junior high (middle school" to a "Pre-School" 

As it turned out, Duang ended up attending Night School for English classes at my old school.  Although the school had grown approximately 50% in size, its physical condition was exactly as I remembered it back in 1964 when it was about 5 years old.  Forty-five MILLION dollars to renovate?

There in lies the rub ... just as in the matter of health care, I believe that people equate quality and effectiveness to the physical and material state of the facilities.  The philosophy of "fit for purpose" is no longer much of a consideration today in America today.  Organizations and individuals take much pride in the grandeur of their physical facilities - more of a passion for form rather than substance.

Living overseas I have experienced excellent health care in facilities that most people in America would never consider using because of their physical state.  However the cost of the health care was no where near what people pay for their care in those ultra-modern technological marvels in America.  You do not necessarily always get what you pay for - especially in regards to education and health care - often you are paying for ambiance and unnecessary bling.

There are many ways to attain goals.  The important thing is to have the ability and freedom to make choices - your personal choices.

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