La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
September 2004 Newsletter
Summer 2004 … help at last!
Greetings. Peace and Joy is within you.
Well, it’s time to write again. In my June 24th report, I concentrated on events connected with
the move into the house in Baijiang. Two other significant events then were the day visit of a member of our Malaysian LaSallian Family, Mr. Yoong Yan Pin and the week long stay of Br. Jeffrey Chan of Singapore.
Br. Patrick Tierney of Hong Kong was to visit Changjiao and officially open La Salle Study Centre in August. Unfortunately, owing to unforeseen circumstances, the visit has been postponed. Anyway, I am sure a suitable date will be scheduled in the near future. In the main time, for easier reference I will refer to the house in Changjiao-Baijiang as La Salle Study Centre or LSSC.
Just before the summer holidays began, I returned to Hong Kong for five days. I was invited to give a session to the teachers of St. Joseph’s College Hong Kong at their Staff Development Day on 8th July. On the one hand, it was timely as I had not gone back to Hong Kong for 9 weeks and I needed a short break before the start of the Summer English Programme. On the other, it was a good opportunity for me to test if I could be away from Changjiao and LSSC still run smoothly. I put the eight selected primary students in charge of running LSSC while I was away. Thank God
all went well. I returned to Changjiao on 10th July and was absolutely delighted to know that everyone was happy. The village authorities and parents were delighted that I arranged for LSSC to remain opened while I was away. They were amazed that I allowed their children to have control over access to the computer room and the study hall, and were even more amazed that their children kept the strict rules and discipline of LSSC even when I was away.
I had announced earlier on that registration for the Summer English Programme would be on 15th and 16th July and that classes would begin on Monday 19th July. I also made it clear to the villagers that I would accept students not residing in the village only on the recommendation of families in Changjiao. I reminded them that it was their responsibility to ensure that the number of students did not exceed 150 as I could only effectively teach 5 classes of 30 students each.
I enlisted the help of six primary students to take charge of the registration. In the evening of 14th
July we started to register some students of Baijiang so as to give them some practice on how to handle the process. On 15th July, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, we were kept busy from beginning to end. I interviewed each student in the presence of parent or guardian. The object of the exercise was attempt to weed out those do not want to study but were coerced by their parents to register. Of course it was impossible to be accurate. I did turn away some who openly said that they were not interested in learning English but their parents told them they could use the computers if they follow lessons in English. I also used the interview process to warn students and parents that any student not willing to put aside at least four hours a day - two hours in school and two hours at home - to learn English should not join the classes. A test would be conducted at the end of the first week. Those not making any progress would be asked to leave.
When registration ended at noon on 16th July, we registered a total of 223 students, 73 more than the ideal number of 150 that was planned. In the afternoon, the student helpers began the tedious task of keying in the particulars into the computers. Our task was made more difficult as some of the students gave us inaccurate Pinyin for their Chinese names. As I mentioned earlier on, my student helpers were Primary school kids. I only began teaching them how to use the computers in early May. They could only write Chinese characters using the Pinyin method. I had not started teaching them how to input Chinese characters using the official Chinese Wubi system. I admire their enthusiasm and dedication to the task. Meanwhile a steady stream of students continued to knock at the door requesting places and I had to stand firm in refusing to register more students, including those recommended by the local authorities and two of my staunch supporters. I had to turn away more than 70 students. By noon the next day we had the list ready.
There were two classes of primary students of 44 and 46 students each, two classes of lower secondary students of 40 and 45 students and one class of 48 upper secondary students. Three copies of the list were printed and immediately posted in three locations, the school, at the political secretary’s house and at LSSC.
As it turned out during the programme, three primary school teachers from Dabu-Huliao sat in during the lessons and I also ran afternoon and evening classes for one post-graduate student, six undergraduates, a kindergarten teacher from Shenzhen and two nursing school students Guangchou. All in all therefore, at its highest peak, a total of 236 students attended classes, although in actual fact, the numbers vary according to changing circumstances as you will see later in this report.
On Sunday morning 18th July, I went to the school to have a final check on the preparations there. As usual my student helpers came to assist me. The new headmaster of Changjiao’s Primary School, Mr. Zhong was there too. I had told him to prepare to host about 180 students. It was obvious then that the number of desks and chairs prepared before school closed for the summer were not enough. In fact the classrooms were too small, so we decided to use the music room, the school hall and the kindergarten playroom. The student helpers were absolutely marvellous and in no time they cleaned the rooms and arranged the desk and chairs. We were ready.
In the summer of 2002, I had to travel from house to house teaching just 32 students. I was not allowed to use the school then. Last year, the summer of 2003, the situation improved and I was allowed to use the school but the headmaster was nowhere to be seen. I taught 122 students. Then I was in charge of everything in school and did almost everything myself but I did have the assistance of a pre-university student to assist me in teaching and a primary six boy to help me prepare lessons on the computer.
Thankfully this year, the local cavalry sprung into action. Mr. Zhong the new headmaster volunteered to assist me throughout the 4 weeks. He took charge of all student affairs, from checking on attendance, keeping discipline and cleanliness to dealing with parents and visitors. He also saw to it that my assistance and I had drinks and a proper lunch at the end of our lessons. Mr. Kian Pang, the caretaker and cook of the school also volunteered his service and together with Ms Liao the village kindergarten teacher, prepared lunch for us. Thus my work was simplified and I could concentrate on teaching. Three undergraduates and one post-graduate volunteered to assist me in teaching and I enlisted one secondary school boy to help handle computer related matters.
Briefly, I personally taught each class for 45 minutes. They had to focus their attention on a TV and would read and interact with me individually, in small groups and as a class. I made sure that everyone had a chance to say something in English everyday. After my lesson in the music room, which was always recorded in a laptop computer, the students then proceeded to the hall. There everything taught on that day was once again shown via a second laptop and TV. Two of my assistant teachers would help the student to read again and copy the lesson taught, often with an additional reading assignment. After copying down the lesson which usually took about 45 minutes the students moved on to the kindergarten playroom where two other assistant teachers were stationed. Here they spend 30 minutes revising their lesson. The assistant teachers were on hand to help those who had difficulties. Thus each student spent two hours a day in school and was expected to study another two hours at home each day.
As to be expected, there was a bit of confusion on the first day but subsequently it was smooth running all the way. Thankfully there was no power failure throughout the 4 weeks. We were able to use the TVs and computers for all the lessons. On the first day, the village Political Secretary turned up to personally look at things. He was delighted to see that everything was orderly. He came back to share lunch with us as he wanted to see the whole staff together. To show his appreciation, on the last day of this year’s summer programme, he and his whole staff hosted lunch for all of us.
As I promised them, on Friday of the first week, an oral and written test was conducted. More than 40 students did not do well. Those who were not interested in the first place decided to pull out.
Others who wanted to continue and were willing to be demoted were retained. It is interesting to note that three who did well in the weeks that followed and were offered promotion decided to stay in the lower class where they could follow the lessons well. Two weeks into the programme, the better secondary students from the best schools in Dabu-Huliao had to leave as they only had three weeks of summer holidays and had to report back to school early.
Simultaneously as the English programme was being conducted, a Basic Computer Course for the 8 selected primary students was underway. I was delighted to accept the voluntary service of a computer teacher Mr. Jian from a Vocational School in Dabu-Huliao. He prepared and taught a 30 hours programme spread over a 20 days period. His lessons were conducted at LSSC from 6 to 7.30 p.m. That was a real bonus as he was able to teach the students how to use the official
China Wubi system. Mr. Jian is one of many local teachers who visited me and observed my lessons. To his credit, he is the only one who actually comes back regularly in the evening for lessons. The rest expressed interest but could never find the time to come to LSSC although they say they will attend if I start a night class in Dabu-Huliao. The eight students are now the designated junior instructors in charge of the computer room. They are required to pass on their skills to other students of the village. Computer students of La Salle Klang (1983-85) will be able to relate fully to this idea as they too became computer literate through a student supervised computer centre at that time.
At the end of the 4 weeks programme, I spent another week in Changjiao to organise and supervise the computer lessons for students of the village. The eight students now work in pairs to run the computer room. The first batch of 40 students had access to the computers for two hours daily throughout the rest of the holidays. When school reopens they will only have scheduled time during the weekends. During the weekdays they will have to arrange their own time table subjected to availability of computers in the evening.
I left Changjiao and returned to Hong Kong on 21st August for my long delayed summer vacation. I felt tired but contented. It was a good feeling knowing that the village is slowly taking ownership of the project. Yes, the local cavalry has sprung into action. I did not work alone this summer. In fact, during and after the programme, we received lots of feedback from the villagers. There were criticisms but there were also some good suggestions and generally they were very supportive. They understood why I did not want too many students as it was obvious that individual attention was missing this year and I could only teach 45 minutes per class each day. They felt that too many outsiders had slipped in because some villagers had recommended their friends children and asked that registration be more strictly regulated next year.
It is good to know that the English programme is now perceived as a major summer event of the village. Many of the older generation are delighted to have their grandchildren with them for the summer as their own children working in towns and cities are now willing to send their kids back to the village to learn English. Changjiao has become a holiday destination for students.
I would like to end this report by thanking all Lasallians who supported this project. Your assistance made it possible for me to give out books, pens and folder needed for the programme free to every student. This was done to ensure that poor students from the hill area did not feel embarrassed by their poverty. I attach some photographs as a picture paints a thousand words.
As always with love in DLS, in the service of youth and nation.
Take care and God bless. BDLiaoFSC
5th September 2004
All good things must
come to an end...