This post serves as an introduction to some forthcoming posts written out of interviews I had with former students of mine from the school in Bangladesh where I’ve worked, one way or another, for six years (and counting). I thought it about time I showed you what I do all day – or more accurately, where I do it.
This NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) was set up about thirty years ago to bring health development to a particularly poor region of Bangladesh. Until the completion of the Jamuna Bridge many years ago, the Rajshahi division was pretty isolated from the rest of Bangladesh through having the huge Jamuna river run down its right side and the Padma river (known as the Gangees in India) run underneath. The other two sides border India. It means that the Dinajpur district – with a large prevalence of Hindu and Santal tribal people who, historically, have always come at the bottom of the pile when it comes to resources – has remained under-developed.
LAMB began as a number of clinics to give health care and education in health to local village people. Then the hospital was built to supplement the work. Now we have a training centre as well and began training nurses last year. With staff now running to several hundred the project has grown to huge proportions very quickly. It is wonderful to see but not so easy to manage!
With the staff comes families and that means children that need educating. They came a time, around 15 years ago, when it was decided that LAMB really needed its own school. Highly trained and experienced staff were leaving on a regular basis purely because their children needed to go to school. Decisions about how to solve this had to be made.
LAMB English Medium School
For good or for bad, English (or, as I prefer it, Robert McCrum’s term ‘Globish’) is the international language of business, science, law and a host of other things that are all spelt D.E.V.E.L.O.P.M.E.N.T. So the school was designed as an English Medium School and the British National Curriculum was chosen as the model to use.
Originally just one teacher in one room of our Guest house (the school building wasn’t built at that time) with a handful of children, the numbers swelled to about 80 by the time I first came to teach in 2006 and a building of 10 rooms. When we came to live here in 2008 a second building had been added. As I write, the number of children is around 120 and a third building is being proposed. Things move surprisingly quickly despite feeling like it is all going at a snail’s pace!
Now we cater for, more or less, all the LAMB staff’s children plus quite a few others from outside too – especially amongst the poor Santal villages lying nearby. Although coming from a particular religious faith point of view, the school welcomes all and we have Muslims, Christians and Hindus in the classes just as we do amongst LAMB staff. Respect for all has always been the key philosophy to our teaching here. We’ve a built a good reputation in the area on it.
Although primarily English Medium, we also teach Bangla classes and you will find the library half full of Bangla books. We also offer Bangla as an O level here.
The Weekly Routine
Each week begins (on a Sunday for those of you not used to Asian living) with the whole school standing outside and singing Amar Shonar Bangla (My Golden Bangla) which is the National Anthem.
Then we move indoors for the school assembly. These days we have to split up into different grades because there are so many of us now, but when I first came we would all cram into our largest room for these lovely sessions. It is wonderful to see we are developing so much that no room is big enough any longer for us all but sad to see we can’t all gather as one anymore.
Still, these sessions are nice and not like the assemblies by my school back in the UK used to be. Whilst there is still the moral teaching (the photos I’m using here had a teacher sharing about the remarkable Team Hoyt – I strongly recommend you google them and find out about this incredible father and son team), we also get the opportunity, once a month, to celebrate all the birthdays of the coming month. Here it was Thing I’s turn, along with one of her best friends and a teacher.
They get given cards the students have made for them and a little present later in the month but assembly is finished with cakes and snacks for all. It is a wonderful experience and reminds us all that we, at LAMB school, are a family.
This family aspect is the reason I came here after the heart-rending decision to leave my ‘family’ back at the school in Whitehaven where I was worked 8 years. I still miss all those students I taught there and I’m sad that at LAMB the children stay still and the teachers move from room to room whereas back in the UK I had my own teaching room where I did all my classes. That meant that at breaks and lunchtime I could let students come in and be part of my community. I loved that and it was hard to leave it behind.
After assembly on Sunday, classes begin and the rest of the week (ending on Thursday, unlike the national schools which have Saturday for lessons too) is spent in study. Here are some of the classrooms:
The Science Lab
The Computer Room shared with the Teacher’s desks!
I was brought here to LAMB to help out set up the O level work which was desperately needed. It wasn’t my decision to start O levels – that decision was made without me – but the quality of education the British O levels offer is really quite impressive and our students that have gone on to A levels have often commented to me how glad they were they did them as they got set up well for the A levels. The British system is recognised and valued all over the world, unlike the Bangladeshi system and is certainly more consistent in the quality of testing true learning.
For one reason or another, I never really got given the chance to set the O levels up properly or train any staff to carry it on. Nevertheless, the work has developed anyway and these days I can actually see that once I leave at the end of next year, the work will carry on without me. I wasn’t always sure it would! I always intended to ‘do myself out of a job’ and now think I have almost done that. Given another 15 months (we leave after December 2013) I think all should be well.
The bigger dilemma is one of funding. O levels – even after LAMB’s every effort to keep costs down – are expensive. We don’t have the teaching resources to be able to teach A levels and they are even more expensive. Bearing in mind that some of our students come from families so poor they live in mud huts (beautiful and clean though they often are), this means that tough decisions have to be made. This is worse for the girls who we have to make sure are moved on to not just good teaching environments after LAMB but safe ones too. A girl is not always safe in Bangladesh whereas she is at LAMB.
It’s an ongoing problem and, no doubt, will yield new solutions in the future -probably long after I’m gone. However, if some passing millionaire happens to be reading this and thinks they would love to set up a fund to support O and A level students in the future then please do. I reckon we need about £12,000 a year to make sure all our students can afford the fees for O levels and the ones for A levels too even if we can’t teach the As yet ourselves. Now that’s not a lot of cash for a rich man (or woman!). A million in a trust fund would do the job very nicely thank you!
So if you do happen to know any millionaire philanthropists, do let me know…