Our volunteer, Shana Thuray, conducted her first retraining session with pre-school teachers in Batticaloa. Here’s what she had to say about this experience.

Shana's Teacher Retraining Session in Batticaloa

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Shana Thuray
1. Arulrani – Miyani Preschool, Sauukkady
2. Nanthini – Miyani Preschool, Sauukkady
3. Vinothini – Punithayagappa, Sauukkady
4. Maria – Punithayagappa, Sauukkady
5. Pushpalogini – Malarum Mottukal, Hittul
6. Pratheepa – Malarum Mottukal, Hittul
7. Pushparani -Vizhuthukal, Sinnapullumalai
8. Majulathevi – Vizhuthukal, Sinnapullumalai
9. Yalini – Kalaivanni , Pallarsenai
10. Thushanthini – Kalaivanni , Pallarsenai
11. Janani – Siruvar Puingga, Illupadisenai

I had an incredible opportunity to get together with a few pre-school teachers from remote villages nearing Batticaloa for a nice interactive session where I got a chance to get to know them and understand their perspective of education and what I could potentially offer them to help them teach better and help the students of their area.

Although I was excited about leading my first professional session with the teachers, I was also incredibly nervous about it. I knew that many of the teachers I would meet would be older than me and probably have much more working experience than I had. I was afraid that my discussion topics would be too simple and would potentially make them feel undervalued for their experience. I really wanted to be mindful that they were teachers with classroom experience and obviously went through teachers training program. Most of all, I was nervous about my Tamil and getting across to the teachers smoothly. To my luck and with the help of my husband, who stayed with me throughout the session, the teachers and I had a great first session.

To start, we did a quick ice breaker game to get the teachers comfortable to have discussions with one another. They shared why they got into teaching, how long they have been teaching and what was their career goal as well some of their favourites. One thing that surprised me was that all the teachers were pretty satisfied with where they were in terms of their career, their goal was to be a good teacher. Many of the teachers have been in the same teaching role for a long time, but no one had an interest to progress to a higher level in their career field. I’m not sure whether it’s because I lived in the western world, or because of the way I raised by my dad, but I always felt that it was necessary to have a goal and next steps so we can keep growing and challenging our self. I didn’t want to dive further, but I think I would like to touch on the idea of having attainable goals and working towards them, so that it can then be reflected on to the children they teach.

After the introduction, I dove right into the question “What is education?” I allowed each teach to formulate their opinions, and share with the group. There answers was not very surprising, but was very limited in their view. Education was what helps someone to read and write, and live in the society with some prestige. Knowing how to read and write helps a person with their everyday life. After hearing all the teachers’ perspectives, I shared with them that education had much more impact on a child’s life when proper efforts are made. Education shouldn’t just be academic results, it should build a student’s character, it should teach learning skills so that students can build the society with good citizenship. Teachers should build the curiosity of the various subjects and engage them with real life situations which students can connect with and have understanding. As preschool teachers, they are building the foundation of learning, so it is important for students to be exposed to their curiosity, to build good values and habits.

After another small game of catch with fun questions, all the teachers divided into groups of 4 and one of group 3, to brainstorm the role of the teacher, the role of a student and the role of parent. After each group brainstormed, each group presented their group discussion to the larger group. We all then discussed the importance of all three groups working together, and how there can be an improvement the relationship between one another. The teacher clearly understood each person role, and why it was important for all three groups to work together.

It was when I asked the question “What were some of things that could be improved in the preschools so the children can be taught better?”, that many of the teachers poured out their hearts. Aside from small space they have to fit up to 30 children, the lack of play toys, lack of toilet facilities, and the lack of proper food facilities, I was saddened by the fact that they preschool teachers were not paid a salary but rather an allowance of just 3000 Sri Lankan Rupees every month. This allowance itself does not seem to come to them on a monthly basis. It was in August that they were given their allowance for April. They are still waiting for months preceding that. Fortunately 6 of the teachers are getting paid a salary of 6000 Sri Lankan Rupees because 3 preschools have been taken under the wing of the Canadian Tamil Humanitarian Association, and have been receiving it on a timely manner. These teachers say they are able to manage. How about the 6 teachers, who have no salaries and are not getting their allowances on time? What about their situation? Why is it so hard for the government to understand the importance of preschools teachers and pay them a salary? It’s amazing to know that these teachers have been dedicated to their jobs, and that they are working without a salary. However, they don’t feel respected or valued for their dedication and that will definitely affect the teaching in the classroom. This should change, but how?