A question has been gradually getting louder and louder in my brain the last couple of weeks and I haven’t been able to provide a conclusive answer either way. So what’s the question? Everyday, I spend several hours teaching English to Karen migrant school children. Some of them try to learn and apply what I teach, many others couldn’t care less. But that’s not the point. Even for the ones that do try and do learn, is what they’re learning remotely useful to them given that upon “graduation” most will return to Burma and begin working in the factories or fields, probably never seeing another English-speaking foreigner again in their lives?
What’s the point? Is this meaningful travel? Would it actually be more beneficial to them for me to step aside and allow them to have another class in its stead? What is the efficacy of my role in their education, and also in my growth and learning. There’s learning on both sides – they learn English from another perspective, and I learn the fine art of teaching. But is it worth it?
What do I think?
Back when I was first pitched the idea of teaching English, I really didn’t want to do it. But I’ve since come around and now I really quite enjoy it. One of the initial reasons I never took up the English-teaching mantle before now was because I could never see high efficacy in it. I had this discussion with several people before and some agreed, some didn’t. Yes, it’s beneficial to learn English as it’s the global language of trade, tourism, and business. But if you’re never going to use it, why bother?
While living in Japan for the first couple of years I busted my gut learning until kanji was coming out of my pores. I could read and write, and even impress the odd local with writing obscure kanji that they’d either never learned or had forgotten. Oh, that was a real party piece let me tell ya! 😐
But as the time rolled on, less and less could I see myself living there for a long time and my motivation for learning the Japanese language waned. Significantly. The simple argument is this… if I’m not going to use it regularly either for fun or gain in the future, why invest the time and money now to acquire the skill? Why indeed? So my ability never really improved, though the hard work early-on paid off as I could live quite comfortably there with the language both written and spoken. It has no usefulness in my life now except when I meet beautiful Japanese girls on the road and I need a way to impress them. And that hasn’t happened yet… FML.
So I guess my hat is in the proverbial ring. After teaching for over a month, my position on English teaching hasn’t changed – I think that unless the kids are willing to apply their minds to try and lift themselves out of their poverty cycle and aim for something high, my teaching them adjectives, nouns and adverbs is downright friggin’ useless.
Oddly, though, my motivation to go and teach every day isn’t reduced, rather I’m considering ways I can target my time better with them. For example, in my grade 8 class there are perhaps 1/5 of the students who are very good at English, and 1 or 2 in particular really apply themselves. I’ve already put a couple of computers in their school and one has been practically inhaling the English learning software on the computer.
So perhaps… rather than teaching the whole class, teaching a few students in a smaller, more intimate setting would be much more potent and both advance their English along faster, and make me feel a bit better about it all.
What do you think?
Is English teaching to the “poor” a worthwhile endeavour or would I be better tanning my pale hide on a Thai beach somewhere? I’m learning that the general consensus here is similar to that of mine. Basically: ah, it can’t do any harm, but in fairness, it doesn’t do anyone any good except make the volunteers feel good about themselves. Sod that! I don’t tan very well. What do you think? And I don’t mean about my tanning abilities… have you experience in teaching English in these sorts of places, or do you have any opinions otherwise? Are you an English teacher? Are you inspired by what you do? Do you feel it makes a difference?
[Update 2010/10/02] A follow-up article has been posted to further the discussion this topic. It can be found here: http://paulgoodchild.net/blog/cat-volunteering/further-discussion-on-the-importance-of-english-teaching/
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