Monday, 28 October 2013

Rich School, Poor School

When you move to a new country you are bound to have a culture shock; even if you always thought of yourself as the most open and broad minded person in the world. Coming from India and being placed in one of more affluent schools here in Colombia, took me a while to wrap my hands around the culture here. It was not that difficult an adjustment because I imagine the opposite being more difficult to adjust to i.e. if someone had to come work in India with Affordable Private Schools.

To start with, I had never worked with a rich school before and with my background of working mostly in the development sector prior to this, pure capitalism came as a pleasant surprise to me. Air conditioned teacher lounges with WiFi, class rooms with projectors, four basketball courts and a mini football field give me little reason to complain. I always felt like for me changing the world for the good, could be achieved through a non profit organisation wearing a Khadi Kurta and a Desi Jhola, until my tryst with Social Enterprise. And now working with a for-profit has left me feeling differently. Whats next? Working with a Multi National? :O

Living the stark contrast of struggling to make ends meet with limited resources back in India to having multimedia tools at your disposal, adds so much perspective to things. And if like me, you think all these resources make teaching extremely easy, you are sadly mistaken. The biggest challenge is not cash flow but lack of discipline and rebellious teenagers.

The challenge in India was to make the students (specially the girls) overcome their shyness, open up and take part in the activities to make them more confident. Here it is the exact opposite. The students won't take part in the activities because they are too "cool" for it. Students in India need to be told exactly what to do and feel lost without constant instructions. Here, each and every one of them has bags of personality and they openly flaunt it. Fourteen year old's have tattoos and make the choice of having something that permanent on their body forever. Teenage boys are extremely into gym-ing and hold up the colombian reputation of Latin men as smooth takers. On one of my first few days at school, an overly confident teenager gave me a cheek kiss after our first conversation, leaving me dumb struck, as it is tradition here.

They constantly use cell phones in classroom and don't even get me started about the teenage couples holding hands and making out in the middle of the ground and the corridors, pairing up and sitting extremely close in classrooms making it awkward for me while I'm trying to teach. No wonder teenage pregnancy is one of the biggest concerns in the country. They sure do not have a problem with PDA. While in India the students fear and dread the teachers; students and teachers are friends here. Students are comfortable to openly show their sexuality and other students are more accepting of the homosexual ones, which is great to see. They do have their share of bullies through. If the students crossed a teacher's path in my school they'd just fold their hands, put their head down and walk away; here they high five and first bump the teacher and hang around to catch up on which level they finished on their favorite Xbox game.

Sports is given so much importance along with musical instrument practices. It was a delight to see an all women football tournament and to see women equality. The kids are also spoiled with an average pocket money of about 30.000 pesos a month because they are always sipping on soda pops even in the middle of class. So their attitudes in class reminds me of movies like dangerous minds and freedom writers, and I totally feel like their lead protagonist with the big challenge of keeping their attention in class!

My school here has a reputation of not being too academically oriented. Every day is such a fiesta! Especially now since we are closer to the end of the year. No two days are similar and there is always something fun and new happening around here. Variety IS the spice of life! :) 

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