Ask questions but expect unwelcome answers.

When I asked the Principal of Indus Public School what was the secret of his energy, success and persistence of vision, he answered that it was his training as a young boy and student in a military academy. As a pacifist, this was not what I wanted to hear so I repeated my question in a different way but received the same answer! This forces me to consider the qualities and strengths brought to an educational setting by such an ethos. Perhaps if I can put aside the horrible thought that children are trained in such institutions to obey orders without question and , therefore, ultimately to kill without questioning one’s own conscience, I will begin to open my mind to alternative ways of thinking about pedagogy. The discipline and rigour evident in the school we were viewing, stands in stark contrast to the sort of environment I have become used to in English schools so I am forced to open my eyes and ears, to learn what I can from this leader who demonstrates compassion and such motivation that he gets up early every morning to exercise and prepare for a vigorous daily regime with almost religious fervour.

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Clothing Connections

As I was listening to the radio today there was discussion about the importance of re-using and repairing  clothes, mending and wearing clothes belonging to loved ones including parents or deceased relatives and friends. This reminded me of a lesson learnt on my visit to India. Before our visit, I was advised to take clothes to give to people there as a way of showing my appreciation for the hospitality they were sure to give me. When I remarked that my clothes were nothing special, mostly bought from Charity shops, my Indian friend said that the clothes were not supposed to be new or especially fashionable but just something chosen and worn by you, useful to the person and a reminder of yourself. These clothes would be valued for their usefulness by people with less disposable income than us and for the symbolic meaning of sharing something of yourself. I had not fully appreciated this great way of connecting with people but as we left India and our friend, Kam, spoke about the sadness of leaving behind dear friends and family, she told us how she had given her clothes away and had been given clothes in return as a memento. These precious tee shirts, shawls and coats remind her of the person’s smell and they carry with them a sense of the person’s character.

I was glad to have given a few clothes away and especially a cardigan which I had taken with the intention of leaving it behind. This black cardigan had belonged to a dear friend who lived in our flat for 3 years and whenever I wore it I remembered her with fondness. The close connection I felt it gave me with my friend was the sort of connection that many people have recognised when sadly sorting through clothes belonging to loved ones shortly after their death. The smell of this cardigan, of course, did not linger but since my friend’s passion is fashion, the symbolism gained strength for me.  I was pleased to be able to give it to a woman selling cheap items at one of Gurdwaras we visited and I wrote to my friend at the time in this way :

Savithri, you probably don’t remember the black cardigan you left behind in your flat but I wore it for years and decided to bring it to India to give away. I just gave it to a poor woman selling stuff at a Gudwara. She was so pleased and put it on straight away. It made me cry to think of you and us all being connected xxx

India 2018

Johnny and I flew with our friend. Kamalvir Kaur (Kam) to New Delhi for the trip of our dreams. It began last summer.. no, that’s not right. It began… when we lived in Highfields in Leicester being loved and supported by our Muslim and Hindu neighbours when having our children… that’s not right either. It began when I was teaching English in homes and Community Centres in Leicester because I had felt called to teach EFL (as it was then) at Bangor University CU hearing from a visiting speaker about the work of In Contact in Inner London. Or maybe it began when we were children watching slides shows from the mission fields as we both shared a vision to do God’s will and be missionaries. Whatever, Johnny and I had reminded ourselves of this goal to visit India about 4 years ago when we co-authored a bucket list of shared goals.

In the summer this year while travelling in the Hebrides, I opened my Facebook and saw an invitation from Kam, who had been working with me at Maplewell Hall School in 2012 and had since retrained to become a nurse. She simply wrote, “Do any of my friends want to come with me to India?”

So how could we possibly refuse?! December is.cool enough for me as a red head, we both had flexibility with work and, best of all, Kam was to be our guide who was keen to show us villages, schools and farms in Punjab which we could never have reached alone. This was the opportunity we had been actively seeking all 36 years of our married life. Thank goodness, with the help of my Mum’s generosity and encouragement from family, we seized the opportunity.

Kam’s Canadian Punjabi friend, Harjeet Singh, took us around in a car he hired with a driver so we have stayed in a 5 star hotel (where we felt most uncomfortable) in people’s homes including hospital workers’ accommodation, a small basic family house in a village, a big palatial house owned by another Sikh who lives both in Punjab and Canada, a Gurdwara room which is free to visitors on agreement by the priest (we arrived late at night without any other plan!), and for the last 3 days in a palatial house belonging to Harjeet’s family.

We kept marvelling at how each day seemed to be the “best day ever”. Visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar was, of course, going to be a highlight and to be there at dawn was incredible but so was the day spent walking in fields, cycling, getting a puncture repaired and visiting a small village Sikh School on the spontaneous invitation of the teacher. He took Johnny on the back of his motorbike while Kam and I cycled after them, directed by delighted waves of astonished villagers who were highly amused by the sight of us !

So, in this photo, I had just been welcomed by amazed Gurdwara cooks as I crept in the dark and cold from my bed to the kitchens at 4am to see the villagers preparing the Langar, free food served every day to everyone equally. With my very limited Punjabi and my exaggerated gestures, these amazed men understood that Baba Ji himself had invited me to take pictures and see them doing Sewa. They graciously showed me everything including the massive, full freezers until they could relax and sit me down on a tiny low stool with a cup of warm, fresh buffalo milk while they took selfies with me! Yes, we laughed!! I was then taken to see the chappattis being made and given the privilege of working with the wonderful women there who forgave my ineptitude and made great efforts to talk with me while laughing and chatting as they do every morning. After warming my feet at the huge fire we helped to clear away and I filmed Kam who had earlier discovered me and joined in.

The tale does not end there though. We were granted another audience with the priest before leaving and he massaged and healed my foot! remarking that the problem stemmed from my knee. Since returning home and wearing a knee support it has gradually improved so I have more reasons to go back again to this wonderful, beautiful country.

https://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipPRQGoJ1DYKqTqaVo44ekddkvUbYzZx4BrJG0Nx

 

Tentative Turban Tenets – from my reflections on visit to India, December 2018

 

What I thought I knew about turbans before I went to India with a Sikh guide and Sikh friend from England.

I thought I understood that if someone wore a turban they were a committed Sikh and had taken certain vows including refraining from cutting their hair. I was particularly interested to hear more on the Listening Project on BBC Radio 4 about women who chose this path and , against all prejudices around women growing facial and body hair, had made such a religious commitment that they were prepared to be seen in public wearing a turban and letting their body hair grow naturally. Listening to the two women discussing this decision, supporting one another and admitting how difficult it was sometimes for their self-esteem, reminded me of the book I read about a young adult girl living in Australia who decided to wear the hijab even though she became the subject of bullying from her peers as a result. The sacrifice and determination to follow a religious law shows great strength of character in my opinion and it is particularly admirable if you are living in a society where you are viewed as abnormal, unfashionable and even as deliberately making yourself a target for terrorists and extremists.

I was keen, therefore, to learn more about turban wearing in India where it is much more common and, I assume, the commitment to turban wearing must be a lot easier since it is not a decision to put oneself in danger or to stand out from the crowd. Of course what I actually witnessed in India was great diversity and, although we encountered many turban wearing Sikhs, we also met many Hindus and Muslims too. My friend, Kam, told me that she had seriously considered making a greater religious commitment and wearing a turban but had met some obstacles and decided it was not for her although she does take her religious commitment very seriously. We talked a little about how difficult it would be to grow facial hair while living and working in Britain, as she does. Another surprising aspect of turban wearing came to my attention while we were staying in India, though. This was the enormous effort that men have to go to every morning to wash their long hair, choose a colour for a turban , to fold, stretch and tie it onto the head. I watched our friend whose home is now in Canada, putting on his turban in the morning without any help while we were visiting friends but then receiving help when at his family home in Utterakhand. This prompted me to ask Kam about it and she told me that as a child she frequently helped her father put on his turban. This involves stretching the long fabric right across a room (or garden) then folding it in a particular way so as to wrap it in a particular style around the head. The folding techniques and varied styles of turbans derive from location, beliefs, symbolism etc. which I won’t begin to examine here apart from to summarise that the colours are roughly chosen this way –

Orange  for celebration

White has a Spiritual significance

Blue is for formal wear.

A nice video showing the process can be found by clicking on this link, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-13771837/how-to-tie-a-sikh-turban

 

The crucial aspect of Kam’s father’s dressing habits to me was that he required the help of someone else every single morning of his life to fold , stretch and tie his turban. In our society where independence is so prized that people in later life and people with health related difficulties often talk about a source of their depression being their dependance on others, this is a significant difference between our cultures. I found it hard to understand how an adult male could be so reliant on the help of his (often female) relatives for the most basic life task without any qualms. The ramifications of this life style are many in my opinion. You would be accepting that you are always with other people who can be relied upon to help you – Kam said that it was no problem for him as there always was someone there and ready to help him. When I compare this to the difficulties we have in our society of providing  Adult Social Care as we call it to many people who are living in their own homes without help from anyone else with these basic, essential tasks, it opens up lots of questions about how we choose to live and how that impacts us.

The thought of living at close quarters with  other people every moment of the day and night had been one which I considered deeply when I considered Missionary work as it was often raised in interviews as a likely difficulty for us Westerners used to our privacy and space. In fact what I found during my (admittedly brief) visit to India was that being amongst people almost constantly enlivened and stimulated me greatly. I did feel safe and even loved so that when I found myself washing and cleaning my teeth outside in the front yard of a house in a city (Aboha) I was reminded of this warning and felt very sure that I felt comfortable. This may just be owing to my age but is an example of the discoveries one can make about oneself through the experience of travel.

Suggested topics for Lectures to Chinese teachers of English at Shenyang University, China

British Culture and Values

  1. The Prevent Strategy and the Government’s Adult Learning Agenda.
  2. Volunteering and Charitable work : Lifelong Learning with its historical and political roots with a special focus on the W.E.A. (Workers’ Educational Organisation) and its iconic play,The Pitmen Painters.
  3. Integration and support for English Language learners within multi-faith communities in Leicester, England.

Academic Writing Style :

  1. How L1 English students struggle and how we help them.
  2. IELTS and how to write clear English to University standard.
  3. Advice and Techniques for Post-Graduates.

The British Educational System

  1. EAL (English as an Additional Language) usually used to distinguish non-native school children who speak another language (s) at home.
  2. ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes in Britain.
  3. Supplementary Schools and After 18 charity for refugees and asylum seekers aged 14-25 yrs. giving support to students wishing to access University in the UK.
  4. Dyslexia and Learning Differences : Diagnosis, Intervention and Support for University students.
  5. Early Intervention and the Reading Wars : The importance of Synthetic Phonics and the problems associated with formal schooling beginning at an early age.

Education and Care :

  1. The mental health crisis amongst young people and how Mindfulness and Social Pedagogy are gaining influence in Britain.
  2. An overview of some conflicting views amongst educationalists and Government Ministers : OFSTED’s role and global trends.
  • Tiger Teachers
  • Singapore Maths and Mastery
  • Charter Schools and tackling gang culture
  • Arts and the PISA score

English Literature

How we use novels, poetry and short stories to teach Language skills and to build character.

Notes on my first Shared Reading group session at Melton Library Monday 18th Sept. 2017 10.30-12 noon

Texts selected : The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

The Morning Swim

Moonlight

The Tent

Poems : Childhood among the Ferns by Thomas Hardy

The Moment by Margaret Atwood

The Gift Outright by Robert Frost

In these readings we explore a child’s developing relationship with her Grandmother who is completely familiar and at ease in her natural surroundings but feels disappointment and a creeping anxiety about  memory loss.

* Questions and notes about these readings will be added after the reading session.

 

Thoughts on intervention for GCSE English Language

It seems to me that the way that our students are learning to meet specific criteria for GCSE Language as it stands, actually hinders the natural development of reading and writing skills in those students who learn in unusual ways and who think differently. I have observed this amongst borderline and resit students and am convinced that the only way with some of them is to educate them out of the formulaic approach that they were drilled in at school to free them up to use their natural intelligence and common sense.
For example, this year I helped a Yr 12 student who achieved an A in AS History to pass English Language with a high C the 5th time of taking GCSE only by convincing him that the way he was writing in History essays was the way he should approach his English. When he realised he was free to do this – to focus on the content and meaning of the text he was writing about, rather than trying to spot examples of figurative language and jump through hoops- his writing style improved overnight.