Connecting Classrooms …from Wales to Sri Lanka

Everyone who knows me, personally or professionally, will know that I love to teach (hence the profile, blog and book title) but I also love to travel. When the opportunity came up for me to take part in the British Council Connecting Classrooms programme, I did not hesitate!

Elfed High School, Buckley North Wales has been taking part in this project for many years, with different teachers taking it in turn to visit and host the partner schools. The British Council fund the Connecting Classrooms project, in partnership with the Department for International Development. The aim is to ‘improve classroom practice and develop ideas with like-minded teachers internationally.’ There are thousands of teachers and schools involved in this all around the world. Every school who participate will have a partner school. Our partner school is the wonderful St Joseph’s College in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

St Joseph’s College is an all boys school with almost two thousand students who attend from preschool to A-Level. Lessons are taught through the Sinhala language, with all students also learning Tamil and English.

In October 2015 I went to St Joseph’s College to represent Elfed High School, find out all about the education, culture and share teaching practice and ideas with teachers at the school. This was an amazing experience. I was warmly welcomed by the students who were prefects and all students showed the most utmost respect as well as a lot of interest and curiosity. At St Joseph’s College there were many similarities and of course many obvious differences.

Firstly, the scale of the college was much bigger than any school I had ever been to or taught at. However, there were systems and policies in place which meant the school day ran smoothly. The day began at 7.30 am finishing at 2.30 pm. The morning began with a whole school assembly every Monday, weather depending as the assembly took place outside. During the assembly students and staff sang the national anthem and then the college anthem with great pride. There were several messages delivered by the Principal and behaviour was superb. Every morning students would be cleaning and tidying up the college, it was a duty they took very seriously. The professional cleaners mainly cleaned the Principal and Vice Principals office. I told this to students on my return, some were horrified!

Then lessons would begin. The classrooms were very basic and bare, with chairs stacked up high then crammed around tables as the average class size was 45 students. There would possibly be one computer in the classroom, but not all rooms were equipped with this. Internet was very limited with no Wifi and certainly no iPads or other technologies. Paper registers were filled in and teachers were writing on a blackboard using chalk.

It was very interesting when I planned and delivered a lesson because I had to adapt my teaching methods and strategies. During one of the lessons I observed, an inspector walked into the lesson, the teacher wasn’t shocked or phased as this was common practice to simply turn up! At the end of the lesson students weren’t allowed to leave until they had been blessed by the teachers, this involved the student bowing down to the teacher’s feet for the teacher to stroke or pat the student on their head as a blessing. I did find this very unusual, in the same way the students often called me and the other female teachers beautiful, again highlighting differences in the culture of communicating.

I was often asked if I was married when I replied no, students looked confused as to why I wasn’t married based on my age (late twenties!). Another key difference, is that teachers are allowed to use moderate physical pain as a punishment although I was assured this very rarely happened. Thankfully I never seen this during my visit, linked to the fact that I never witnessed any poor behaviour.

In regards to similarities, the most obvious was despite the language barriers the students were still an absolute joy and pleasure to work with. They wore a very smart white uniform. Students placed great importance on English and developing their literacy and numeracy skills. Students all took part in extracurricular activities which varied from poetry to cricket.

When I was at the college I completely relished the opportunity and learnt so much from the experience. I was taken on cultural visits, I observed different lessons with different teachers, subjects and year groups. I even took part in a Kandy dance lesson, learning traditional Sri Lankan dance moves. I had my own Saree fitted and hand made, to wear at school like all the other female teachers. On my return to Elfed High School I delivered school assemblies sharing pictures and stories about my experiences with students.

As the Connecting Classrooms co-ordinator, I also had to plan PSHE lessons based on this project and after my visit I was completely inspired. I shared letters written by students at St Joseph’s College with Elfed High School students for them to read and reply to. I clearly benefitted from the experience but I also feel students at my school did too.

If you would like to find out more about the British Council Connecting Classrooms you can click this link for further information. Thanks for taking the time to read my post. If you’ve been inspired by this project or have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. You can follow my blog and leave comments below or why not just drop me a message on Twitter .

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