Diana Smith, Vice President of Friends of India has recently returned from India after spending just under two weeks at the BCV International School in Tirunelveli, teacher-training and working with groups of students. Here she gives her report:
“It has been two years since I last visited the school in Tirunelveli and it has grown in that time from a small school with less than twenty children, to a full school with more than 220 children. In June 2017, there could be up to 350 children when the new school year starts.
My first impression was a feeling that it is a really happy school, the children are truly delighted to be there and are working so hard to succeed. I saw very little worrying behaviour while I was there, just respect for each other and the adults around them. In spite of their different backgrounds, all students seem fully integrated. I felt very welcome in all classrooms and communal areas at all times.
The building is beginning to show signs of wear and tear- cracks have appeared and the paintwork needs a fresh coat of paint. But the team of janitors are constantly cleaning, washing the floors and generally keeping the school tidy. Most teachers have colourful posters around their rooms, but there are very few display boards, which are badly needed on which to display students’ work.
On the Friday evening of the first week, the school held its Annual Day celebrations – a spectacular display of singing, dancing, drama, karate, yoga and other extra-curricular activities. It was a brilliant, fast-moving, colourful presentation, showcasing the many creative talents of all the students in the school.
During my time in the school, I was able to observe all the teachers during at least one full lesson, giving immediate feedback and making suggestions that were followed up during later lessons. I saw many examples of excellent teaching: lively question and answer sessions in different subject areas; the use of sophisticated vocabulary; the use of visual aids; creative mathematics and language lessons; and teaching in small groups, encouraging the students to work collaboratively.
To have the best access to all the teachers I held a staff meeting each day I was there – sharing good practice and allowing the teachers to plan and work together. We set up a calendar of staff meetings until the end of the school year, which will help the teachers become more comfortable at working more closely as a team.
When I realised the Library was not being used by the students, we cleared it and created two great spaces, one for the younger children and a study area for the older students. I was able to spend time in the library, reading to several classes and I was delighted to hear that since we returned to Geneva, the library is being used every day by all classes.
Following all my observations I made these recommendations:
- All classrooms need internet access. At the moment only the main office has internet and even that is erratic
- To attract new families, the building needs freshening up with a coat of paint
- All classrooms need display boards to display students’ work and teacher resources
- There is a photocopier in the main office which should be made available to teaching staff
- Regular staff meetings are crucial for team building and collaborative planning. The present calendar of meetings should help and then continue into the new school year
I realise that many of my recommendations have budget implications, which may be difficult. But as the school becomes more financially independent there will be more money available for these basic needs.
It was a great pleasure to have Ms Maggie Sutton with me throughout the visit, also observing in classrooms and working with the teachers. Her help and contributions to our work was invaluable. I would like to thank Br, Ravi, Madam Selva, Br. Christu and all the staff for making us so welcome and giving us the opportunity to work throughout the school.I am already looking forward to my next visit!“