Education for children young and old

Education continues to grow in its importance for the children of Sarnelli House. As the children prepare to go back to school next week (and the house mothers breathe a heavy sigh of relief!), we can reflect on work going on at both ends of the education journey. The last two sets of school holidays were used to give extra tuition to some of the younger children who have had difficulty with literacy and numeracy. The programme was extended this time. Young, newly qualified teachers in Thai and mathematics came to stay with us for two weeks and helped small groups of children with issues they had been having with reading and writing or basic multiplication and division. Unfortunately for some of the children here at Sarnelli House, school is a continuous struggle. If a child reads slowly, then every subject is affected and each and every day becomes a trial. There is little in the way of remedial support in the local schools and with big class sizes, the weaker children are left behind. This is most evident in maths where each new lesson tends to build on the previous one and a child who has some problems with the first unit in the book is way out of his or her depth by unit 4. The tendency is then to switch off completely, and a child who dozes off for one class isn’t likely to spring back into life for the next subject. Furthermore, the teaching methods here do not cater for different types of learning, be they visual, by heart, or practical. 

With all of this in mind, our intrepid teachers arrived and sat down with groups of two to four. They assessed the needs of the child and devised appropriate lesson plans. The children, some of whom were initially reluctant to give up their school holidays, warmed to the task and by the end of the two weeks, were very sad to see their tutors leave. The targets were realistic. Years of difficulty were not going to be remedied in 10 days but it was very evident that clear improvements were made with some of the children. And most importantly, the children saw that learning could be fun and valuable. They almost all remarked that something that had previously been confusing was now much clearer, particularly in maths. Similarly, the kids learning reading and writing felt more confident when confronted with text.

More work needs to be done and future holidays will be used to give our children as much help as we can. One of our recent high school graduates, who topped her class, will spend the next few months before her enrolment helping two little boys who struggle with reading. The very fact that a cool and popular ‘older sister’ will be their personal tutor will give these two boys a sense of value. The kids involved in the tuition camps, rather than resent being singled out, were actually pleased that someone was taking the time to invest in them.

Investment is certainly being made at the opposite end of the educational scale. This weekend, a large cohort of our third-level students gathered for a small seminar with Brother Keng, our vocational officer. He has put in a huge amount of work with these teenagers and young adults, work which often goes unnoticed. Advice is given, university prospectuses are read, courses selected, applications made and finally accommodation found. It is a lengthy process but all of these students have many great qualities and deserve the effort. There are some exceptional kids in this group, exceptional for many reasons. Most of them have overcome staggering adversity in their path to attending university or technical college. Others have achieved some remarkable grades, with a handful rarely dropping below an A grade so far. They are a lively, funny and (mostly) mature group and it is always wonderful to have them back together.

They travelled from far afield to be here, including two from Bangkok. Brother Keng and the staff explained their obligations regarding behaviour, management of monthly budgets, and of course, their grades. They all responded positively and appreciate that they are representing Fr. Shea in the outside world. They are also a positive example to the children now in high school and hopefully more will follow in their wake. The highlight of the day was when Fr. Shea himself showed up and they all embraced him warmly and stood proudly for pictures with him. The students were reminded that, even though some are far away, they are not alone and Sarnelli House is just a phone call away, should they be having any problems. We are enormously proud of these young adults and have a cautious excitement about what the future holds for them. Like us, they themselves are very aware of the role their sponsors and other donors continue to play in their success. We are all grateful to these friends of Sarnelli House for their amazing support.

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