Shuvo shokal from Dhaka,
Bob Newhart knew how to hit the nail on the head. I love his skit in which he tells the story of the nightwatchman’s first night on the job. He says, as a general observation, no matter how thorough the training, the first problem one encounters on the job was never covered in the sessions. Sure enough, it happened here, too.
On the day the students returned for the new school year, the very first job is to mark the roll but no-one had showed us how to perform the function (done electronically these days).
the more compliant the student body, the looser the administration
There seems to be an immutable law of physics in the school setting: the more compliant the student body, the looser the administration. Whilst the school’s orientation for new staff was broad, lavish and warm, a few tiny points were missed. This is no fault of the local staff who are numerous and competent. It seems – and Linda complains of the same thing – that anything relating to the operation of the scholastic sphere (especially the succession planning) is lax whilst anything related to the administration of the school is flawless. It seems common that many of our predecessors wrote their programmes and took them with them on departure. (Hang on . . . if a body pays your salary, don’t they own whatever you produce while ever you remain on the payroll?)
Anyway, these are minor irritations. Let the dear reader be assured, we are enjoying the adventure immensely. We are cognisant of the need to ‘put our heads down’ to hard preparatory work for quite a while before we are free to venture too far from home base. We’ll be travelling about as often as we can both within and without the city in any case.
The general tenor of the school – remembering the honeymoon is still new – is very positive. The students typically are studious and responsible. They are almost unfailingly respectful and polite. Behaviour problems reminiscent of the average Australian classroom are a distant memory already. Most of the secondary students adopt a mode of address for teachers such that they call us Miss Linda and Mr Greg.
lunch at school
The school is very well-equipped and sophisticated in every detail. Lunch is served – for a minimal cost – in a huge cafeteria. Every day there is a different curry, rice and dessert. The excellent meals are prepared by chefs (!) and a large team of workers. At this time of the year, the grounds are very green (lots of monsoonal rain still) and there is a 25-metre pool open every day. Linda has remarked about the different style of teaching. Despite the fact that these pupils have English as their second or third language, they usually have a much higher retention of knowledge and skills in comparison to Australians of the same age.
cheering for learning
The kids are so innocent and deferential that the new Head of Secondary had them cheering for learning at the introductory assembly on the first day. (This is not a typographical error.) Can you imagine a principal inciting the student body with an exchange of “What do we want?” “We want learning!” “I can’t hear you” etc. I kid you not. One colleague – also starting here this year – commented that such an approach would have been “risky” back in New Zealand. Risky? Australian kids would have been laughing in sheer ridicule.
The school is a product of a shared vision from a group of rich locals who lamented the fact that civil engineers, entrepreneurs, medicos and managers from abroad would balk at bringing families here on the grounds that they had no satisfactory school in which to enrol their children. This was in the late 1990s and these nouveau riche Bangladeshis donated lots of money so that a consortium could build and run the school. It is not meant to return a profit but has a specific goal: to entice skilled migration. There is a dual function too: to help prepare some of the chosen leaders of the future.
The students at the school wear a uniform and all bring their laptops without reminder (so far anyway). Classes are typically between 15 and 20, even in the junior secondary cohorts. All classrooms are air-conditioned. (The Americans call this the “A.C.”)
The staff is very cosmopolitan. There are several Australians (including the Head of School), Britons, Kiwis, Canadians and Americans. There are also teachers from India (one), Brazil (one), Japan (one), Serbia (one), South Africa (one), Turkey (one), Ireland (one), France (at least three), Scotland (one), Cameroon (one), Sri Lanka (at least one) and others. Some have led a very peripatetic existence during their working lives, beginning conversations with exchanges of the trail they have made throughout their careers. There are a small number of Bangladeshi teachers beginning to graduate from training and take their places at the school. This is perhaps the long-term plan: to have them gradually ease out the foreigners. (When they speak of sustainability here, this is what some people mean.)
coolth in Dhaka?
Our shipment from Australia arrived yesterday so we are fully ensconced now. A Canadian bloke vouchsafed to us last night that it gets cold here in winter. He said, “I’ve never felt so cold.” Either that is a gross exaggeration – typical of his generation and his North American origins – or it makes us grateful that we packed some warmer clothes. Time will tell. At the moment, when it is still quite muggy and pretty warm (we are still leaving air-conditioning on at nights, we confess), it’s a bit hard to envisage “cold” in Dhaka.