Frances spent the summer working at Taktse International School in Gangtok, Sikkim. While there she set up a network for the computer system and helped make other improvements to their computer systems. She also spent a lot of time helping organize clubs and activities that the school was lacking. Frances spent time teaching AS Level Chemistry and Physics to the high school science students after designing a curriculum for the class that can be implemented in future years too.
BLOG POST 1:
I knew being in Sikkim, India would be different than being in the US but it wasn’t until I arrived at the Bagdogra airport that I realized how different. The baggage claim hardly moved, you just get off the plane on the runway and walk into the one room international airport. Luckily I met another fellow in the airport (the only other non-Indian from the flight from Delhi) so she and I could go together to find our driver. The ride to Taktse was over 5 hours even though it was only 120 km. The road was really narrow, very bumpy, and very windy since we were going up into the Himalayas. But luckily as we went up into the mountains it got significantly cooler. We arrived at the school and were shown to our room. It was very bare and everything was damp since it’s monsoon season. The beds were not comfortable but after so much traveling we were exhausted and fell asleep right away. In the morning we walked across the field to the main school, met all the teachers, learned what we would be doing, saw how everything worked and then started observing. Now I am teaching AS Level upper school sciences. In addition, I have been working on computer projects for the school and teaching computer classes to the students. The days are really long since I tutor before and after school and then prepare syllabuses after that since these are the first science students that Taktse has had. After tenth grade the students pick science, business, or humanities to focus on and this year is the second year of 11th graders that the school has ever had and the first year that has had students choose science. So that means that the school doesn’t have a teacher for them and doesn’t have a curriculum planned out. Which translates to a lot of work for me. But I really like it. And I love talking to the students and helping all ages of students with all sorts of subjects and homework help. On the weekends I spend time organizing activities for the students and then also get time to sightsee with other fellows here. There are lots of monasteries around that are lots of fun to see. So far I’m loving it here!
BLOG POST 2:
When I first contacted Taktse and then decided to spend my summer there helping the school and I had worked it out with the administrative board that I would be teaching AS Level Chemistry & Physics, some math, and doing lots of computer stuff. The school wanted help designing computer projects for their students and also with computer issues that they were having on the campus. In terms of the sciences and math, the school wanted curriculums designed that they could follow after I left. And once I got there, I was doing those things. But what I found really interesting was how much other stuff I was also doing and why I was doing it.
One noticeable example was that Taktse doesn’t have a set discipline system. Most schools have rules and specific punishments for those rules. Taktse doesn’t have anything even remotely close. One day one student lightly kicked another intern in what appeared to be a friendly way and his justification was “I kicked you because you’re my friend and I do that to my friends”. And I think he genuinely meant it. All the boys are physical like that, not in harmful ways of course, with each other. But the woman who does a lot of administrative work for the school and is American and pretty strict with the students saw it and suspended the boy for three weeks. The same thing happened with another kid who talked back to a teacher and he got a similar suspension. Yet I saw other students act out in similar, if not worse, ways and receive no more than a warning from the supervisor who saw it. In the evenings the hostel students (the boarding students) were the only ones still on campus and they had supervisors for them. Anytime there was any issue in the evenings the supervisor who saw it would either pretend they hadn’t or, if it were serious enough, just lightly warn the student. They never raised their voice and were never forceful with the students. None of them wanted to be a disciplinarian so the kids never learned. The teachers all felt like it wasn’t their job. They didn’t feel like that because they were lazy or just didn’t want to help, but because they truly didn’t feel comfortable taking control of the situation since it wasn’t explicitly their job and there were no standards of discipline for them to follow so they would have to make the executive decision.
I noticed the same thing with matters related to what books to use, what the weekend activities should be, how the school schedule should be changed, etc. Everyone just let everyone else make decisions. So that meant that the principal and the other top administrators had to essentially decide everything. Or they had to explicitly delegate a task to one person, which basically mean that they had to do it themselves. An example of that was when Ms. Dengjongpa, the principal’s mother and an American, asked the librarians to rearrange the library so that there was a clear system. She asked them to start taking the books down from the shelves so they could restock them alphabetically and by level. They took the books off the shelves but then were at a loss for exactly what to do until she came back and sat down and explained it. But even then they felt the need to ask her about every single book to see what level it was, was it fiction, etc. instead of just using their best judgment. She ended up spending days in the library doing the whole thing.
The principal of Taktse was born in Sikkim but grew up in the United States. His father was very accustomed to the American ways and I sat down and had tea one afternoon and his father gave me a great description for the reason that the school had what he deemed unnecessary struggles. He explained that it was the culture of the Sikkimese people to feel like they shouldn’t make decisions that weren’t directly theirs to make. They had been taught to listen to their superiors and let them tell them exactly what to do. It was interesting hearing him talk about it and what it means for the school since he is Sikkimese but also lived in the USA. He and I talked and spent a while figuring out what some discipline guidelines they could have would be and how to set up the administration so that the teachers and staff can know their duties yet also feel comfortable helping out where they see it is needed.
But of course this isn’t the only problem the school faced. Another problem, that I couldn’t be so helpful with, is just the lack of resources. It’s very hard for the school to get packages. It costs a lot to ship to Sikkim and it’s incredibly slow. The science teacher, Mr. Ganesh, had ordered the chemistry books I would be using with my students back in March with a guarantee of 2 week shipping. When I arrived in June, they still weren’t there. The arrived in the middle of July. The school also has trouble finding teachers, especially for math and science. Until I arrived, nobody could teach the high school science boys AS Level Chemistry. They had a test they had to take but no teacher.
But despite these problems, definitely more problems than most schools have to overcome, Taktse has been doing a great job and even in the time I was there I noticed significant changes for the better.