External Exams

Two senior school classes are building up to the external Board Exams, which start next week (like the old WA Junior Certificate or O levels, and TEE or A levels). I have been doing an extra shift from 6-7pm each night, teaching the 10th Grade students, who are on study leave. They recently sat their mock exams, and I offered to mark their mock English exam, which included a letter and a creative essay. I marked hard because I felt their work lacked creativity and I wanted to shake them up. When they read my comments they told me that they were perfectly capable of creative writing but that they had written their exam as if for an Indian examiner. It is such a shame. These students have been exposed to volunteers from all over the world and have a truly broad perspective on life but their examiners favour conservatism and regurgitation of dry facts. Much to our amusement we discovered that the booklet on how to prepare for exams contains the following information:

Indian exam advice - beware of those over 56-year-olds!

Indian exam advice – beware of those over-56-year-olds!

Virtues

On a side note, a lovely thing happened after I had returned the exam papers. I suggested that they check the marks and see me afterwards if I hadn’t added them up correctly. One girl patiently queued up to tell me that I had given her two EXTRA marks by mistake! In all my years of teaching, that was a first.

Bhavani - thanks for being so honest!

Bhavani – thanks for being so honest!

Every day in assembly a small child reads an extract relating to the “virtue” of the week. The example above shows this has some effect.

Two other incidents spring to mind that pleasantly surprised us. The first was when they announced the monthly writing competition winners. I had been involved with shortlisting the seventy or more entries and had been concerned that some students would be disappointed or jealous if they didn’t win. As the winner in each category was announced the whole school expressed genuine excitement and joy for their success. I needn’t have worried.

The final incident was the outcome of a big soccer tournament in Bangalore. After a massive build-up to the game, the kids left at 5am with high expectations. One of the games was played against a much weaker team. When SB was leading 8 goals to 0, they followed the pre-match strategy, which was to ease up rather than to demoralise the opposition and spoil their fun. This they duly did but later discovered to their dismay that they could not proceed to the finals because qualifying was based on total goals scored, not on total wins. Although the SB team was undefeated – and our volunteers felt they were the best team that day – they never had the chance to play the team that ultimately won (who had scored a merciless 14 goals against the same weak team). There were other issues with poor refereeing but, despite their disappointment, when the SB kids returned to school they were valorised for their exemplary behaviour and sportsmanship.

Two very tired dusty soccer cheerleaders after the long day

Two very tired dusty soccer cheerleaders after the long day

Japanese Scholarship

You may remember that Yeshwini won a three-year scholarship to study for the International Baccalaureate in Japan. Well we had some great news last week – now the wonderful Sebastian from 9th Grade has won the same. He is a studious, thoughtful 14-year-old who plays the piano beautifully. The application process is rigorous and we helped to prepare him for his interview. He was thrown some curly questions but he coped very well. Although he will leave a big hole in Shanti Bhavan – his home and family for the past ten years – it is a great feather in the school’s cap that he was selected. All SB kids want to make the world a better place and this opportunity will give Sebastian an even greater springboard from which to make a difference in the future.

Sebastian is about to add Japanese to his English, Hindi and Tamil!

Sebastian is about to add Japanese to his English, Hindi and Tamil!

The Japanese school (ISAK) also runs a three-week Summer School program for 7th and 8th Graders and several SB kids have been selected in the past. We’ve been helping a new batch to prepare their applications too and hope that at least one is selected.

Bangalore Weekend Trip

Last weekend, after three and a half weeks on campus, 10 volunteers squashed into an SUV designed for six, and headed for the hustle and bustle of Bangalore. We dined in style at the Indian Coffee House, a co-operative of coffee growers, where the waiters wear somewhat grimy but magnificent, traditional uniforms. I think four of us had breakfast with coffee for what we would pay for one coffee at home!

Indian Coffee House

Indian Coffee House

Our first big activity was a musical play at Christ University (which has a magnificent theatre, by anyone’s standards). Billed as a ‘mega production’, they performed ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ about Michelangelo’s life. We had turned up in force because a former SB graduate, now at the college, had composed the theme music for this lavish performance. By Mahabharata standards it was short, but it was still two hours long without an interval. Praveen played keyboard non-stop throughout the entire performance, even scene changes, and received great acclamation at the end.

The plush 'Agony and Ecstasy' curtain

The ‘Agony and Ecstasy’ curtain in the plush theatre

For our second ‘mega production’ of the weekend, Barney and I booked an upstairs room in a city restaurant and hosted a lunch for former SB students. Five batches of kids have left the school since we started volunteering and we initiated this activity last year to catch up with as many as possible at one time. Forty “graduates” from SB (now at university) and “working graduates” (those with degrees and now working) attended. Along with the 10 volunteers, the fifty of us made a lot of noise but we had a lot of fun. They are very mature young adults now but still big kids at heart.

Graduates' lunch Bangalore 2015

Graduates’ lunch Bangalore 2015

Flower market

The final highlight of the weekend was this year’s pilgrimage to the Flower Market. We boggled at the sheer volume of fresh flowers. Each flower was presumably picked in the middle of the night, transported and then threaded by hand into a garland or wreath which was then coiled into a basket. The fragrance is exotic and the colours are overwhelming. Later in the morning they auction the leftovers and it reminds us that all this beauty is ephemeral.

Flower market from above

Flower market from above

Flowers by the metre

Flowers by the metre

Flower women

Flower women

Green and Gold flowers to match the Aussie World Cup cricket match in the background.

Green and Gold flowers to match the Aussie World Cup cricket match in the background.

More colour!

Just when we think we can’t take any more colours!

We arrived back at Shanti Bhavan happy but exhausted, ready to commence our final week. We leave for a week of recuperation in Kerala tomorrow, 21 Feb, before returning home on Monday 2 March. We will try to write one final blog from Kerala to wrap up our fifth wonderful visit to SB. Barney has a lot to say about progress in computing at the school and how we have used Robert and Bonnie Jenkins’ wonderful donation this year to improve the system. Stay tuned!

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