Teaching English in Post Disaster Situation
* Janak Raj Pant
The recent earthquake has caused huge devastation in different parts of the country. The whole country has been affected; some of the places have been affected directly while some others indirectly. The students in directly and indirectly affected areas will have some kinds of psychosocial impacts ranging from normal increased sensitivity to more severe kinds of symptoms which might require some professional assistance to overcome the trauma. In this context on the one hand it is important to acknowledge the fact that ‘re-establishing education after an emergency not only meets a fundamental right of children to education regardless of the circumstances, but also plays a critical role in normalizing the environment for children and contributes significantly to helping children overcome the psychological impact of disasters’ (Education in Emergencies: A Resource Tool Kit, UNICEF 2006). On the other hand it is ‘equally important, education provides a protective environment for children, who are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in the wake of emergencies or armed conflict’ (Education in Emergencies: A Resource Tool Kit, UNICEF 2006). In this context, emergency in education require continuation of the educating practices and protective environment in which it is not likely that we expect the English teachers will be able to and/or need to deliver the regular lessons. In this article, I am sharing some of the ways to deal in the classroom which will be beneficial from the post disaster perspective but at the same time also be helpful from the perspective of teaching English.
Create good opportunity to talk and be a good listener:
The first and most important thing is that you create opportunity for the students’ to talk about their feelings and reflections after the earthquake. The students might want to talk about where were they during the earthquake, where they stayed after that, who they were with, etc. As a facilitator, do not highlight the destruction but still do not supress the students’ feelings. Listen students feelings they may want to listen from you share your feelings. As an English teacher you might want to do all these things in English. Do not focus on accuracy, be more communicative.
Do some relaxation exercises:
It is important that as a teacher, care the psychosocial wellbeing of the students. If you are teaching in one of the most affected areas it is important that the students will need some time in order to come back to normal life. Their brain will be in highly sensitive state which human biology requires to cool down within certain period of time. You can do different relaxation activities among them a simple breathing activity is one. For this you need to get the students into circle. Ask them to be comfortable, take deep breath. Throw out the breath slowly. Ask the students repeat it a couple of times. Ask students be comfortable. Take deep breath. This time ask them to produce long /i:/ sound, let them be loud. Repeat it a few more times. Instead of /i:/ you can ask them to produce /a:/, /u:/ and other long vowels.
Let the picture speak:
Art is not only a strong means of expressing feelings and communicating ideas, it is also a distress activity. Ask students to draw whatever they want to. Once the students have drawn the pictures ask them to share the drawing in group voluntarily do not force them to do so.
Act out together:
Elicit different action words from the students that they have experienced recently. Get some students to act out in front of the class. Ask all the students stand and say the action words loudly and all in group act out it.
Collect different short story that are more fun and create laughter. Divide the students in group. Distribute the copies of such stories in group and ask the students to prepare for a drama to act out the story in class. Support the students every bit of the activity, offer some ideas to make it better but do not dominate. Be very positive, even if they have not really done well, acknowledge them for trying.
Play language games:
Play language games with the students, the games you play may involve further learning or simply be fun but still it is helpful to do so in your class to make your students relax and prepare them for a step ahead.
Do not focus on destruction or loss:
The devastation might have caused a huge loss in the students life and be very much frightened and worried about the destruction and loss. It is important that you as a teacher, do not further make it loud and make them feel that the devastation has damaged them, and they are fully spoiled. Also make them find the ways to be hopeful and optimistic. If you have such stories read such stories for the students or encourage the students for pair or group reading. Allow them to talk and ask each other about such things.
Collage making activity:
Another way to make students express their feeling is to engage students in collage making activities. For this you need glue stick and old newspapers from which the students can collect images to make a collage and one important caution we need to take is to make sure that the students get the picture illustrating the positive messages. For this you can intentionally collect such images such as people having developed a temporary shelter, or building, schools having already started educating children, farmers already in the field to grow crops, and so on. Divide the students in small groups, ask them to make a collage and later share their collage in the whole group. Allow them to ask and answer each other queries.
Provide relevant information:
Provide students information on the similar disastrous situation in the world and also stories on how they recovered and what role different agencies played in the country. This will help the students be more confident having lots more information which will help them respond in an informed way.
Education in Emergencies: A Resource Tool Kit, A Publication of Regional Office for South Asia in conjunction with New York Headquarters (2006) UNICEF
Early Childhood Care and Development in Emergency Situations
Hayden, Dunn, Cologon, (2010) Early Childhood Care and Development in Emergency Situations: Annotated Bibliography. Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies
Hania Kamel (2006) Early childhood care and education in emergency situations: UNESCO
(Mr. Janak Raj Pant is Project Coordinator for an Education project for VSO Nepal in Mid-west Nepal. He has worked as an English teacher, teacher trainer and teacher mentor and has gained some experience in educational research.)