By Kyle Petrozza
I only had 22 days on Pulau Redang and there was a lot to be done those Nov/Dec months of 2006. The class was populated by a mix of ages, genders and abilities but my regulars were mainly adolescents and about a dozen adults. A total of 121 people signed into the class at least once and attendance fluctuated between 30 to 70 students daily. All of the 50 vocabulary books I’d brought to the island had been given out but people were continually asking for more.
After a large turnout the first night, the students were divided into two classes, advanced and beginners and lessons were tailored for each class according to their abilities. Without tests or exams to gauge progress and the disparate abilities of the students, I found the best way to gauge both student improvement and teacher effectiveness was through the enthusiasm and the willingness of the students to speak (in English!) during class. The students were initially shy and didn’t dare to speak out but games encouraged, if not demanded, that they spoke in English and to each other. This also allowed them to enjoy class and every good educator knows that with smiles comes learning.
During the first week of class I was grateful to have Roky, a well-respected Redang native fluent in English, translating to the class anything they did not understand as my Melayu was poor at best. It was clear I needed to learn Bahasa and the students did well in teaching me their language, all the while having to use English to do so.
I found that small group activities worked better than large ones and that the more fun that was had in class, the more students showed up. Tailoring each class to suit the needs of as many individuals as possible was by far the largest hurdle I faced. Each student brought a different level of ability to the table and future volunteers will need to find what works best for them in navigating these inconsistencies.
The people I lived with, taught and befriended are wonderful people who are eager to learn, especially given the ever present development on their island. I know I’ll be back again sometime soon to visit my new friends and family and who knows, maybe to teach again.