Sunday, October 16, 2011

Of Competition and Rivalry

Interesting theme this week. Not just because of the MSU/UM game (go State!!), Red Wing games, Tigers or Lions (and bears, oh my!), but of conversations had this weekend. Oh, also I'm sorry that Michigan fans got such a bruised ego... it's been nice to be on the winning side for once (or 4 times). :)

Mongolia has an addiction. An addiction that many people don't know about, unless you have lived here for a while. This addiction is one seen frequently, but rarely questioned, unlike the obvious addition to alcohol. That addiction is competition.

This weekend it seemed that competition and rivalry were a constant topic of conversation (it IS that time of year). I sat down with Jessica and her CP for lunch, and I finally asked the question a lot of the PCVs want to ask- "why, exactly, do schools have so many competitions?" Jessica's CP couldn't answer. She didn't like it as much as we did, but it was something they had always done. Jessica and I suggested she could be the voice of change, the starter of the revolution, the organizer of "Occupy Baruun-Urt" (hah). She said that she really couldn't- as much as she would maybe want it, she could lose her job trying to reduce the number of competitions.

I guess I should specify what kind of competitions they have. They have the usual stuff for the kids, which is what we generally agree with- basketball, volleyball, English, singing competitions, etc. Those are fun and good for getting kids involved in extra-curriculars. The ones that PCVs have trouble with are the teacher competitions- sports (which I think are generally fine if used sparingly) and teaching competitions. Teaching. Competitions.

I'm not a TEFL PCV, but I've heard so many of my TEFL friends talk about these competitions it's like I've witnessed them myself (and, my hospital HAS done something similar so I need to work on them too). They go like this: teacher make awesome insanely cool lesson plans with props and handouts and visuals (maybe including videos, etc). They spend hours upon hours making them. They present it to a class of their teaching peers, NOT actually in front of students (?!?!?! they usually cancel other classes too, so that the teachers can observe other teachers). The lesson plan goes in a binder, never to see the light of day again.

Now, why don't teachers do this for every lesson, I ask. It doesn't have to be flashy. It seems that if you prepared lessons that engage the children in learning, it would be better for them instead of reading straight out of a book.

It's too much work, Jessica's CP replies. We don't have time.

We then discussed possible solutions to this problem. Have Jessica and the training manager sit in on lessons and give feedback. Instead of wasting time making lessons they'll never teach, have a seminar on how to make better lessons. Have less competitions so teachers can focus on making engaging lessons. Share lesson plans. The possibilities are endless.

I remember Todd saying similar things last year, when he was frustrated that teachers would cancel classes to prepare for the teacher's volleyball competitions. During one of the most recent competitions, I heard of an incident that really ticked me off. One of the teachers ended up teaching the grammar point wrong and tried to blame it on the PCV for teaching them wrong (?! why would we do that). What's more frustrating than that, was that the PCV had to go and teach one of the teacher's classes on the fly because the teachers were arguing so much about points and who was supposed to win, that they didn't go to class to do their job.

I really don't need to point out how many things are wrong with that. And that's why we're here. We're here to suggest better ways to teach, more efficient ways of teaching. But if this society has this tradition so well engrained in their culture, can we really do anything about it? Maybe. Going back to what Jess's CP said- she's afraid to make that kind of change because she could lose her job. The working environment here is sometimes so interesting. It's the wonderful thing about being a PCV- you can literally go almost anywhere you want, when you want, and speak to whomever you want. Americans are weird, new, and people generally want to hear what we have to say. The change could be amazing.

Enough chat. Picture time. Jess invited me to the singing competition for her school- "Universe Best Song" is a Mongolian singing competition on TV that is much like American Idol, only you have to sing songs that aren't in the Mongolian language. So many of the kids did pop English songs and traditional Russian folk songs, with a little Korean pop mixed in.

Picture of Disappointment
This boy was getting chewed out by the Russian teacher (who was sitting next to me) for messing up the pronunciation of whatever folk song he was singing. The judging was either a "yes" or a "no", just like in American Idol. There's none of that "every child is a special rainbow" American bullshit here!
These girls went to camp :) they were so good!
Deliberations begin...
And finally...


  1. Yeah Katie! Be the force of change! In all seriousness, kinda sounds like the situation I read about in South Korea, where they've had to set curfews and limits on studying and tutoring. Students' parents spend obscene amounts of money on outside tutoring and students study all night because of the intense entrance exams to get into universities. Anyhoo, love you, and can't wait to hear from you again!