Together with Giulia, who studies Secondary Education (English and History) at the PH Vorarlberg, I was teaching at the One World Foundation school in Sri Lanka for four weeks in summer 2022. We started our voluntary internship on 11 July. Everyone welcomed us in a quite friendly and forthcoming way. On the first day Kathrin Messner, the founder of the One World Foundation, showed us around and introduced us to the principal, Mr Prabath Wijesekara.
We also got to know the teachers and we had the possibility to sit in some of the lessons to get to know the students and the teaching methods. On the second day we already held our first two lessons. At first, we thought it would be very difficult to explain different things in English. We didn’t know the mother tongue of the students therefore we were very surprised that the first lessons worked out so great. The following days and weeks we always held a lesson with the 16-year-olds in the morning and in the afternoon, we taught the younger students aged between six and fourteen.
We mainly worked with groups of three teachers (Ms. Tajmi, Ms. Shanika, and Ms. Dileesha). Our new colleagues always told us about the topic we were supposed to discuss with the students the afternoon before a lesson, so we were able to implement our own ideas and teaching methods. We had also prepared some general input for the students (e.g. time, animals, daily routine) in advance and were also able to integrate those materials into our lessons. At university I had created lesson plans focusing on the picture book Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson. In Sri Lanka we got the chance to realize those lessons with two different groups of eight-year-old children. As the main topics of the book are animals and family relations, the children were able to identify themselves with them and the lessons worked out very well.
Furthermore, we held many lessons focusing on speaking activities. Even though we realised that this skill was not a primary focus during the regular lessons, the children were willing to speak and express themselves in English as long as they felt comfortable. Additionally, we realised that it was often difficult for students to speak in whole sentences, so we prepared many speaking activities where the students had to use entire sentence structures.
At the beginning we had to get used to the cultural differences, for instance, the shaking of the head as an approval or that the students worshipped the teachers at the end of the lessons by kneeling down and touching their feet. But after the first week we got used to all the differences between the Austrian and the Sri Lankan school system. What we want to highlight is the special atmosphere at school and the appreciation and respect people showed for each other. For example, it was never a problem for the students to share something. They were always greeting us with a smile on their faces and gave us small, handmade crafts to show us that they were happy to have us there.
To sum up, we can say that it was a great experience which we can highly recommend. We learned so much for ourselves and our future teaching career and are very happy that we had the chance to be part of this amazing project, even if it was only for one month. We want to express our special thanks to Kathrin Messner who took very good care of us and who we could also learn a lot from. Many thanks also to the principal Prabath Wijesekara, Ms. Tajmi, Ms. Shanika, and Ms. Dileesha. Additionally, we want to thank our teachers back home, Silvia Baldassari and Sandra Bellet.
Elena Hartmann, Gulia Hagspiel
Volunteer teaching 11th of July - 5th of August 2022