As has become usual these past few days, today starts with a staff room discussion. One of the teachers starts off complaining about the students' attitude to learning. What irritates him most is the waste of resources - the big school library stocked with £80,000 worth of books is hardly ever used by the students. Even he uses the library far more than the students do. He knows that because more often than not the books he borrows have never been previously used by anyone else.
I tell them we had a tiny library the size of a single room when I was in primary school. Most afternoons while waiting for my grandmum to pick me up from school, I'd lock myself up in the rather stuffy room (I can picture it even now) and read my heart out. My secondary school library was much bigger in size but didn't have that many books. I guess I'm even lucky to have attended a primary school in Africa that had any size of collection of books. I doubt that most other people of my generation can say the same thing.
As the unofficial staff room chatter draws to an end, another teacher (not the one I'm officially attached to) asks me to consider helping out in his afternoon class. I concede mainly because I like the idea of observing a different teacher at work. Quite surprisingly, I realise I'm actually going to miss the kids in my regular class.
I find my 'new' class to be quite interesting. There are three teachers for twenty four students. Including me takes the number up to four. That's one teacher to six students. I'm impressed; England must be the only place where you can get this kind of teacher-student ratio.
We spend the first fifteen minutes of the lesson watching projected musical videos on YouTube. It takes a while for me to realise that it's a tactic employed by the lead teacher to get the students interested in the topic of the day: addition and subtraction of money. The video session features a selection of popular hip hop artistes singing about money (of course, these artistes never intended for their music to be connected to mathematics in any way!). Sure enough, there isn't anyone in the class - myself included - who is not watching intently. I can't help but admire the creativity and resourcefulness of these teachers who literally pull out all the stops trying to get the children to learn, that they might by all means save some.
The gimmick seems to work, as the students easily settle down to work and are quite quick to grasp the basic concept of addition and subtraction. I would never have believed it if someone had told me this was on a secondary school maths curriculum. My bewilderment is compounded when I realise that all the students have to do is add and subtract little sums of money - all under £10 - with calculators! My, there's no mental activity taking place here. I think there is really no point to this until I happen upon a student who's coming up with completely wrong answers - even with a calculator! Well.