Trainer Rebecca monitors trainees in North Sumatra

G-Resources, a huge gold mine in remote North Sumatra, Indonesia, has committed funds from their training and development budget to improve the language skills and teaching methodology of English teachers from the local high schools around the mine. 15 teachers from villages on the edge of the jungles have travelled from their homes to the mine to attend classes with Rebecca Hales, Freelance Teacher Trainer. Many of the teachers had never attended in-service training, and during pre-course observations it was clear that, during classes, little English was used by most of the teachers, and even less by the students.  Rebecca tells us about the experience of working with these teachers and living at the mine.

One teacher dropped out to pursue a career as a wedding singer, but the remaining 15 are motivated and committed to the program.

I have been commissioned by British Council, Indonesia to work with these teachers for a period of 9 weeks between January and August 2015. 

After the initial shock of registering the teachers’ low levels of English – over half the teachers are A1, the rest are A2, and then, of course, there is one renegade teacher whose English is at B2 level. However, as with many Elementary English classes, given the low starting point, progress in terms of language development is both immediate and satisfying. Satisfying for the participants, and satisfying for the trainer. Edral, the lone intermediate level participant has embraced his role as mentor to the others.

I was also impressed by their genuine enthusiasm, their ability to grasp new concepts and their willingness to take new ideas and run with them. After an initial two weeks of input based on the British Council’s English for Teaching course, we conducted a series of school visits in which the teachers were observed and given developmental feedback on their teaching. The village schools were predictably poorly resourced, many without even textbooks. But for the most part the classrooms were light and airy with the flower beds around the schools provided welcoming splashes of colour. 

The teachers engaged the students with brainstorming activities and vocabulary games, setting up simple “Find someone who..” activities to allow students to practise language structures such as “Do you like mangoes?” and “Can you swim?” All pretty basic and straightforward stuff, but nevertheless a radical departure from the more traditional lecture style of teaching the students had been previously exposed to in which, for the most part, English is taught in Bahasa Indonesian.

When asked how their teaching had changed, this is what the teachers came up with:

“By using eliciting it is easier for the students to understand. They are more active in the learning process.”

“Now I use English more in my class.”

“By giving games the students are more interested and enjoy studying English. They also have nice communication with classmates.”

“By using English the students have many new vocabularies and try to find new words about the topic in the dictionary.”

The downside to all of this is spending weeks at a time in an air-conditioned tin box on the mine site. No natural light, no natural ventilation, and after a couple of weeks of eating every meal in the mess hall, where the cooks are pumping out 3 meals a day for over 700 workers, I would kill for a nice juicy medium rare steak and a glass of red wine. But all things considered, this is a small price to pay.