So I figure it’s about time for I shared a bit more detail about one of My learning centres – Bang Klang. Warning: This blog contains details that are actually very interesting but many non-engineers/architects may find them ‘boring’. If you are one of these people, please find a qualified person to explain.
Bang Klang learning centre (what is a learning centre? ) consists of half a building within a proper Thai school. The whole learning centre is essentially one room measuring 15m long x 5m wide. The roof slopes down the shorter dimension of the room from a height of 4.2m to a height of 2.5m.
There are around 90 students, aged 7 to 14 divided into three classes. As you can see in the pictures, the classes share the same single room, but are facing different blackboards.
The walls are made of concrete, floors are tiled and the roof is corrugated iron. The room is generally naturally ventilated through two doors, two windows and a series of perforations in the walls providing a total free area to the outside of 8.8m2. (Note this is a maximum, as doors are closed when it rains) Ventilation, or rather circulation is assisted by two wall fans and one ceiling fan within the room. Lighting is provided by four 36W fluorescent lights mounted on the rafters of the roof.
So what does this all mean??? Lets do some calculations:
The total area is therefore 75m2 and the total volume is 251.25m3. With 90 students and 3 teachers, that is 0.8m2 per person, 2.7m3 per person and 0.09m2 of free area to the outside per person (maximum). This is the whole environment for the children to spend their day. On a fine day, they can go outside and play on the field, on a rainy day, they spend all day in this room. On a hot, rainy day the doors are closed. This reduces the cooling and fresh air provisions to the students, but fortunately the mild CO2 poisoning has an anesthetic effect making the class easier to control.
The experience of being at Bang Klang is quite something.
I teach one class at Bang Klang for an hour each morning. When I first started, I wondered why the kids seemed so lethargic first thing in the morning. When my Burmese got good enough, I asked them. They say they don’t usually eat anything besides their ration (1 cup) of milk till lunchtime. So I started bringing bunches of bananas for my class each day. The leftover ones I give to the head-teacher who distributes them among the rest of the school.
I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do because now they all expect me to bring bananas so I have to take several bunches of bananas to school each day … well actually Nuala buys the bananas at the market in the morning before I wake up and I just take them to school but don’t tell my students, I might lose my status as ‘banana teacher’.
The environment at Bang Klang ranges from pretty awful at times to absolutely awful at other times. On a good day the other two teachers have given their classes some drawing or writing so I can practice pronunciation with my students (was that “pad”, “bad” or “bat”?). On a bad day, the Thai teacher and the Burmese teacher have both decided that they’ll chant the alphabet – the teaching method of choice at learning centres. On these days I abandon all notions of a real class, write the words to “B-I-N-G-O or Old McDonald had a farm…” on the board. Then armed with the knowledge that my students are not only older, but also full of banana energy, I drown out the other classes. Keeping in mind the hard surfaces all around, the acoustic performance of the room is 0% absorption, 90% reflection and (it seems) 10% amplification.
While the kids are a mixed bag in terms of ability, their attitude is, amazingly, composed, cheerful and respectful. After an hour, my mind and body are pretty exhausted. I get to leave and continue teaching elsewhere, but the students and the two remaining teachers stay – they have the whole day yet to go.
I often leave wondering whether there’s any point in trying to teach anyone in that environment but on some days I get a glimpse into the indomitable human spirit that, often through strength and courage but sometimes though simple innocence, just refuses to let oppression win.