Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Visiting Schools in Pohnpei

The main goal of visiting Micronesia is for me to gain a real-world perspective on schools and books for students with disabilities. We visited several schools, including detailed visits to two elementary schools and a high school. Picture from above of a school on the waterfront with jungle vegetation around The first school was Sokehs Powe School, which is on Sokehs Island next to the incredible rock pinnacle I mentioned in an earlier blog. The picture from above shows its site: it's on the waterfront across the main harbor.


classroom with purple-clad students at desks
Like most of the schools we saw, this one reminded me of schools in California. The classrooms have doors that open to the outside, because of the warm weather. Instead of windows, they have heavy screens. Most classrooms have desks and textbooks and all have chalkboards. Some of the schools have uniforms, where the kids are all dressed in the same colors. Sokehs Powe had purple uniforms. Students on Pohnpei learn in the vernacular (Pohnpeian) until they are in third grade, when they start learning English. PCs at the elementary schools (grades K-8) were quite rare. The high school had a good sized computer lab with relatively modern PCs. But, a lot of PCs were broken and older.Science textbook on a chair, cover has a seahorse

We took lots of pictures of the textbooks. For the most part, the English language textbooks were as modern as textbooks you'd see in mainland U.S. The books were by major publishers that I recognized. This was a big relief, since we would be responsible for making sure these books are accessible to disabled students in Micronesia. The books in the local languages were not in as great a shape. These tended to be developed by teachers and photocopied.
Mand School sign

The second school we visited was Mand School, in the southern part of the island, about a 45 minute drive from the capital. I really liked the school bell, which is a compressed air tank (for scuba divers), suspended from a tree and struck with a hammer.


It was a community made up mainly of immigrants from the island of Pingelap, the place where 10% of the population is visually impaired with achromatopsia, which makes someone very sensitive to light. Right next to the school is a river that leads to a fabulous waterfall, and across the river is a community plaza and center. It was a great feel for a community.

Our guide to visit the school, Roddy Robert, is a teacher who has the condition himself. He wears heavy sunglasses to shield his eye from the incredible glare of daylight. After we visited the school, Roddy took us to the community center, which has a memorial to the men who emigrated from Pingelap in the last century and founded this community. He showed us his great-grandfather's name on the stone pillar. Roddy Robert in dark glasses pointing to information on a school wall


In the school, he introduced us to the teachers, and showed us the school PC, and pointed out pictures on the wall which showed the five senses with the word in the local language. In this school, they also had content in Pingelapese, which is a dialect related to the main island language, Pohnpeian.
Schoolgirl squinting
We went into a classroom where I could immediately tell that the teacher there as well as one of the students both had the condition. The student was a cute little girl who was totally on top of things in the classroom and was frequently raising her hand with the answer to the teacher's questions. We got to observe different classrooms for 10 or 15 minutes each, at different grade levels. We also checked out the school library, which had many books, including a World Book encyclopedia.

In conclusion, these school visits gave me a really solid idea of the current state of schools, textbooks and kids with disabilities. And of course, these were schools full of school children who are full of life and excitement about having strange-looking visitors!

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