I want to tell you something. Something about 14 boys and some knowledge. 14 normal boys who have one thing in common and that is that they are former street children. We are here talking about boys who contain an enormous inner power and strength. During the past 3 months they have all accomplished something quit impressive. The new batch of boys arrived to Stairway in the middle of July 2016. Their academic level was very different from one another since they arrived with none or a limited background of schooling. This seems to have turned upside down during the past few months …
It is not long time ago since we sat down with a group of Stairway boys and fought our way through the alphabet. We practiced in spelling simple words and getting to know the sound of the letters like “Aaaaaa”, “K-K-K-K”, “Ssssssss” and it must have sounded like a circus in our classes. We practiced counting and recognizing numbers and their order since it was necessary to get all of the basic knowledge down before moving on to the next step. I guess that it is only possible to build something big if the foundation is strong and stabile? We used a lot of hours practicing despite of the challenges that followed. To give up was of course not an option, because at Stairway we embrace the different academic levels and challenges that the children have. The needs of the boys must be taken serious in order for this to have a greater meaning. It is incredibly difficult to learn all of these things and it takes an enormous drive and power. However, common for all is that they are eager to learn something new and get smarter.
When I think about the everyday life at Stairway I think about a life that is free and adjusted for each and every boy – something that especially crosses my mind when it comes to teaching the boys. I teach the boys math and science and I love it! It is not always the easiest job in the world but for me this is the real challenge and what makes it interesting. The boys are so different and has such different backgrounds that this is what makes it all worth it. This also means that it is much more important to think out of the box as a teacher here at Stairway in order for them to feel happy and at ease in my class. As a teacher I need to adjust my teaching after the boys, which means freedom and space in class, which we definitely have.
Class starts at 8 o’clock every morning but most of the time the boys are always in their seats 10 minutes before yelling: “Ate Sarah, we have class now!” A pretty good start I would say. I arrive to the classroom and everyone is talking and goofing around and all in all just being boys their age. On my way to the board I am met with a ton of questions such as “Ate Science? Science?” or “Math ate, Math?” and no mater what my answer is they all happily get out their notebooks. Especially math is a favorite among the boys and luckily this is the subject today. I start by practicing the multiplication tables with the boys. Here the boys take turns on saying a number in the row that used to be a big blur of unknown numbers, but which more and more has become a logical number system. I clearly feel how the boys’ mathematical skills are getting better day after day which makes me extremely proud. When we are done with the multiplication tables I start to write math problems on the board. One of the boys asks, “Ate, copy?” with eagerness in his voice and I answer, “yes please” while I continue to write. I hear how the boys move around with the chairs and suddenly three of the boys are sitting around the board in a beanbag chair with a normal chair infant of them using it as a table. Great I think to myself. I let the boys copy the math problems and let them figure them out together in groups or alone. I move among the boys helping them one by one but suddenly I can’t find Eugene. I then remember his preferable spot under the table and bend down to look under the table and just as I thought, he is sitting there. I can’t help but smile because it is moments like these that make it all a little more fun. I crawl under the table to find my spot next to Eugene and ask him if he needs help in an encouraging voice. He looks at me with his big brown eyes and nods slowly. Eugene has a hard time in math and the numbers seems to all blend together in his head. I pat him on the back and he seems to understand that we will figure it out together. So here I sit: A tall Scandinavian girl squeezed together to fit under the table to do math. But who says that math has to be done on a chair? I guess there aren’t any rules for these things. Outside Eugene’s hiding place I hear a voice calling my name. I crawl out from under the table to help the next boy. Or at least this is what I think I was doing because instead of meeting a boy who needs help I see Jimboy who, with his arms over his head and with a cocky smile on his lips says “Ate, finished!” It has only been 15 minutes since I gave the boys the problems on the board and I am deeply impressed. I take advantage of the situation and try to challenge him by showing him how to multiply with multiple digit numbers. He follows my every move and like a sponge he takes it all in. I am just about to give him the third example when he stops me and says, “Ate, it’s okay! I think I got it”. Again I am impressed and let him fall back into the beanbag chair where he goes on doing his thing. I look around the classroom and I am suddenly overwhelmed by the eagerness of knowledge that is taking place in this exact moment…
But what is knowledge and how do we define it? It has earlier been defined as “true profound meaning”. This is an effective definition that seems specific but at the same time very unclear. Knowledge, after my opinion, seems to be many things and is used in many different contexts. All in all there are two different kinds of knowledge. We have the knowledge that many acquire through education and learning. Then we also have the knowledge that we get through experience. Both seem to be equally essential when it comes to creating a stabile existence. I guess it is about understanding the importance of knowledge and furthermore the rights that the children have to all of this. If knowledge and education is the building stones for a greater understanding, then knowledge also has to be the thousands of atoms that create the frame around what we call life. Maybe knowledge and education is not just the frame, but the skeleton or the spine, an amour you may call it, that seems to be vital for the development of a human. We, as people, need knowledge and we thrive for it. The human is curious by nature which only underlines how important it is that we together manage to awaken this curiosity and interest for knowledge and how this can create a general education.
Our 14 Stairway boys have almost been here for 4 months now and their academic development is going up exponentially. When we used to sit down and practice the ABC and count to 10 we are now learning how to spell in both English and Tagalog and practice the multiplication tables together with subtraction and addition with double-digit numbers. For some of the other boys, multiplication and division is no longer something that is hard and complicated, but has become something that is actually fun. It is all about ‘cracking the code’ and to se the patterns in math. This is where it all starts to make sense as a teacher. The moment where the boys get an epiphany and suddenly understand the connection and manage to see the bigger picture is when I personally feel an enormous joy rushing over me and it all suddenly seems to have a greater meaning. Or when you sit at the table during dinner and hear the boys talking about puberty, evolution, and capitals in Europe etc. Then you know that the boys have an interest in this – an interest that also appears outside of the classroom. It is this curiosity and interest for others that create the bonds between us and the conversation and interaction between people that gives us the change to learn from one another. We are here talking about a common knowledge that lifts us up as individuals.
Knowledge was defined as “true profound meaning” which means that knowledge cannot stand by itself. Knowledge demands that you have an opinion and to have an opinion you need to take a stand, devote yourself in something, and show an interest. Furthermore knowledge demands a reason. It is not enough just to know something but knowledge must also be explained. When you understand how to back up your knowledge with a reason or explanation then you also understand how to use your knowledge. It is about teaching the child to think for itself and ask critical questions so that education does not become a duty but a necessity, a privilege and hopefully a wish. Education is a children’s right that seems to be highly appreciated here at Stairway. Knowledge is power and the Stairway boys do their best to achieve as much as possible while they are here, so that they can be properly equipped for the rest of their life. And with what they have achieved so far they will get far… So reach for the stars and do it with an enormous eagerness and curiosity!