How Many Legs Does A Rat Have in Papua New Guinea

[Editor’s Note: this is a thank you letter which was recently sent out from one missionary who works here in PNG to a church back in America who has supported this literacy efforts among a people group called Mborena Kam.]

For years the Mborena Kam schools have been trying to teach their children to read their own language without the benefit of books. The books that were developed over 20 years ago had worn out and the government had shifted away from the vernacular pre-school approach to a full Elementary Prep curriculum. Your generous gifts have allowed the Mborena Kam to prepare over 80 books in their own language including an alphabet book,  and books with vernacular songs, finger plays, and games. In addition, your gifts are paying for  kits of Elementary Prep materials that will be used in 4 schools in the school year that starts at the end of January 2014.

In this next year we hope to help the Mborena Kam develop a full set of curriculum for the Elementary 1 school year. The Papua New Guinea government allows religious instruction as a part of the curriculum, so two times each week, the children will read and talk about a Bible story and sing Christian songs in their language.  When we were looking ahead at 2014, it looked as if it would be impossible to produce the materials due to lack of PBT personnel for all the data entry work, but God was a step ahead of us and he is raising up volunteers to help with the production of Elementary 1 curriculum in their language.  Please pray that these volunteers can help the Mborena Kam and others to produce materials for their Elementary 1 curriculum quickly.

    

Last July I had the pleasure of working with the Mborena Kam teachers as they learned to use the new Elementary Prep Curriculum that teaches children how to read in their own language. Thank you for providing the funding that enabled us to train a group of Mborena Kam teachers.

Below are a few stories from the Teacher Training Course:

“That sounds like a rap song. You were just talking. You weren’t singing,” said Gregory. I was sort of shocked by his analysis of my singing especially since I was using a simple tune that we sang hundreds of time in the car when I was a child in the 1960’s – hardly a time when rap music was around.  So, I decided that that American tune would not transfer cross-culturally to this group of Elementary Prep teachers.   I then asked what tune we should use and they said, “The Five Little Piggies tune” – a tune that is obviously used in all schools in the area.  As I think about their critique of my singing, I am still chuckling at being identified as a “rap” music person!

    

Later in the week, I asked all of the groups to look at their translation of the book “Looking for Legs” – a math counting book that talks about how many “legs” various creatures have.  The pictures start with snakes, which have no legs, and finish with millipedes, which have lots of legs.  It is a fun book that children enjoy, but there was one problem. I had them look at the rat picture and asked them, “How many legs does a rat have and they all said, “Two legs.”  Then they all looked at their translations and all had followed the English/Tok Pisin in which the rats had 4 legs.

In PNG cultures, however, rats have two legs and two hands.  Then we checked the other creatures. Ants and spiders had hands and legs in all 4 languages.  Centipedes had either hands only or legs only depending on the language. Millipedes showed even more variety.  Two  languages had all legs, one had all hands, and one both hands and legs.  In addition to this issue of hands and legs, when all 4 languages talked about hands and legs, they talked about legs and hands – legs always are mentioned first. After that discussion, each group revised their book. While they were revising, I assured them that it was OK for them to use their cultural way of counting legs and hands.  God loves variety and that variety was very obvious in this simple book.

    

The 3 week course in July was full to overflowing with games, songs, finger plays and helping the teachers to try to read and follow instructions in the new Elementary Prep curriculum.  Time after time I was reminded of the fact that they come from oral cultures in which they need to see and do things in order to learn.  Thankfully, the teachers all enjoyed role plays and some of them were quite ornery students, especially when the teacher threw in an English word that the children wouldn’t have known.

My favorite was, “Teacher, what is ‘sep’?  Are you talking about a man shaving?” The teacher said, “No. A ‘sep’ [shape] is something like a circle or a square or a triangle (more words that children wouldn’t know).”

Praise God with me for the teachers and for the large group of missionaries and interns who worked furiously at the office producing new books as they were written.  Because of all of their hard work, four language groups now have complete kits of materials for Elementary Prep with well over 80 books for each language group.

Thank you for helping the children of Papua New Guinea learn to read God’s Word.  [Amen!!]

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