It is a Tuesday morning and we are on our way to school, as is five-year-old Anna, a pupil of Ban Sikeud Primary School, and all of her classmates. Thinking about this commonality of our days, we – Pauline and Cornelia – started to wonder if we shared more similarities with little Anna and her “Mopsy” friends in our daily routines. This question stuck in our heads, wherefore we decided to accompany Anna for one day to find out what a day in the life of a “Mopsy” actually looks like.
Editor’s note: Team I originally started calling the pre-schoolers “Mopsies” after the course book “English for Mopsy and Me” that we brought along for the pilot-phase in 2015. Jessica from Team V eventually discovered that they called us “Mopsies”, too…
6.30 a.m.: Wake-up time
Little Anna gets woken up by her mother Mittaphone Sichampa, who is a teacher at the same school Anna visits. After lying in bed for a few more minutes, Anna jumps out of her bed and goes outside to greet the hens and roosters in the garden, while her mother prepares some food.
7.00 a.m.: Breakfast
Breakfast time! In Laos, most of the time this means having noodle soup, rice with different sides like vegetables, various meat, or grilled fish. For Anna and her mother, it is leftovers from yesterday: Fried rice with chicken. They sit down on a mat next to the bedroom and enjoy their first meal together.
7.15 a.m.: Getting ready
After putting on her school uniform1 and helping her mother do the washing-up, lucky Anna has some free time to spend before leaving for school, so she picks up her colouring pencils and some paper and starts drawing her first artwork2 of the day.
A quarter of an hour later, both are ready for their ten-minute ride to school. Anna climbs onto her mother’s motorcycle and waits for Mittaphone to come and drive to school with her. She is one of the very few children in Laos we have seen wearing a helmet for this.
7.40 a.m.: Arrival at school
Entering the schoolyard, Anna gets off the vehicle and heads to her friends and classmates, who have arrived earlier. After greeting them, there is not much time for chatting and playing, as the school day is about to start.
8.00 a.m.: First lesson
Having entered their classroom,3 Anna and the other pre-schoolers take their seat on the floor on a big mat. They continue to whisper and laugh until the teacher draws attention to herself and everyone starts to listen carefully to what she says. On Tuesdays, the subject is mathematics.4 The pupils already know the numbers 1 to 100 in Lao and how to solve basic addition exercises with the numbers one to ten, which is what they are also practising today. The lessons in the morning are all about learning new concepts in the traditional way, whereas learning via more playful activities follows in the afternoon.
8.20 a.m.: Mopsy lesson with “teacher Cornelia”
When “teacher Cornelia” enters the room, the class teacher calls the names of up to ten pupils, who line up in front of the door as soon as they hear their names, by holding on to the shoulders of the child in front of them. In joyful anticipation, the Mopsies wait for Cornelia’s “let’s go!” and follow her to the room where the Mopsy lesson takes place. They start with a “Good Morning” song and wave their hands to welcome everyone.
On today’s agenda: The “Bear Hunt”. This is a picture book written by Michael Rosen, which was adapted to an interactive repeat-after-me song, which introduces some basic English chunks and verbs and can be acted out playfully. About 20 minutes later, Cornelia and the Mopsies sing “Goodbye” to each other with another song ritual and walk back to the classroom together.
8.40 a.m.: Back to the lesson
Arriving back in their classroom, Anna and the other Mopsies join their classmates again and the mathematics lesson continues while Cornelia takes the next group of about 10 pupils with her to give them their Mopsy lesson.5
9.40 a.m.: Morning sports
After one hour and forty minutes of lesson-time, the children get ready for morning sports. The pupils of the entire school – with the Mopsies among them – gather on the schoolyard and stand in lines. While two of the older pupils give commands over a microphone, the rest of the pupils follow the instructions and do some gymnastics-like exercises.
10.00 a.m.: Tooth-brushing
After finishing their sportive activity, the Mopsies and all the other pupils run back to the classrooms to pick up their toothbrushes6 and wait for their teachers to put toothpaste on them. They proceed to walk to a construction made of pipes which serves as a row of sinks. There, all children brush their teeth and wash their hands and faces thoroughly before walking back to the classroom and getting the next lesson.
11.40 a.m.: Lunch and play-time
The school bell rings,7 which means it is finally time for the lunch break. Some Mopsies have lunch with their parents, who come to join their children bringing sticky rice and sides for lunch break, some take a little walk outside the schoolyard with their older siblings to buy some food from the local stalls. In Anna’s case, she meets her mother Mittaphone in the teacher’s kitchen. After having unripe mangos with chili sauce as a snack, they eat sticky rice and chicken together with some other teachers. Having finished her meal, Anna runs back to her friends, with whom she continues to laugh and play.
12.30 p.m.: Taking a nap
In this heat, the long Mopsy school morning is exhausting and calls for a little nap, which is what Anna and her friends are going to get in their empty classroom now. They grab a pillow out of a big bag and lie down on the floor. About five minutes later, everyone is sleeping soundly and regaining some strength and energy
for the afternoon lesson.
1.30 p.m.: Last lesson of the day
One-and-a-half more hours of lesson lie ahead of the little Mopsy children. As it is usually quite hot after 1 p.m. and their concentration decreases, the afternoon lesson is not only about learning new concepts, but activates the pupils more by integrating songs, drawing, and playing games into the lesson.
3.00 p.m.: Activity Time
The lesson is over, and the last part of Anna’s school day is about to start, the so-called “Activity Time“. This either means 45 minutes of free time playing with other pupils and running around, or taking part in an “Activity”, e.g. badminton, hula hoop dancing, football, traditional Lao dance – or the “English Activities” led by the German volunteers.8 Anna and her friends wander around the schoolyard and wonder which Activity they would like to join today. They see some children skipping rope, some others playing with marbles or carrying the dustbin to empty it, or just watching either the soccer or badminton game. After walking and running around for a few minutes, Anna and her friends decide to go for hula hoop dancing today and have lots of fun – ending their busy school day in a most enjoyable way.
4.00 p.m.: End of the school day
Finally, a long day of lessons and Activities comes to its end. Anna and the other Mopsies wait for their parents to pick them up or walk home with their older siblings. In Anna’s case, it is her mother Mittaphone who takes her back home on her motorbike. The little girl is already looking forward to spending some free time at home.
4.30 p.m.: Home again!
While Anna plays outside in the garden with her friend who lives next door, her mother starts to prepare dinner, which is rice with mixed meat and vegetables today. The parts which are inedible are not thrown away but served as dinner for the chickens by Anna. After having dinner with her mother, Anna does her homework.
9.00 p.m.: Night approaches
A full day is about to end, and little Anna must get ready for bed to rest before the next very busy school day. Anna cuddles her mother one last time, jumps into her pajamas, and falls into bed. Sweet dreams!
After we dove into the normal school day of a Mopsy, we had a better sense of what their days are like. It was a great pleasure and a very interesting experience to accompany little Anna for one whole day and we realised that there are more similarities in our daily routines than we would have thought: Getting up in the morning, having breakfast, leaving for school, having lessons, taking a little break at lunchtime, continuing our lessons, going home in the afternoon, getting some work done at home, having dinner, and going to bed.
Little difference: We do not keep chickens at the villa, and – being vegetarians – we do not eat them, either. However, at the end of our busy days we all go to sleep to the same soothing sounds of geckos and cicadas…
Text by P. Faix & C. Proels
Photos by P.Faix, C.Proels & M.Sichampa
1 All pupils (and teachers) wear school uniforms daily. For the girls this includes a dark blue sinh and a white blouse and for the boys black trousers and a white shirt.
2 Art is Madame Engel‘s passion that she likes to pass over to “her” children at school. Therefore she donates pencils, watercolours, and brushes for the pupils to create amazing little paintings during “Activity Time”. Drawing at home would not be normal routine for Lao children.
3 The preschoolers are divided into two “Mopsy classes” at Ban Sikeud Primary School with 45 pupils in each group. Phang Heng Primary School offers lessons for around 90 pre-schoolers, too.
4 The “Mopsy lessons” consist of different parts which take place on several days. The pupils learn the Lao language on Mondays; on Tuesdays and Thursdays they practise their mathematics skills; they learn English on Wednesdays and have arts lessons on Fridays.
5 We teach the pupils in small groups as teaching oral English to pre-schoolers involves a high amount of participation and speaking-time for each child. We are here to foster the development of speaking skills of young children, which is why it is not condusive to teach more than ten pupils at a time (in this age group).
6 It is a privilege for the children to have their own tooth brush as it is not Lao standard to have one at home. Very few Lao people use a tooth brush regularly, which is why tooth-brushing is included in the regular school day as a daily routine in the AfC-supported schools in Sikeud and Phang Heng.
7 The school bell rings twice. When the bell rings for the first time, the pupils and their teachers know that the next lesson will start in five minutes, and when it rings for the second time, the lesson is about to start and everyone is supposed to sit in his or her classroom.
8 The “Activities” change every day, so that the teachers may offer table tennis one day, traditional Lao dance another day, and “Singlish“, which is offered by us volunteers, on yet another.