Tuesday, February 25, 2014

#TeacherTuesday - Malawi: The struggle for literacy

This is my first blog post for what will be a 10-week series - each week focusing on a different country and a different teacher who will share with us first hand conditions and stories. My educational focus normally is on educational technology - digital citizenship, global collaboration, mobile and ubiquitous learning, therefore my posts will refer to this in relation to each country and situation, but not with the intention of diverting the story, but wanting to broaden the picture.

This is an initiative by UNESCO, see my previous post, and many bloggers across the global are writing madly and posting each Tuesday. Follow the action on Twitter - #TeacherTuesday.

Week 1 - Focus on Malawi
 Oh Africa....dear to my heart....
In Malawi the pace of progress is too slow, especially for the disadvantaged. This relates to universal primary education, lower secondary education and youth literacy. From 2000-2010 literacy rates among those aged 15-24 increased from 72-77% only.
Malawi has one of the worst teacher shortages in the world.

What are conditions like in schools in Malawi?
The World Inequality Database on Education helps inform policy design and public debate. Recent surveys highlighted that not all children reach a grade 6 level, particularly the poor, therefore on average only 40% of primary school age children achieve this minimum learning standard. Of interest also is the interaction between gender, geography and poverty. It appears that 75% of rich boys living in urban areas achieved the minimum standard compared to 24% of poor girls living in rural areas.

What can the government do?
  1. Recruit good teachers
    • The current shortage of teachers means less qualified have been recruited
    • Need to recruit from ethnic minorities to work in their own communities
  2. Improve teacher education
    • Development of a distance education program doubled the government's capacity to supply teachers
    • Distance education for teacher training has reduced costs significantly
  3. Put teachers where they are most needed - particularly in rural areas 
    • Rural hardship allowance offered to try and get better educated teachers out of urban areas where there is a surplus of teachers
  4. Provide incentives to retain good teachers
    •  Pay salaries that elevate teacher families out of poverty
    • Offer a career path for teachers
Use of ICT
Malawi is at the very early adoption of computers stage in a few schools.  Teacher training and understanding of the relevance of computers beyond being a replacement for pen and paper is needed. Using ICT as a real educational resource means having carefully constructed digital curriculum artifacts as well as providing some or ongoing connectivity to the Internet and therefore the world. In schools where classes are up to 200 in size, the ability to integrate technology using devices provided by the government is many years away, or in fact impossible. Or is it? My question is, how can we mobilze the developed world to support digital implementation in the less-developed world?

Through the eyes of Esnart Chapomba
Esnart is an experienced primary, secondary teacher and is now a teacher trainer.
She shares with us some facts about the current education situation in Malawi.
  • The physical structure of schools is inadequate - lack of desks, broken buildings
  • Class sizes are too large - up to 200 students in the one class
  • Textbook shortage means students share - not satisfactory
In a personal interview Esnart talks about the struggle to provide basic literacy to students when teachers are overwhelmed by so many in a class coupled with a lack of resources.
More incentives are being given to encourage female teachers (she has 60% male students in the teacher training course right now). Females teachers are role models for girl students, particularly in rural areas.
Education for girls generally is not always supported by parents. Pregnancy after puberty has an impact, but now better education around AIDS and protection is helping to change this.
Some new teachers are electing the profession because of a lack of other opportunities and Esnart comments unfavourably about this - if they do not like their job how can they be productive?

Rural areas lack adequate health care and facilities, therefore not attracting urban teachers and their families. Large class sizes mean a compromised teaching approach - singing, some reading. Esnart reports that student behaviour is not always good in these very large classes, putting even more stress on the teacher. The school day finishes before lunch so students can go home and eat. Afternoons are for teacher planning, and at times the more studious are encouraged to come back for extra help.

My comments
I lived in Zambia for nearly 3 years, 1998-2000, when that country was at one of it's lowest socioeconomic levels. I have seen schools and situations where students are not supported, and teachers are not supported, and literacy is very low.  The impact of AIDS in countries like Zambia and of course Malawi can not be underestimated - thousands of children with no real parents. Schools requiring a uniform to participate, although a simple entry point is usually beyond the means of rural and less financial families.
For many years now my focus has been on developing digital literacy, and I also have full appreciation and understanding of the need to develop basic literacy and uphold minimum standards across the world - these two objectives MUST go hand-in-hand. I am really thinking however that through digital means education can be improved at a far greater rate in a country like Malawi. The cost of technology is decreasing. Developing countries have the opportunity to leap-frog over what other countries have been through in the past 10 years.

Meanwhile, my thoughts are with Esnart and her colleagues in Malawi as they struggle to improve conditions in a profession they love. What can we do to help in a more meaningful way?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Global Education Highlights (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

#TeacherTuesday starts next week - Watch this space!

Announcing #TeacherTuesday 
Prepare to learn about the world through nn innovative online project connecting teachers with bloggers around the world.

I am proud to have been invited to be one of the education bloggers who will write 10 blog posts over the next 10 weeks. The first post from me will go up on this blog on Tuesday February 25.

The UNESCO Education For All Global Monitoring Report monitors progress towards the EFA goals. This year the focus of the report is on teachers. The stories of 10 teachers will be shared through my blog and many other education blogs as we share perspectives on the featured teacher that week and their challenges to children's learning around the world.

The aim is to not only raise awareness of inadequate and struggling education systems and educators, but to give teachers a voice. There are powerful stories that must be told - and choosing experienced bloggers to do this is an enlightened approach.

Read more about #TeacherTuesday, and follow #TeacherTuesday on Twitter to be part of the learning and the conversation and to find the other bloggers who will share their thoughts and ideas around each different educator each week.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Global Education Highlights (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Global Education Highlights (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Global Education Highlights (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Intercultural Understanding - Flat Connections Meets the Australian Curriculum

Australian teachers and education leaders if you are looking for new and exciting ways to integrate the 'Intercultural understanding' objectives of the Australian National Curriculum into your learning environment, the Flat Connections Conference is the place you should be. (June 18-20, 2014. Sydney).

It is with much anticipation that I am exploring the Australian National Curriculum (ANC) documents and becoming absorbed in the 'Intercultural Understanding' sections. As an IB (International Baccalaureate) teacher for 10 years, and a global educator, having taught across six different countries, I may have had more access to conversations and documents to do with intercultural understanding, cultural awareness, third culture kids, international mindedness, and cultural awareness than perhaps the average Australian teacher to date. It is certainly heartening to see a focus and emphasis on exploring how to recognise different cultures and develop respect now embedded into the relatively new national curriculum guidelines.

In terms of organising elements, the 'Intercultural understanding learning continuum' is organised into three interrelated organising elements, as shown by this diagram:
The website provides further details including the following three areas. Some key statements and examples are selectively shared here to show clear alignment and empathy with the aims and objectives of Flat Connections.

Recognising culture and developing respect:
  • investigate culture and cultural identity
    • share ideas about self and belonging with peers For example: identifying the language(s) they speak, describing something special about themselves or their families
  • explore and compare cultural knowledge, beliefs and practices
    • describe and compare a range of cultural stories, events and artefacts For example:
      comparing media, texts, dance and music from diverse cultural groups including their own, exploring connection to place
  • develop respect for cultural diversity.
    • understand the importance of mutual respect in promoting cultural exchange and collaboration in an interconnected world For example: upholding the dignity and rights of others when participating in international online networks
Interacting and empathising with others:
  • communicate across cultures
    • recognise there are similarities and differences in the ways people communicate, both within and across cultural groups For example: identifying various ways that people communicate depending on their relationship
  • consider and develop multiple perspectives
    • assess diverse perspectives and the assumptions on which they are based For example: exploring the factors that cause people to hold different perspectives
  • empathise with others
    • imagine and describe the situations of others in local, national and global contexts For example:
      presenting another person’s story as seen through their eyes or as if ‘walking in their shoes’
Reflecting on intercultural experiences and taking responsibility:
  • reflect on intercultural experiences
    • reflect critically on the effect of intercultural experiences on their own attitudes and beliefs and those of others For example:  describing how exposure to a diversity of views, ideas or experiences has or has
      not changed their thinking on an issue
  • challenge stereotypes and prejudices
    • critique the use of stereotypes and prejudices in texts and issues concerning specific cultural groups at national, regional and global levels For example:  assessing the use of stereotypes in the portrayal of cultural minorities in national conflicts
  • mediate cultural difference
    • identify and address challenging issues in ways that respect cultural diversity and the right of all to be heard For example: engaging with views they know to be different from their own to challenge their own thinking
Read the full Intercultural Understanding Learning Continuum as provided in the Australian National Curriculum.
The Flat Connections Conference, (and Flat Connections global projects) is a unique opportunity for teachers, students and education leaders to become immersed in a process whereby participants are teamed with others they have not met or worked with before, including different nationalities and cultures. It is a chance to break through stereotypical attitudes and prejudices and learn how to create something meaningful with others who are similar but not the same, and who may have different backgrounds and perspectives.

The ANC 'Intercultural Understanding' goal is for students learn more about their own culture and the variable nature of culture (languages, beliefs, customs) and thereby develop intercultural understanding, as the introduction tells us:
"The capability involves students in learning about and engaging with diverse cultures in ways that recognise commonalities and differences, create connections with others and cultivate mutual respect."
"Intercultural understanding is an essential part of living with others in the diverse world of the twenty first century. It assists young people to become responsible local and global citizens, equipped through their education for living and working together in an interconnected world."
The Flat Connections Conference, to be held in Sydney, June 18-20 provides an opportunity for teachers to learn more about how to embed 'Intercultural understanding' into their curriculum at all age levels through new pedagogy and curriculum design that focuses on global collaboration supported by emerging technologies. In the words of Anne Mirtschin, award winning Australian government school teacher who will be a lead facilitator at the conference, 'The world is my classroom, and my classroom is the world'. That is how 'flat' and 'connected' learning takes place.

Technology makes connections and collaborations, and potentially intercultural understanding possible however for many teachers and students it is not clear HOW to harness the new tools and HOW to effectively harness 21st century learning objectives so that new conversations and meaning can be created. The Flat Connections Conference provides a pathway, the beginning of a journey into better understanding of this and aligns very nicely with the ANU Intercultural Understanding requirements.  How does it do this? Let's take a closer look.
  • Students work in cross-school teams, teachers work in cross-school teams on a common goal. Already the walls of learning are flattened through the need to communicate and create something together by bringing skills, experience and understandings to the table to share with others
  • Both student and teacher teams produce a product that is showcased in a celebration on the last day. The process of pitching to other teams for feedback provides an energised design cycle of designing, planning, creating and evaluating. The product (an action plan, a unit of work, a new curriculum design) is designed to join classrooms and/or teachers together globally and can be implemented after the conference
  • The theme for the Sydney conference 'What's the other story?' aligns once again with ANC Intercultural Understanding goals. This theme emphasises the importance of all humanity’s stories and the way they have been defined by the historical context of culture, migration and identity.  ‘Grand Narratives’ are no longer viewed as a satisfactory way of understanding the complexities and interconnectedness of the world we inhabit. Participants will be asked
    "What are the stories we want to tell to break through stereotypes and emphasise common humanity?" Discovering new stories, in conjunction with the design process of the conference, the aim is to open eyes to a more enlightened future of interaction and collaboration across the globe.
  • The Flat Connections Conference Program provides time for interaction, consolidation, ideation, and skill development with multimedia and Web 2.0 tools for both students and teachers.
  • The conference is about ideas - merging and melding cultures to create the best new projects and curriculum designs to join the world. It is about empathy with others, learning how to work with others, learning how to create a final product/proposal from set of initial ideas, learning how to flatten and connect using technology......and much more!

If you have any questions about the Flat Connections Conference in Sydney, June 2014, please email Conference Chair, Julie Lindsay: conference@flatconnections.com