Defending Education for Girls in East Africa

2014-06-20 02.23.45I spent 5 weeks in Tanzania, East Africa There were many places that I wanted to travel. I love Lamu, Kenya and would have liked to spend a few days there. I wanted to spend a few days in Nairobi, Kenya and also Kampala, Uganda. I realized in the middle of my trip that I would not be having a holiday and doing any of these things.

 

I came to Africa with fear. I allowed my largest donor to influence me with her fear. I knew that I had to get sustainable funding for my program in the US or I would not be able to move forward. I understand the power of focus and I understand the power of perseverance. My Assistant and many funders kept telling me that I needed to focus on gardening or academics and not the two. I knew that I would not do that. Education needs to be relevant and meaningful. I insist upon it.

2014-06-20 03.19.53When I started working with the girl’s in Tanzania, I recognized that they feared the past that they left. They feared that being supported in education was something too good to be true. I recognized that a lot of their dysfunctional actions stemmed from this fear People tend to act out fear and create the very circumstances that they fear. They couldn’t believe that the support would last and be sustainable. It was not; one needs to generate enough income to support a program in order for it to be sustainable.

I wanted to uncover some of the issues they feared. Many girls feared female genital mutilation and early marriages. There families were poor and a nice dowry of cows and other livestock would help sustain the family by providing food and a source of earning. Many Westerners wrongly identify this as selling their daughters.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAFemale genital mutilation is not considered much in the United States. Parents forcing their daughters to get married to an older man with other wives is not an issue . Young girls are valued for their bodies. They perform most of the physical labor and they are more desirable as sexual partners. Many older men seek out young girls for this reason. Older men may have more wealth, which means they can provide security. Parents seek to improve their own living conditions as well as security for their daughters. The cultural practice of mutilating a young girl’s genitals to prepare her for marriage as her security continues despite opposition. Every parent wants a secure future for his/ her child.

An Egyptian friend once compared female circumcision to male circumcision. This is a lie. Male circumcision involves cutting off the foreskin, which makes the penis less likely to become infected . This compares to women who have their hymen cut in order to allow for less painful first intercourse. The hymen is naturally broken during intercourse to allow for penetration. It can also be broken due to vigorous physical exercise like horseback riding or riding a bicycle. The discomforts in both instances are temporary and does not interfere with the functioning or pleasure centers in the genitalia.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAFemale genital mutilation may vary across cultures. One thing is certain is that the clitoris is removed so that females never enjoy sex or achieve orgasm. More than 125 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation and 3 million girls in Africa are scheduled to undergo this procedure unless something is changed. Girls bleed to death from this procedure and many suffer frequent infections and excruciatingly painful childbirth. Mothers tend to participate in this ritual. So the person that the girl trusts the most violates her in the most intimate area. The girl child becomes reminded of this intimate violation every time she has sex for the rest of her life.

Men were castrated at one point in order to around the King’s wives and concubines. Eunuchs existed in biblical times. The Spanish started the practice of scalping their captors with the Moors and later continued with Native Americans. These practices were considered barbaric and were discontinued as we evolved. Nowhere in the world do any culture practice castrating males to make them safe for work around females or scalping their victim in war. Female genital mutilation needs to follow as one of those barbaric practices that we no longer perform or condone.

2011-01-01 11.00.00-7FGM affects both the physical and psychological health of girls, directly impacting their attendance and performance at school by 25%. This negatively impacts their right to equality, economic potential and security. Girls have lower literacy rates and face pressured to marry early. They become vulnerable to HIV/Aids transmission, and childbirth complications such as obstructed fistula. With poor access to healthcare, they die. Yet people often shrug their shoulders and say it’s cultural. The guillotine was cultural at one time, everything cultural was not meant to move forward.

Female Genital Mutilation affects girls psychologically. It really doesn’t matter whether it is your culturally practice or not. When you live in a community where girls are raped and molested frequently, it affects you because you are a girl. When you know girls who are mutilated it causes you to feel less safe in the integrity of your own body.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAI admire African cultures for maintaining the sanctity and importance of marriage. 54 countries in Africa and all value marriage as the most sacred human institution. I wish Americans valued marriage to the same degree. There is no reason that a girl should not finish secondary school and even college before considering marriage. Modern problems require solutions that combine the best of indigenous and modern practices.

New problems require new solutions. Energy, food security and technology challenges dominate the 21st Century. The girl child needs to work alongside the boy child to receive the best education possible to tackle these issues. Girls need an education. They need access to these same opportunities without worrying about having their genitals assaulted. Let’s see that they get them.

 

 

 

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In Defense of Girl’s Education in East Africa

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I sent my concept paper to a Tanzanian friend, Daniel who lives in the U.S. He texted, “Call me”. I expected some minor clarifications, I called him with the document in front of me ready to make the changes.   He answered, “This is nice but it is not going to get you any money”. My heart hit the floor. I took a deep breath and braced myself for what he would say next.

He has been in the US 6 years. He told me emphatically that I had to talk about the negative. He started to rattle off reasons that people should donate money to help girls in Tanzania. I have to talk about female circumcision, albino killings and forced early marriages. I sputtered that I didn’t see any of these things while I was in Tanzania ,“ How can I talk about them and how long ago was this?”. He responded briskly. “Go to google and check it out for yourself, nice doesn’t get you money”. I was so uncomfortable. He was adamant. The conversation left me unsettled.
2014-06-24 09.07.11I remembered my experience in Ethiopia. When I talked about the lack of sanitation people became very angry and unsettled. It created a firestorm of insults. Most people admitted and acknowledged that everything that I said was true. Natives informed me that it was rude and unacceptable to share such information with the general public. The described it as shameful.

Daniel spoke the truth. We can talk about our aims and objectives but unless we clearly identify the problem, we can’t raise funds. Using words like vulnerable girls and not specifying what makes them vulnerable doesn’t touch the hearts of donors.

Female genital mutilation still exists in Tanzania even though it has declined to 15%. I don’t use the term female circumcision because the entire clitoris is removed along with other vaginal tissue. It is excruciatingly painful and it causes urinary tract infection. Sex is extremely painful. There is an increased risk of HIV infection. Many families are quite poor and want to marry their daughters off to receive the dowry of cows. Many Masaai men have refused to marry when they discovered that there fiancé was not circumcised.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAWhen a girl is circumcised, she is considered ready to be married. Some girls are circumcised as young as 9 years old. Some girls die from the procedure. Some girls who choose not to be circumcised are ridiculed and ostracized by their friends. The ritual is generally initiated by the mothers who fear that there daughters will not get a suitable husband without this procedure being performed. Despite the frequent recurring infections that traditional practice signifies modesty and purity.

Tanzanian law gives parents the rights to marry their daughter off at the age of 14. Most girls marry men much older who can afford to give the parents a decent dowry. The parents consider the girls to be a financial asset. A 2008 survey on child marriage by Children Dignity Forum shows that child marriage is a huge problem in Tanzania and is more prevalent in its Coast, Mwanza and Mara regions.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAThe survey found that child marriage was driven by the desire of a girl’s parents to get a dowry because they are poor, and maintaining culture and tradition. In 2010, The World Bank conducted research which showed that ¼ of Tanzanian girls had experienced a pregnancy or given birth between 15-19 which makes Tanzanian adolescent fertility rate to be the highest in the world. The Tanzania Women’s Media Association estimates that between 20 to 40 % of Tanzanian girls are married before they reach adulthood. Early marriage, premature motherhood, higher risk for disease leads to massive poverty. Girls who marry young tend to be at a higher risk for domestic violence.

UNICEF (2004) report indicates that educating the girl child leads to more equitable development, stronger families, better services, better child health and effective participation in governance. Research findings indicate that girls’ dropout rate from school is higher than that of boys. Tanzanian girls, for religious, cultural, socio-economic and school related factors, are not given a fair chance in the educational sector. In Tanzania, about 7.3 million children do not go to school, of which 62% are girls (UNICEF 2004). The same UNICEF report indicates that girls’ primary school completion rate trails boys, at 76% compared with 85% for boys. Millions more girls drop out of school each year to work, keep house and get married. The majority of children not in school are girls. Mohammed (2004) reported that a girl may be withdrawn from school if a good marriage prospect arises. Early marriage is a sociocultural factor that hinders the girl child’s access to school. Some parents give their daughters to wealthy old friends for a dowry and for the girls security.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAAfrica isn’t called the dark continent because of the color of people’s skin. There is major exploitation of females and marginalized tribes as well as violence along religious lines. We focus on the progress made in Africa but we have to address the ugliness as well. The disparity between rich and poor is huge.

I like to present information regarding girl’s education from the benefits to the society. The truth is that not educating girls negatively impacts their society as well as negatively impacts the world as a whole.. The time has come for me to step up and talk about why it is important to support girl’s education in East Africa. The sociocultural factors which impede African progress stem from the exclusion of it’s girls in attaining a relevant and meaningful education. When girls receive an education they educate their children and the entire society benefits and moves forward.

No society can move forward when it oppresses half of it’s population. Girls need to be educated and participate in the forward movement of the society. Evolution is happening in Africa now, we must be a part of the change. What affects one affects all.

 

 

 

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African Languages on My Brain: Communicative Intent

GE DIGITAL CAMERAGE DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_0528I started my day with Swahili. I practiced the sounds with the Youtube video. I became annoyed with the explanations.  I didn’t want to hear explanations. I wanted to hear the sounds of Swahili with the symbols and repeat them. I played a number game. The game involved addition and I kept messing up. The time clock created anxiety for me and it interfered with my focus. I decided to create my own game. I downloaded addition from the computer. I decided to add and subtract using Swahili. My activity was untimed. I relaxed and read the problem and answer in Swahili.

I remembered that my friend Emmily had pronounced some Swahili for me, which I recorded with my phone. I could listen to her voice in Swahili, which I recorded from Skype on my phone. I really had more options learning African languages than I had with European languages 10 years ago. I simply needed to utilize them to learn the language.

Learning a new language opens a door to new worlds. Once you get past the initial greetings and pleasantries, you learn about a people from their worldview.  Swahili people ask each other “What’s the news”?  I like that worldview. I see it as “What are you going to tell me that I don’t know. It sounds less self-centered than the American greeting of How are you?

I listen to my friend Kulman Sam’s videos on youtube. There are many videotapes on youtube but his are the best. He tends to be direct, focused and to the point. I like that. I see songs for free in Swahili along with movies and subtitles. So the tools to learn Swahili are there.

I listen to the language tape to the workbook in my car. One of the problems with people who try to teach language without a language background is that they include too much politics. They proceed rapidly through the words without supporting and scaffolding each lesson. Each lesson should have 80% of information, which has been introduced prior, and 20% new information.  Many programs choose to introduce a lot of cultural elements and fail to include sufficient exercises to reinforce concepts.

Language must meet the needs of the speaker.  The speaker needs to know how to take care of basic needs in the language, seeking food, shelter, health and safety. The model for language learning should follow the Maslow hierarchy of needs; one has to be able to communicate their physical needs. The second level of need is safety needs. People communicate to ensure that their safety needs. Maslow’s states that the next level of needs involve love and belonging.  Esteem follows love and belonging and self-actualization tops the pyramid.

Amateur language teachers start at the top of the pyramid. They want you to know their culture and values. They want to make sure that you don’t insult the speakers of their language who share their culture. People learn to communicate to meet their needs and not yours. Infants learn to say Mama and gesture to get fed. They cry to get something from the caregiver, not to meet the esteem needs of the caregiver.

I practice the sound today and then the greetings. Any person who speaks the language can be your caregiver. I get most of my information to meet my needs from children. So I need to be able to greet all those I meet. I focus on numbers.

Numbers are such a part of your life when traveling to a foreign country. Everything has a price and you need to know the price. You cannot leave the country with too much cash.  When you arrive at the airport, you need the address to where you are staying. You also need the flight number. You need to exchange currency when you arrive. So the exchange rate is important.

As you travel through the country, you must learn what everything costs and decide if it is overpriced or worth the money. You need a budget and a budget is filled with numbers. Language learners must learn to recognize the numbers when natives speak them as well as be able to articulate the numbers clearly to venders.

Knowledge of numbers satisfies my need to communicate on all levels. It assists me to communicate my physical needs for buying food, transportation, accommodations, etc. Numbers allow me to fulfill my safety needs, directions, distance, exchange rates etc.  Communicating numbers allows me to fit in and belong as I navigate my way in a different world. My esteem becomes boosted as I gain more independence. I train teachers so being able to teach math and show others how to teach math satisfy my self-actualization needs.

Numbers are Universal and so are needs. Numbers provide me with an anchor. Understanding numbers gives me the comprehensible input to make sense of issues attached and associated with numbers. It provides me with the confidence to make mistakes and stumble through a culture and language quite different from my own.

Anxiety is the greatest inhibitor to learning. Anxious people experience fight or flight and find it difficult to integrate new information due to a perceived threat. Once you feel confident about a certain aspect of the language then you can move forward with other areas.

The songs in Swahili add rhythm, which facilitate memorization of the language. The brain likes harmonies and melodies. Information can be easily integrated into long term memory. Humming a song triggers the emotional aspects of the memory and allows recall.

I realize that I have simply been lazy. The new ways of learning a language are just as effective as the old ways. I have just as much control of the information as I have had in the past. Technology adds a broader dimension to language learning it allows for more natural exposure in the language. Amateur videos can be just as effective a tool as professional videos. The key is to practice.

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African Languages on My Brain: Swahili Sounds in My Head

GE DIGITAL CAMERASwahili and I resume our love affair. We try to spend time together every day. We spend the night together, I in my bed and Swahili through the speakers of my computer. Swahili soothes me as I awaken during the night. The foreign sounds stir my imagination and remind me of the sights, sounds and smells of Africa. Swahili becomes my bedtime companion.

I listen to Swahili in my car. I  place the CD in the slot and listen to it without awareness. Sometimes I speak along with the CD but most of the time it is simply background for my thoughts. I don’t like to share my car because I don’t want anyone to change the audio in my vehicle.

By the time an infant has reached 8 months gestation in the womb, s/he has learned to recognize the sounds of his mother’s language. When  this infant is 12 months old, s/he begins to lose the ability to hear some  as s/he attaches and refines the process of making sounds in the mother’s language.

We like to point out that children learn language easily. They make it look easy. It is not unusual for small children to mispronounce words as there mouth matures. It is not  odd for them to struggle with 3 letter blends such as “street” pronounce “yellow” as “lello” or add vowels at the end of words that don’t end in vowels.

We tolerate children’s mispronounciations as they learn to speak. They develop the muscles in their mouth and upper respiratory system. Many of us can tell the difference between a two year old speaker and a ten year old speaker and we take the two year old speaker who expresses hunger no less serious than a 10 year old who expresses hunger. We learn to accept approximations and move on.

Second language learners face a different challenge if they are older. People focus more on how you say it rather than what you say. It takes the relationship into another direction when people judge how you speak rather than focus on the communication process.

Children don’t need to know what a word or phrase means in order to repeat it. People assume that they know the meaning if they pronounce the word or phrase well. They repeat words over and over again just to hear the sound. They often don’t understand what a phrase means and the adults would not know this unless they asked for a definition.

I believe in practicing the sounds. Many of my Kiswahili friends encourage foreigners to listen to the words and “catch’ them. However as an adult, I can read so if I can associate the proper intonation with the letters then the language acquisition process occurs  more quickly because you add visualization to the process.

When I learned language in the past, I spent the first hour of each day sitting at the computer and practicing the sound of 7 languages so that my upper respiratory system could make the sounds and that I would recognize the language when I heard it or saw the words. I practiced this activity for years. I upgraded my computer and my program was no longer compatible with the upgrade.  I mourned the loss of my program.  I loved the control of getting up and getting on my computer and pronouncing the words without any download issues or glitches.

So change comes hard. I am learning to use social networking to improve my language skills. I practice the sounds of Swahili every morning to prime the pump. Train the ear and flex the muscles in the upper respiratory system to make the sounds. This process resembles a singer who practices the scales before singing the song or the musician who simple focuses on playing the notes to warm up for the performance. I find that I need a warm up to switch the brain from English to Swahili. It makes it easier to move into the language, so there is less anxiety when trying to communicate.

Adult learners fear ridicule. People mimic language learners as they struggle with the sounds. Struggling with new sounds, replacing sounds with the familiar sounds of the target language, adding letters is part of the journey which lead to better pronunciation. As children learn their first language, they make us developmental mistakes. The worst thing that adults can do is ridicule their efforts and refuse to meet their needs. The child becomes frustrated and withdraws or tries to meet his/her needs in another manner.

When the language learner engages in any of these behaviors, instead of ridicule or correction, the target language speaker should simply pronounce it correctly and move on and complete the necessary action.  There is no need to make the target language learner repeat the word of phrase over and over again until the language learner’s speech matches the target language speaker. Accept this stage as part of the process and allow the language learner to make mistakes.

The language learner can hear the difference between their speech and the native speaker.  Making them self conscious about pronunciation only inhibits the language learning process. It takes patience and perseverance to interact with a emerging language learner. I find that most of the amateur videos used in social networking sites such as you tube etc. spend too much time explaining. It shows me that the teacher doesn’t understand linguistics and second language acquisition.

I complain about the process but Chanel Iam on facebook seems to be acquiring the language quite nicely using social media. So I need to do what I advise other people to  do all the time, let go of the old strategy and embrace the new strategies.  I can still use a lot of strategies that I used before. I have workbooks with exercises, and CD’s and language programs but incorporate that with Skype and social media. So I listen to the sounds , practice them first and move forward.

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African Languages On My Brain: Returning to Kiswahili

GE DIGITAL CAMERA GE DIGITAL CAMERA GE DIGITAL CAMERARecently I returned to Swahili, contrite about my absence. I always feel that I lost a window of opportunity when I didn’t go from listening to Swahili for long periods of time and speaking the language more. I chose to study Swahili and then switched to Amharic and Oromo. So my  receptive language included all three languages, yet my expressive language really included none of the languages. I understood some of all three, enough to know when people were scamming me in front of me.

So I returned to Swahili, the language of my original desire. I kept thinking that I would be fluent now if I had stuck with it.  But I didn’t stick with it. I learned lots of other things which proved to be useful. I need to rid myself of this feeling that it can ever be too late to learn.

When I learned languages before it seemed that life was much simpler. I studied the language using computer programs repeating what the native speaker shared. I listened to lots of tapes and CD’s and went to sleep listening to tapes. I listened in my car as I drove allowing the language to sink into my subconscious.  I checked out movies in the language from the video store. I bought workbooks in the language and practiced the exercises. My full time job for at least 8 weeks involved studying or using the language. I traveled to the country where the language was spoken with one objective, to use the language in a natural setting volunteering to work in refugee centers or teaching street children.

I listened to the radio in this language and read magazines and books in the library. I visited the University and started conversations with people at my guest house and in the coffee houses.  I avoided Americans unless they spoke the language well enough to carry on conversations in the target language. I traveled to various parts of the cities  or regions and interacted with locals at every opportunity.

I loved the novels in each country. The novels tell you things about the culture that the locals never share. The newspapers and magazines give another layer to the culture.  I loved this part of my life. It allowed me to acquire a language to intermediate level of fluency in 3 months. I loved sharing ideas about my profession or current events.

I miss this part of my life. I carried so many books and tapes, compact disks in my luggage. Then I bought more books while in the country.  I traveled with 2 suitcases and a carry on and most of them were my language learning materials.  I traveled throughout the Western Hemisphere and I explored so much of the countries.

Africa proved to be more complicated. I learned some German in Namibia. But Namibians shared such a painful history with German that it made me feel bad to force them to practice with me.  In Benin and Senegal, people often attempted to use the language to manipulate me. The consciousness of lack permeated the television, movies, radio, magazines, newspapers and daily conversation. Generally once we got past the greetings, the conversation turned to Americans giving them money. So Quebec proved a more reliable place to learn the language and Africa a place to practice the language.

So now my life is different. I need to earn a living and interact with lots of people who speak only English and have no appreciation for people who speak other languages. I write competitive  proposals in English and find it difficult to pull out of English and engage in other languages. I don’t relax a lot in African countries.  I understand the disparities in income and social economic status but it does not make it any less comfortable.

When I interact with people whose income exceeds mine over 100 times, I intend to get intimidated. My response would be to withdraw but then I am still financially independent so even then it is not the same. I know that I am viewed as a gateway to a different life. So you wonder if people might choose the short way to prosperity rob you or set you up to be robbed or the long way, manipulate you out of your resources. Not exactly the foundation for trust and learning something new. The brain’s ability to learn may be dampened in fight or flight.

I don’ carry tons of  language books, CDs and tapes  to Africa. I  load them on my tablet and Iphone. I can use youtube  and facebook but somehow this doesn’t seem as efficient as my previous method. I need internet connection or electricity which may not be always available. After a struggle, I don’t engage in language learning for the same amount of time as before.

I must say that I don’t have the energy left over after dealing with all the aspects of managing a non profit and creating curriculum for an afterschool program. The brain often feels saturated which isn’t a good element for learning.

I don’t find Mp3s on the phone or the computer to be as easy to control as the cassette player or the CD.  My routine varies a great deal. I need to be in a place with internet to access you tube. I find that a lot of the material tailored to foreign language learning is not as scaffolded as the professional material by linguists. So there is a huge gap that the learner needs to leap.

Swahili is a great first African language to learn. Swahili became the language of East African trade long ago. Native speakers strive to meet foreign speakers half way because they want the trade relationship. Learning Swahili reminds me of learning Spanish. Spanish speakers encourage people to learn their language and demonstrate a lot of patience with foreign language learners. So do the speakers of Swahili, plus there is a greater variety and diversity of language programs in Swahili.

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Defending Public Education in the United States

2013-03-11 15.35.00I have tested thousands of students in my lifetime. Testing  provides useful information, showing students and teachers  students knowledge. Scores can be used to diagnose learning problems. Test scores form a part of the equation not the whole equation.  Over reliance on  test scores create more problems than it solves for students, teachers, and schools.  We restrict the curriculum to what is tested, cheating students out of a well rounded education or lowering standards to inflate scores. School districts across the nation have been reduced the time available for the arts, physical education, history, civics, and other nontested subjects.  This does not improve education and  teaches the wrong long term lesson..

No nation in the world  eliminated poverty by firing teachers or by handing its public schools over to private managers; nor does research support such tactics. The new   school reformers, Wall Street hedge fund managers, foundation officials, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and policymakers, consist of too  few experienced educators.

The new reformers lack the balance which seasoned educators provide. The reformers’ detachment from the GE DIGITAL CAMERAreality of providing education for all and their disregard for research allow them to ignore the important influence of families and poverty. The United States, the largest and  most successful economy in the world, owes this success  to public school which  educated 90 percent of Americans.

Finland borrowed many of its most valued ideas from the United States, such as GE DIGITAL CAMERAequality of educational opportunity, individualized instruction, portfolio assessment, and cooperative learning. Finland borrowed the work of  John Dewey.  Finland’s  teacher preparation program forms  the core of  school reform . Eight universities  prepare teachers for a  highly competitive program:. Future teachers  enter the University with a strong academic background. Every candidate prepares to teach all  students, Every teacher must complete an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in education. Teaching is a respected and prestigious profession .  Every teacher is well prepared. Teachers enter the profession with a sense of purpose. We can recapture this spirit in the United States.

American teachers face the most diverse group of students in the world. They face students from all 2011-11-22 09.51.56socioeconomic, racial, religious, and nationalities. The U.S.  attracts more immigrants than any country in the world. These students educated at the public expense span the full range of academic achievement. I don’t see any other country with such a multicultural that has achieved the level of success. We don’t need to follow Finland or Japan or Korea who followed us. We need to continue to innovate and create.

 

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Education in Developing Countries: International Testing and Its Value

GE DIGITAL CAMERAThe World Development Report on Making Services Work for Poor People” [World  Bank, 2004] illustrates the tension in the public conversation about primary education in developing countries. The report embraces universal primary  education and describes in detail the dismal quality of the educational services that  developing countries offer  the poor. Policies which promote school enrollment may not promote learning.  The recent evidence suggests that many interventions which increase school participation do not improve education for the average student. These interventions consist of buying materials for the teacher without showing the teacher how to use the tools effectively.

Students do not to learn more in the additional days that they spend at school. Efforts to get children into school must be accompanied by significant improvements in the quality of schools that serve these children.  The first step is to change the attitude of the teacher who may or not be engaged in facilitating the learning process. Lecturing  from a textbook and having students memorize for exams does not increase learning. Learning has to engage the teacher and student.

The people in the educational process are central to the success of students. The crucial role of  the teacher’s determines whether students feel that they can learn. Many teachers in poor schools don’t prepare lessons adequately and expect the students to be silent and regurgitate on command what has been spoken by the teacher is not education. The problem is that  we don’t want to hurt teacher’s feelings by telling them that they have to undergo a fundamental shift in attitude and ensure that the provide their pupils with quality instruction and facilitate the learning process.

In the case of the poor, they generally come from an ethnic group which the teacher considers inferior. The pedagogy, nor the curriculum, has been adapted to take into account the influx of children and their characteristics which may require different teaching strategies.  Many first generation learners must work to help support their families and need practice activities to reinforce learning which may include games and oral learning, rhymes, songs etc. to remember academic concepts. Their parents can’t help them with academic work and feel embarrassed by the challenge. They may berate the child for making them feel inadequate with the demands of school.

In many countries, the school system  continues to operate as if it were catering to the elite.  When one digs further, we discover that the teachers want to only teach to the elite and feel that teaching poor children from lower socioeconomic groups lowers the teacher’s prestige and social status.

We can  improve school quality in a cost-effective way through the use of technology. Technology allows students to practice without judgement or condenmnation. The child can watch the video as many times as it takes without the video losing patience. The child can complete the problems until she gets them correct without feeling like she has disappointed the computer. The key is making these tools available to poor children and allowing them to use them in they are designed to be used.

Textbooks are important. Practice makes perfect. Application requires teachers to challenge their students in ways that differ from past relationships. Many teachers never interact with the ethnic group of their pupils outside the school setting. They may judge the child’s culture as backwards or uncivilized. Outsiders view the teacher and student as sharing the same race and therefore no cultural issues exist. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Until the school system address cultural, ethnic and language differences between the student and teacher, no real progress in terms of increasing education can exist. Students and parents know when educators tolerate them in order to receive a paycheck. When teachers face a classroom of students from different ethnic, language and cultural backgrounds, the teacher has a responsibility to address the gap.

So I can’t get excited about comparing test scores in countries where 1 out of 5 children die from unclean water. I don’t see the value of focusing on some artificial index which may not assist solve the  live or death problems in the immediate environment.

When one works with Educators from around the world, people constantly compare educational systems on the basis of International test scores.  Test scores tell a part of the story.  There are a sole criterion and should not be used as the only measure. Finland, with a population of 5.3 million boasts of some of the highest test scores in the world. The homogenous populations seems to enjoy a high quality of life and they place a high value on education. I don’t see myself giving up my citizenship and moving to Finland.

Countries must focus on the problems that interfere with their quality of life not some artificial index which compares their country to someone else. We overwork the data collection process. Test scores measure  performance on a sole criterion which many feels gives them a chance at the lottery “the coveted government job”.  This mentality becomes the problem and not a part of the solution. Education should be coveted because of it’s influence expanding one’s fund of knowledge to creatively solve the problems of today and tomorrow.

The 21st Century graduates must accomplish more than being able to pass an exam. Creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurship and sustainability rank as key components. Education,  a tool to be used, not just a piece of paper to be proudly displayed on the wall. When one discusses education for the poor in developing or developed countries, one  addresses the primary determinant of what happens in the classroom, the teacher and the problems which the students need to address in the environment.

Education must be meaningful and relevant or it is worthless. Education must facilitate people improving the quality of their lives and allow them to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. So once people can manage their existence in their own environment, can I turn my attention to comparing test scores.

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