Christmas: Time for compassion and sharing

Christmas: Time for compassion and sharing

Christmas is a wonderful time of year whether we are believers or not. Watching kids playing, lights brightening up the dark winter, family getting together, time gets suspended in our endless marathon. What we tend to forget with Christmas is that it should not be about rushing into stores to get presents and waste money on the latest i-phone. Christmas should be about sharing and loving. We may not have a lot to share but a smile, some extra quids for someone who can’t eat, a box of chocolate for your favourite cashier, a bunch of flowers for your teacher’s kid, a hug for someone who needs it. Those things cost near to nothing but they can make someone’s day.

When Christmas is just around the corner it is a good time to reflect on who we are and what we do to share, to acknowledge our weaknesses, to empathize and spread love around us. It is often easier to buy presents and play fools during Christmas time rather than take time to talk about what really matters with our beloved ones but also with strangers. When is the last time you had a meaningful talk with someone in your family, a friend or even a stranger? When is the last time you said “Hey, know what? I was wrong. Sorry.” Those little talks don’t cost a penny but they are absolutely priceless. Because they show how much you care. Christmas is not about money spending, it is about sharing.

By the time Christmas arrives as teachers we are usually knackered. So, we tend to rush in our lessons, and we play batteries of Christmas games, but how much of this is really meaningful? How many of us have really taken the time just to sit down with the kids and ask them about their plans. How many of us have noticed that little Johnny has no plan at all “because…hmm…well it’s complicated.” Many of our students don’t have much and they shouldn’t be forgotten in the Christmas lights. I am not saying that you should make your duty to invite them all to your house for your Christmas party! But I am saying that a Christmas sharing –or whatever the way you call it- can mean the world to those who have little. How about a little Secret Santa activity where students share little presents or simply kind words? Take time in your class to spread the word. Tell your students about a great deed that you are going to do, or one you have done to share with the world. Pass it on to them. What little action are they going to take to make their beloved ones happy?

As I am writing this article I wanted to share with you some wonderful stories that make human being loveable creatures because they are capable of compassion, empathy and love.

The good deeds by Russell Howard

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas full of lights and hope.

International Education week : an opportunity for everyone

International Education week : an opportunity for everyone

The International Education Week was held in November (13-17) this year. Many teachers and students still have little knowledge about what this is all about. It is basically the opportunity for every teacher, school, institution and association to celebrate educational programs oriented towards global exchanges. It is all about teaching and learning about different cultures and languages. Well, IEW is something quite special for me. I certainly wouldn’t be here today writing articles and training teachers if I hadn’t been given the incredible opportunity to get some international education. It is through International Education that I am now capable of sharing my beliefs and thoughts about Education in different languages. It is through International Education that I am able to build up links with schools and organisations everywhere in the world.
So, yes, IEW is something I want to personally share with you even if I think that it shouldn’t be a one-time year event but rather something to be celebrated every time we can.

1. International Education Week, what is it?
It is a way to embrace the benefits generated by exchanges abroad and international education. It is originally an initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education. The aim to promote global programs focusing on learning and studying abroad to create future leaders in a global economy. It is not just for American people, it is now a widespread event with some other International organisations like the British Council taking part in it.

2. Who can be part of it?
Anyone interested in education, languages and/or studying abroad. If you are a teacher, student, school coordinator, business owner, member of an association or work in an international organisation or embassy, the IEW should be a priority for you. You can attend events or prepare them. You can create material that promotes the events and that spreads the idea that International Education is vital for our young generations.

3. Why should you take part?
The International Education week is more than just a date in your calendar, it has to be a time of celebration to raise the awareness of the importance of languages and of the discovery of other cultures. It is the right time to connect with other organisations abroad and learn about what’s new in terms of language teaching and learning.

4. What can you do?
Involve your students in the International Education Week. Challenge them and motivate them, get them to be creative! You can connect with other schools and students abroad. Have them to create quizzes to challenge their mates abroad. Have them to use social media to connect with eachother. Bring motivational articles in the classroom about leaders that have more than one language under their belt. Partner with schools overseas and organise visits abroad. Use students’ creativity to enhance the importance of languages. Create videos together, post them and more than anything else: Spread the word. Languages are key to education and to a brighter future.

How to engage parents in school

How to engage parents in school

Parents are and should remain the first educators of their kids. They have the rights and the duty to develop the motor skills, intellectual and emotional abilities of their children. They are also responsible for offering them a safe place to live and a set of values and attitudes that children will use in society. The role of parents is incredibly important because parents are the ones bringing the world to their children. They have a tremendous impact on the development of their children before children even get to school.
The role of educator endorsed by the teacher comes after that of the parents. The teacher is the one in charge of the learning process. He is the one leading the children towards intellectual, emotional and physical developments. A teacher is also the one creating links with the wider community. He is the key to reaching out parents as I mentioned earlier.
Some schools have understood this and they are now including parents better in the education of children, which is the case for example of Rocketship Education. They have understood that “Unleashing the power of parents to champion their children’s education, hold leaders accountable, and enable high-quality public schools to thrive” is what all schools should aim at.

1. What is parental involvement in Education

Researches show that schools whose parents are more involved in the life of the school display fewer behavioural issues and better academic performances than schools whose parents are disengaged. What do we hear by involvement in schools? It is when parents come to meetings, monitor classroom activities, join extracurricular activities and ensure that homework is completed on time. Parents that are involved in the Education of their children spend time with their children discussing about their day at school and they also reach out the teachers and staff of the schools to get updates about ongoing projects or simply to know about the performances and well-being of their kids.

2. What affects the involvement of parents

There are many factors that affect the involvement of parents in schools. Income, social and economic backgrounds, origins, education, languages are some of the few factors. Parents with higher income, parents with higher level of education and parents whose mother tongue is English are more likely to be involved in their kids’ schools. For example, as mentioned in, “in 2012, more than 85 percent of students whose parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher had a parent who attended a school event, compared with 48 percent for students whose parents had less than a high school education. In 2011-12, 45 percent of children living above the poverty line had a parent who volunteered or served on a committee at their child’s school, compared with 27 percent of children living at or below the poverty line.”

3. No Child Left Behind: How to get parents involved

So, considering that children are the first to suffer from the lack of involvement of their parents, what do we do as educators? Do we blame the parents or do we help the parents?
We help them. By helping the parents we’ll help the children. The legislation No Child Left Behind in 2002 was a first step towards this goal. This law aimed at creating stronger links with parents by explaining the schools how they could better inform parents and how parents could be an integrant part of the school system.
Let’s also consider that many parents really want to take part, but that sometimes they just don’t know how. As some parents say: “I like to be included in my child’s learning process. I like to know what’s going on with them so that I can be supportive at home (…), I have the stronger freedom to determine and act on the kind of parent I want to be. I think of myself as a teacher first when it comes to my kids. Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom, and I believe that teachers and parents and schools should have a strong partnership.”

There are now many initiatives to get parents on board among which the creation of cultural events. For instance, some schools organise on a monthly or termly basis a cultural event where the community is invited to share food and discover children’s work. It is informal and allows parents to join regardless of their economic, educational, ethnic or social backgrounds. During those community events parents are invited to bring food. It may not seem a big deal, but sharing with others make them part of something bigger: School! Parents’ nights and parents’ coffee time are also fantastic opportunities to get parents involved. Parents are invited once in a while to share a cup of coffee with other parents and teachers to share thoughts, ideas and doubts. Teachers and parents feel that they are on the same level sharing the same goal: helping the children reach out their potential. Other schools have also adopted “back-to-school days” which are days when the parents come and join their kids’ classroom for a couple of hours. You would be amazed to see how quickly some parents get into the shoes of learners again! In some schools teachers get also interviewed by parents before the actual start of the academic year! Links are made from an early point to encourage better communication between school staff and the parents.

All these initiatives require time and efforts from the teachers, schools and parents but they are an absolute need to close the gaps and allow greater equity in the world of Education. There is still a long way ahead to close the achievement gaps but with a greater communication with parents and their involvement in schools reducing gaps is possible.

Teacher strike in Peru

Teacher strike in Peru

Teacher strike in Peru has been going for months. Better salaries, better working conditions and training; that is what they have been asking for, while their students have been left without proper education for more than 50 days.

The strike has reached its peak with thousands of teachers (about 10,000) marching on Lima and even fighting violently against police forces. They are demanding the Minister of Education and the President more funds for the Education sector as long as the revisions of the evaluation system that should be put in place shortly.

The salary raise is at the centre of the strike with teachers demanding to be paid at least 2,000 soles, the equivalent of about US$ 600, which was indeed an electoral promise by the actual president PPK.

Now, another issue, which, I believe, goes beyond money is the question of teachers training and the evaluation of teachers. Teachers are now to be evaluated through formal observation in their classroom. So far, so good. If teachers provide a service, this service has to be evaluated. What worries me deeply as a teacher trainer is the process and the way this evaluation can be used as a tool to dismiss teachers and consequently devaluate some schools. Here are my questions and doubts:

  • Who will be in charge of the evaluation? How will have the person in charge been trained to do deliver such observations?
  • If a teacher fails to pass the evaluation, that means somehow that he/she has not received proper training beforehand. Why is that?
  • Will the evaluation be the same everywhere or adapted to the learning context? With some classes with 40 students, how can a teacher possibly ensure that each and every student reaches his/her true potential? How can a teacher maintain adequate behaviour management with the huge classes they often are confronted to? Can you reasonably assess teachers in rural areas and those in urban areas the same way?

These are just thoughts I am jotting down, but having seen the chaos poorly organized evaluations can create, I must admit that would highly recommend the Minister of Education of Peru to rethink its plan on the long run and actually train teachers before these observations take place.

Peru has been through Education crisis for years: Just as a reminder education in Peru is only ranking 64/70 for PISA results this year.  However, it is not debatable that Peru wants to move forward: The University laws have come up recently and they are pushing teachers to get Master’s degrees by 2019 to be able to teach at University level. It has also been mentioned that 18% of the budget would be allocated to Education in 2018. That’s all good but still the budget of education represents less that 6% of Peru PBI and I am wondering how the salary increase for all teachers and the new reforms can fit in that budget.

So, again even if there is definitely an urge to deeply modify the Education System in Peru I believe they should take time to carefully think these reforms, to make sure that they actually improve education through valid teacher training and peer observations and that they are not just ticking boxes and putting a band-aid on a crisis.

And YOU what do you think about teacher strike in Peru…

Education in Africa: Where it stands and the upcoming challenges

Education in Africa: Where it stands and the upcoming challenges

With now some of the world’s fastest growing economies and half of its population being under the age of 15, the African continent is emerging as a potential pool of future talents.

Angela Merkel’s speech at the June’s G20 showed the lead for a change in the relations with Africa. Africa shouldn’t be seen as a topic we talk about but Africa should be considered a continent we talk with. And that makes a big difference. Merkel insisted as well on the role of education in Africa saying that if we fail to invest in young people, in their education, then global development can’t occur. “If we don’t give young people any prospects, if we don’t invest in education and qualifications, if we don’t strengthen the role of girls and young women, the development agenda won’t succeed.”

Long seen as a continent solely depending on help from other countries, the African continent is now taking charge of its future and it is now considered as a trade-based continent and a significant player in new technologies. All eyes are turned towards the oldest continent.

So how about Education in Africa?

1.The Millennium Development goals

The Millennium Development goals, a set of goals to achieve by 2015 that was adopted in 2000 by the United Nations drew the lines of the expectations for the Education in Africa. Some of these goals focused on the importance of children to be fully enrolled in primary school regardless of their gender. The MDGs then led the way to the Sustainable Development goals for 2030 to ensure among others an inclusive and equitable quality education offering lifelong learning opportunities for everyone.

2.The state of Education today

Some reports such as the AAI, State of Education in Africa report 2015 show that the African continent is moving towards improvement and that there is an increased interest from the states to invest in a better education for everyone. Among the positive news, the number of student enrolments has increased dramatically especially in primary schools. Between 1990 and 2012, the number of children enrolled in primary schools more than doubled, from 62 million to 149 million children. This great achievement was partly due to the abolition of school fees in sub-Saharan Africa. Likewise, Higher Education has seen its enrollment figures double between 2000 and 2010, increasing from 2.3 million to 5.2 million.

Public spending on education has also improved in most African countries. African countries have allocated the largest share of government expenditure to education at 18.4 percent, followed by East Asia and the Pacific at 17.5 percent. So, the willingness for improved education in Africa is definitely present.

3.Challenges to face

Now there are, however, some challenges to be faced like the shortage of high-skilled talents, the difficult access to secondary schools, the low-quality of education with untrained teachers, the lack of infrastructures and instructional materials, the still-unbalanced access to education for girls. These are important challenges, that’s a fact. Nonetheless they have to be counterbalanced by the willingness to close the education gaps in Africa. Nothing will happen by magic and the last 15 years have seen important changes despite internal challenges that have affected Africa, among which, armed conflicts, the legacy of colonialism-which has contributed to the teaching of second languages in place of proper literacy in own mother tongue and the high rate of emigration leading to a huge loss of African talents and skilled workers.

4.Moving forward

Africa is betting on education and training to move forward and so are global associations and institutions. As an example, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative made a multi-million dollar investment in a start-up called Andela in Kenya that trains African software developers. The initiatives to push African education forward are plenty and here are the key points to consider for further improvements in African Education:

  • Investing in teachers’ training and improve the salary of teachers to retain them in the education sector
  • Investing in material and infrastructures that promote good teaching-learning
  • Promote girls’ education to reduce the education disparity linked to gender
  • Implementing high quality teaching not only is cities but also in isolated areas
  • Developing a sustainable economy to avoid students from dropping out of school to support their families
  • Understanding the needs in economy to close the gap between skills of graduates and the market demands
  • Developing technical and vocational education
  • Creating long-term partnerships between public and private sectors to boost education budgets

5.Education Associations and institutions

Africa has seen the emergence and growth of associations and institutions whose purpose is to help education. Among which we can mention:

  1. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development(NEPAD)
  2. The Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality
  3. The African Children’s Educational Trust(A-CET)
  4. Benin Education Fund (BEF)

There is undoubtedly a long way ahead but the widespread use of modern technology, the growth in investment and the impact of African leaders and teachers like Kakenya Ntaiya will certainly play a major and rapid role in the development of Education in Africa.

Jody Williams: The life of an activist.

Jody Williams: The life of an activist.

The Hay Festival taking place in Arequipa has brought a wave of political awareness with the invitation of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams well-known for her tireless fight for women’s rights and antipersonal landmines since the 80s. The interview led by Clara Elvira Ospina drew the lines of a life dedicated to fighting injustice.

Born in Vermont in a family of five children in the United-Stated in the 50s Jody Williams wasn’t predestined to lead a life in activism. But she did. Why? Because she had to. Because she couldn’t live in the world as it was. It had to change. Her first fight as an activist was during the March against Vietnam in 1970. She was barely 20. After graduating in the 70s she didn’t have a clear idea about what to do with her life. She got some jobs in Mexico as a teacher and the real trigger for her full-time involvement in activism was the war in El Salvador. She had gullibly believed that after the Vietnam war the US government would stop intervening in external affairs. She was wrong. That’s how it all started. As she claimed: anybody can start as an activist simply because they want to. The drive is that you want to try to change the world. Climate change, wars, education. The type of fight you pick is not what matters. What matters is truly believing into what you are fighting for. Anyone with strong feelings and emotions about a particular topic can be an activist as long as you know how to manage your emotions. If you can put all your emotions into a small box then you can be efficient. Things can change if people get together. She didn’t change things alone, as she said, she got joined by thousands of people and organisations with the same goal: Stopping war atrocities.

When it comes to talking about people who inspired her she takes the examples of women in armed conflicts who stand up for their rights. William’s modesty is humbling. “Quien soy yo?” Who am I? I don’t know if I would be able to do what they do. These women are capable of changing the world simply because the want to and they have to.

Women’s rights has been at the heart of William’s fight and the recent elections of Donald Trump in the US is a source of deep concern for her. “Who can vote for a person like that knowing nothing about internal affairs or external politics? Who can vote for someone who treated women and even his own daughter as he did during the campaign?” When Clara Elvira Ospina asked her if she thought the US would be worse in terms of racism and discrimination, her answer was a resounding yes.

However, as she says she is a pessimist with optimism believing that if people decide to change the world together, they can. Hope is possible if we all decide that silence and indifference are inacceptable. We all have our part of responsibility in the world but it is up to each and every one of us to stand up to fight for what is right and fair.