Jody Williams: The life of an activist.

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.

Ahmed Ben Tahar Galai : Taking a stand for refugees and human rights

Ahmed Ben Tahar Galai : Taking a stand for refugees and human rights

Ahmed Ben Tahar Galai : Taking a stand for refugees and human rights


“Hay Festival: Imagine the world.” Hard to do so when Aylan Kurdi’s body stands on the 1st slide of Ahmed Ben Tahar Galai’s presentation. We all know that horrible picture that went viral showing the body of this poor little Kurdish boy lying on the Turkish beach.

Ahmed Ben Tahar, vice-president of the League of Human Rights in Tunisia that received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 has made his point: What is happening in Europe is NOT acceptable. People are fleeing from their countries and many of them are risking their lives such as Aylan Kurdi who didn’t make it alive. He was just 3 years old. Europe cried the death of that boy. How about the lives of others? There are hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Ten thousand of them dead. Imagine a whole city disappearing. That’s what it is. So, yes Europe cried, the whole world cried looking at these pictures and then what?

As Ahmed Ben Tahar Galai said migration is a natural historical process. People leave their country to find love, to flee wars, to get a better life. Migration fluctuations have always existed and they have brought their fair deal of financial benefits to the hosting countries relieving pressure on labour markets. Migration has also been at the origins of positive fusions between cultures. The mixing of cultures has brought new knowledge and has allowed people to learn from one another.

However, this is not how we see immigration now in most countries. Immigration has to be stopped at all cost. Trump who has been recently elected President of the US has claimed to be willing to build a wall to detain migration from Mexico and to a wider extent to South America. In Europe a “shameful agreement”, as mentioned Ahmed Ben Tahar Galai, has been voted between rich European countries and Turkey so that Turkey detains the migrants on its soil.

The fact is migration cannot be stopped. Migrants would still try to cross borders, they would rather try to cross and die rather than stay in their own countries. Europe that is said to be the the cradle of Human Rights has failed its engagement. It has failed its people. It has failed its promises. Europe is crying “crocodile tears.”

Despite Ahmed Ben Tahar Galai’s presentation pessimistic overview of the way refugees and migrants are treated worldwide, his optimism in brighter days is contagious.

You cannot fight for Human Rights and be pessimistic, can you? So instead of portraying solely a bad vision of the migration crisis he offers solutions that should be brought to light :

  1. Working on the causes of migration i.e. helping the internal economy of countries in wars or developing countries.
  2. Sharing the wealth of the world and fighting poverty.
  3. Developing fair trade
  4. Reducing the debt of poor countries
  5. Helping people develop sustainable ways of living
  6. Changing priorities and incrementing the budget for health and education
  7. Helping people live in dignity
  8. Taking responsibility for our actions

There is a long way before reaching this goal but how about we start we the last one first? Taking responsibility for our actions and trying to be more human and ethical?

PISA results, International Meeting for Higher Education. What’s the next step for Peru?

PISA results, International Meeting for Higher Education. What’s the next step for Peru?

PISA results, International Meeting for Higher Education. What’s the next step for Peru?

PISA results, International Meeting for Higher Education. What’s the next step for Peru?

In the light of the PISA results from the OECD that have just come up today it is worth putting in parallel the relevant questions that were raised yesterday at the International Meeting for Higher Education (2nd Encuentro Internacional de Education Universitaria Superior) that is currently held in Arequipa, Peru.


This year Peru is ranking 64/70 (62/70 countries for reading and 63/70 for maths.) OK, not great. Can do better. Still there is some improvement in comparison to the previous years and that is what I would like to focus on in this article.


This time I was not part of the speakers but just a curious observer of the deep change that Peru is experiencing in terms of education and in terms of strategies to implement change.


The focus of the conference yesterday was about the quality of teaching and its assessment. How can we ensure that Peru delivers a high quality of teaching that would be competitive with the rest of the world? What are the challenges faced by the country and the opportunities that are offered?


Maria José Lemaitre del Campo (Directora Ejecutiva del Centro Interuniversitario de Desarollo, Chile) raised some valid questions related to the evaluation of the quality of teaching in Peru. Should education be considered a social right or a consumer good? In other words should the government take some –financial- role in education or should it be left to the private sector? Do we focus on selection or massification of the Higher Education? How do we integrate MOOCs and other technologies in education? How do we deal with globalisation with students who can’t easily get out of the country?


Peru is at a crucial point in its History in Education. Political and Education actors should work hand in hand to build (the word “contruir” was used a lot yesterday) a solid Education recognised on a national level and possibly on an international level.


However, this does not mean that Peru should blindy copy what is done in other countries. Niclas Jonsson, Consejero de Educacion y Ciencia de la Embajada de Australia con sede en Brasilia mentioned some interesting points about Australia’s Education (PISA Ranking Australia 14/70) and he also said something quite right: “The Education in Australia is good but far from being perfect. Peru should take what is good about it, leave the bad parts and ADAPT the good parts to its own context.”


Totally right. Every country should be aiming at implementing the best education system possible. However, the mistake many countries make when they want to improve on their education system is that they take ideas and concepts from other successful countries without applying the necessary critical thinking to implement these ideas.

Education takes time and THINKING.


Now here are some of the questions to open up the debate about the implementation of policies regarding the evaluation of teaching quality in Peru:


  1. If Peru is looking towards implementing a National regulator defining National Standards for Quality, who will be part of it? Foreigners having the experience of these standards but little knowledge about the Peruvian context? Peruvian teachers who know their country but have little insight of international standards? Both?
  2. The implementation of National regulators and standards have raised some concerns in some countries as they have been synonyms for more paperwork and pressure on teachers which was detrimental to the teaching-learning time. How will Peru avoid the trap of paperwork and standardisation to increment a real improvement in learning?
  3. We are at a time of globalisation and English is key. The vision of the Peruvian government is to form bilingual students by 2021. Many teachers don’t have the skills or knowledge to teach English. Will the focus be on hiring foreign teachers or training teachers here in Peru so that they can be in charge of the education of their own country?


The debate is open…

Education is starving

Education is starving

Education is starving

Why do you teach ? Me, because I am starving

When I deliver speeches I am often asked these 2 questions:

Why have you decided to teach abroad and deliver conferences?

I heard there was good food for free in that conference!

My easy answer is: I heard there was good food for free in that conference! An easy answer to deride a hungry audience. It has always worked for me.
Well, of course you don’t leave your own country whose gastronomy is well renowned just for food but as I said earlier that’s just an easy answer to a complicated question.

If I had the time to say why I am losing sleepless nights preparing work for the development of teachers, here’s what I would say.
Because I have to. Because children deserve it. Because the right to education is a fundamental right for everyone. No matter who you are, no matter how much money you have, no matter the colour of your skin, no matter your age, no matter your gender, no matter if you are an atheist or believe in God. Education is an inalienable right. The right to be given the tools to grow as a citizen of the world.

Let me tell you a personal story :          

Reading was devouring and I was thirty for learning

I have always wanted to work in education as a teacher. Very creative, right? Anyway. I was a good student but also a trouble maker because I needed food to nurture my brain. Reading was devouring and I was thirty for learning. I got lucky because some of my teachers spotted that they gave me just enough to sustain my appetite. After my Master’s degree I still wanted more. I got Learning Greedy. More.more.more. However I don’t come from a rich family nor am I poor. Just the typical middle class family where parents sacrifice everything they have to give their children a chance through education. So I worked hard and knocked on the right doors. At the time getting a Postgraduate Certificate in Education along with a Master’s degree in teaching languages was partly funded by the English state in agreement with the European institutions. I could never be grateful enough to have receive such an opportunity to develop my skills as a teacher and simply as a person learning in Oxford one of the most prestigious universities in the world. I would not be here today if I hadn’t been given this opportunity.


Unfortunately, nowadays education is a privilege. Today more than ever. I have travelled to many countries delivering speeches to prestigious institutions in Europe to talk about the great use of technology in education and the risks of technology if badly used while developing at the same time teachers’ skills in rural schools in Peru where teachers have little if no access to the Internet. Paradoxical, right?

My point here is that education is a right but it is also a duty we need to contribute to. We have to feed empty bellies and empty minds starving. Education shouldn’t suffer from compromise, Education should be a priority for each and every one of us if we want the world to turn round and if we want it to be a better place.
So, yes why do I deliver conferences abroad? Because I know what it feels like to be hungry for knowledge.

Becoming a Teacher Leader

Becoming a Teacher Leader

Becoming a Teacher Leader

Why becoming a teacher Leader ?

The world of education is changing. Teachers are no longer just standing in their class and teaching. They are taking on leadership roles and their influence goes beyond their class. The speech delivered by Dr. Yilin Sun, the President of TESOL International during the TESOL Convention in Peru resounded as an echo to this. For decades and even more teachers have limited their vision of education to their classroom boundaries. But with technology, government input and innovative types of teaching education is now being taken to the next level. Teachers shouldn’t be seen as mere educators relying on their textbooks to convey knowledge. They should be seen as key roles in the upcoming changes in Education. But doing so requires a lot more than just words and projects. Teachers have to be the ones with a vision.

They have to consistently thrive for a better world where education sets the basis of better opportunities for their students. An efficient teacher leader demonstrates important skills to identify issues, find solutions, motivate and energize peers around a common vision.

Teacher leaders are keys to build links not only within their schools but also beyond their school environment to convince others that their vision can make a valuable change to the education world.

How to become a teacher leader

I will quote here Dr. Yilin Sun about teachers and leadership: “L stands for Learning, E stands for Engaging, A stands for Advocating, D for Developing, E for Empowering, R for Reflecting, and S for Sustaining”. Sun, Y. (2015, March), 7 Magic Steps Toward Developing Teachers as Leaders.

I would simply mention here that there are no magical steps to become a leader. Most teachers display skills to become efficient leaders but what makes the difference is the dedication, motivation and the organization skills they possess.

What truly makes the difference is the ability to get out of the comfort zone and avoid procrastination at all cost. Of course marking, planning, designing material, paperwork and parent evenings can be constraints in terms of time to implement projects but if I have learnt one thing when coaching and training teachers it is that procrastination leads to nowhere but to regrets: “If I had known I would have set up this project earlier. Had I known it was easier I would have dared.” These are sentences I often hear when coaching teachers.
My point is people are not going to help you reach your goal as an educator and even less as a leader. No one is ever going to knock on your door to tell you how brilliant your ideas are. You and you only have to stand up for what you think is right. This means going to free trainings even on weekends, saving money for workshops if your school can’t afford to pay the fees, travelling, connecting with your peers in your town, country and abroad.
Even if this costs you long sleepless nights I do believe that education and the future of our kids is worthwhile. So what are you doing to be the next Teacher Leader ?

I would love to hear about Your ideas and initiatives

Arequipa TESOL – Beyond learning : building an international community of teachers.

Arequipa TESOL – Beyond learning : building an international community of teachers.

The TESOL Association was celebrating its 25th Anniversary in Arequipa, Peru a few weeks ago. Many international speakers from the US, Canada and Japan -among others- were invited to deliver speeches and give demonstrations about how to write the next chapter for our 21st century students. The 3-day Convention offered powerful insight on key issues met by ESL teachers such as the generational impact on teaching, the importance of differentiation, and the use of interactive tools to enhance learning.
I had the opportunity to deliver some speeches as well focusing on the implementation of innovative methods of teaching along with some workshops about Storytelling and Lateral Thinking in the ELT class. But beyond the pleasure of sharing my experience and knowledge with others I also took the opportunity as a teacher trainer to meet other teacher trainers from all over the world with varied perspectives about education and teaching. Meeting other teacher trainers and teachers from different countries was a good way to build links and share practice and techniques.

“We (teachers) should take every opportunity to improve on our practice, that’s what will lead to the path of teacher leadership.”

Peru is at an exciting moment for education and everything seems possible for any teacher really looking to make a difference. With the ongoing reforms in the country and in the whole world teachers are the ones who will be in charge of leading projects for the benefits of education. About 400 teachers from Peru travelled all over the country to attend the TESOL event (Lima, Tarapoto, Cajamarca…) Events like this play a key part in the professional development of teachers and in the creation of a solid community of teachers ready to share and help one another. There is an urgent need to build a community of teacher eager to learn new skills and implement teaching strategies that will make a real impact in the learning of English. However the unity of teachers needs to be not only on a school level or national level, it has to be on an international one.
As Dr. Yilin Sun, the President of TESOL International pointed out in her inspirational closing plenary “we (teachers) should take every opportunity to improve on our practice, that’s what will lead to the path of teacher leadership”.
Teachers are the ones who can bring positive changes, not only in their class but beyond frontiers. They hold the keys for a brighter future. It is now up to all of teachers to continue learning and improve on their practice to make this future possible for the 21st century learners.