The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach nor the Namibia Ministry of Education, but rather my personal views.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Name That Canyon

Which one of these photos is NOT the Fish River Canyon of Namibia?

FACT: After the Grand Canyon of the United States, the Fish River Canyon of Namibia ranks largest in size.

Here are a few more facts for the trivia buffs, which are a little harder. Identify Fish River Canyon of Namibia or Grand Canyon of the USA for each item.

  • Has a maximum depth of 550 meters
  • Is 1609 meters at its deepest
  • Began forming about 6 million years ago
  • Was formed about 500 million years ago
  • Measures about 161 kilometers in length
  • Measures about 445 river kilometers in length
  • Maximum width of 24.14 kilometers
  • Is 27 kilometers in width, at its widest
  • Is a stunning sight
  • Ancient Pueblo people lived there
  • Ancestors of the Khoi people lived there
  • Is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mathematics Marathon in Keetmanshoop

We made the news!! The following article was published in the Monday, 24 May 2010 edition of the Namibian newspaper. The article along with three photos were featured in the Youth Paper.

"The Keetmanshoop Plato Centre hosted two Mathematics Marathons for dozens of eager and willing students during the first two weeks of the school holidays.

Marathon participants ranged from nine to 18, and represented seven different schools throughout the Karas Region. Participants spent an average of 15 hours learning and practising in math concepts each week, however, many learners participated in both marathons, devoting over 30 hours of their break to strengthening their math performance.

According to Tamara Webb, Manager of the Keetmanshoop Plato Centre, the children's efforts paid off well. 'The three main goals of the marathons were to assist pupils in the revision of the first term's mathematics question papers, to support pupils in reaching an international standard of excellence for their grade, and to offer an outlet whereby pupils recognise mathematics as fun and manageable,' she said. She adds that while the majority of the time was spent on computer-based instruction and practise, pupils also participated in group games and completed written reviews at the end of each week to check their actual mastery and retention of topics learned. 'These marathons were truly a testament to the dedication and endurance of learners who need to heighten their confidence in mathematics, as well as confident pupils who seek greater academic challenges in the subject,' she said.

Participants received certificates at the end of their two-week marathon."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Basic Education Teacher Diploma (BETD) INSET

Ever since Namibia's independence in 1990, education reform has been a top priority. Education spending consistently represents the largest percentage of the budget; yet, many obstacles to quality education remain. The reform process is consciously a gradual one. Teacher education and equitable distribution of qualified teachers are two areas that constantly receive attention. The presence and expansion of the role of WorldTeach volunteers in Namibia speak to these facts. WorldTeach volunteers are typically placed in areas, mainly rural areas, where there is a severe shortage of willing and qualified teachers for the number of learners needing to be served. Also, whereas WorldTeach began as providers of English language teachers, WorldTeach Volunteers can now be found teaching across the broad curriculum, and in special placements such as mine.

According to a United Nations report, "the situation at Namibian independence was that 36% of the nation's 13,000 teachers had no professional training." 10 years later, the government reported improvement, with just about 15% of the nation's teachers lacking formal teacher training. One glaring problem, however, is the distribution of the qualified teachers around the country. In 2001, the Kavango Region in the north, for example, reported that over 30% of their teaching staff were unqualified. I can't immediately locate the current statistics, but I will update this post when I do.

Moreover, the teaching of Science and Mathematics has also presented challenges since Independence. This has been due mainly to the neglect by the previous regime which excluded the majority of Black Namibians from the teaching (and learning) of these subjects. The teaching of English is an area of concern because English only became an official language at Independence. Many teachers are not comfortable with the English language in general conversation, let alone as the primary medium of instruction, which is the policy for grades 5-12 (Home languages may be used as the primary language of instruction in grades 1-3; grade 4 should be used as a transitional year for the language of instruction; home languages, with few exceptions, are still taught as subjects after grade 4).

One tool designed to help bring current teachers to standard is the Basic Education Teacher Diploma (BETD) In-Service Education for Teachers (INSET) program. Begun in 1994, BETD INSET is a comprehensive, four-year professional development initiative for unqualified and underqualified teachers in Namibia's primary and secondary schools.

BETD INSET is primarily delivered through distance learning; however, there are a number of contact sessions each year, held at the Teachers' Resource Centres (TRCs) nearest their schools. The Computer-Based Learning (PLATO) Centres with which I work both in Khorixas and Keetmanshoop are located at the TRCs; so, I have had some exposure to the BETD contact sessions. In a few weeks, I will conduct a workshop for BETD participants at the Keetmanshoop PLATO Centre. This week, however, I was able to witness the formal culmination of their work, their graduation.

The BETD INSET graduation was a very nice and regal affair, which went on without any noticeable hitch or problem. I was the DJ, so the music was especially enjoyable - Hugh Masekela, the Mahotella Queens, LadySmith Black Mambazo, Bob Marley, Bill Withers, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Classical symphonic orchestras (not sure from where), and Michael Jackson (by huge request), to name a few. Someone even asked for my card and whether or not I did weddings; iPods do magic! Missing were the invited governors, mayors, and politicians, but their absence did not cast any shadow over the excitement and pride felt by graduates, family members, BETD tutors, and staff. Governors' Awards were still delivered and presented to outstanding BETD participants, on their behalf.

Of couse, I enjoyed the free food. Eating is important, I'm told. I also enjoyed seeing individuals with which I have worked receiving their diplomas. A few of the teachers have children currently registered at the PLATO Centre, and a few of the teachers have attended my teacher training workshops in the PLATO Centre. Gaining everyone's respect and inspiration was the oldest graduate, in his 60s. More on his story later....

As I have shared from day one and will continue to share until education reform is reality, I do sincerely hope that WorldTeach will eventually outgrow its purpose in Namibia. This will mean that teacher shortages have been eliminated; English education is sound; all schools are staffed with fully qualified teachers; quality teaching practices have become the norm; and all subjects will be supported by eager, willing, and highly competent educators from their home country. As Otis Redding prophetizes, "Change Gonna Come."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Centre Captains Save Opening Day

After exhausting weeks of assessment and planning, the Keetmanshoop PLATO Centre finally re-opened last Monday (29 March). Still the lone full-time (and even part-time) force in the Centre, I could have had a truly painful re-opening.

Aware of the chaos-potential, I came to my senses and ran to a local senior high school on the morning of the Centre’s opening day, and gave an inspiring and captivating “value of community service” speech to grade 12 leaders. Five responsible young boys rose to the challenge (took the bait, hah!). These boys were Centre-saving and also morale-saving, I can admit.

Over the past two weeks, I have not had a single visit or check-in from my “partners” in the regional office or host Teachers’ Resource Centre, which has been frustrating. I submit regular (unsolicited) planning reports/updates; they knew that this was Opening Week. I was not sent to Keetmanshoop to plan and physically run the Centre alone. What will happen when I’m gone in less than two months? I have been weary about the non-existence of a counterpart since last October, when we discussed this assignment. (deep breath). Ok, so, my volunteer “Centre Captains,” as I’ve knighted them, were the bizzomb (great assets)! I must also give propers to the Teacher Ambassadors that have worked with me over two long meetings, and on various afternoons to support the planning and re-opening process. (Teacher Ambassadors are another resource I created and nurtured through compelling arguments at local school staff and principals’ meetings. I have one or two teachers tasked to represent the interests of each school in town and help market and support the Centre at their school).

I had to rush an orientation with the Captains and at different times throughout the first afternoon, I needed to corral them all outside to check-in and reinforce an expectation or rule (like learner-confidentiality) that I missed during the rushed presentation. Overall, though, I was pleased with the adeptness, sensitivity, and computer savvy of my young leaders. At the end of the day, they were also “complaining” about their hurting feet, from standing and moving around the classroom all afternoon; ‘twas wonderful.

The Centre Captains helped manage outside traffic; they helped orient new computer users to keyboarding and mouse basics; they helped users log-in and log-out of the educational learning software; they answered basic mathematics questions raised by young users; they guided learners on how to navigate through lessons; they alerted me to technical problems they couldn’t (and I didn’t want them to) address/fix; they kept me aware of time (there are three groups of full-time users registered for each day); and they helped me with some decorating of the Centre’s walls and doors!

During a recent business trip to meet with the learning software providers in South Africa, I collected t-shirts, which I will present to the volunteer Centre Captains. I will also create official applications and a formal description of their tasks/duties for Centre files and for their central reference. At the end of the term, I will present them with certificates of service. I will also leave the recommendation, for whomever is tasked to manage the Centre, to keep a record of their hours and author a letter summarizing their hours and service at the end of the next term. These boys are all college-bound; this community service may have a place in their admissions and scholarship/bursary applications. (I'm pictured with my top captain, Nahvad, who wants to become a mathematics teacher).

ABOUT THE REGISTERED USERS – Keetmanshoop Computer-Based Learning Centre
For the remainder of the 1st term and all of the 2nd term, there are now 150 registered learners, from nine(9) schools throughout the community. Learners were selected at the school-level, based on varying criteria established by each school. Each selected learner, along with a parent/guardian and a teacher, signed a commitment form and received an official registration letter/card, which the learner must bring to each of his/her assigned sessions (2 hours/week). The learners are in grades 5-12, and range in age from 10-22 years. The 22 year-old, is in grade 9! Actually, many learners registered to use the Centre are above the average age of learners in their grade, based on being held back or starting school very late; so, I'm happy that they may benefit from the additional instructional support. (I’ll write a post on social promotion or transfer policies later). I plan to have counseling sessions with all learners before I leave, to get more about their story, and to help them establish goals for their time in the Centre. I expect that the counseling sessions will present a few challenges, based on time, yes, but mainly based on language barriers. We’ll see. The main academic focus of the Centre is mathematics. PLATO is the name of the educational learning software used in the Centre.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Meeting Namibia's Premier - The Right Honourable Nahas Angula

Nahas Angula is one of the first names I learned when researching the foreign land of Namibia where I’d be living, partnering, and working for at least one year. Angula’s name popped up in my Google searches, and stood out because he is a fellow alumnus of Teachers College, Columbia University, having earned his M.A. and M.Ed there in 1979. He is the current Prime Minister and was the first Minister of Education of the newly independent Republic of Namibia.

From the time of my arrival in the country, I’d been dropping little hints about wanting to meet him. I mentioned it to various government and education ministry officials, with whom I work and with whom I know he works, but no one really paid attention to my hints and no action resulted. Then, after receiving my admission offer to an EdD program at Teachers College and learning that he is the keynote speaker at a Teachers College Distinguished Alumni event next month, I decided to just go out on a limb and try to reach him directly. It would be good, I thought, to introduce myself and get his support for and guidance on future fieldwork I may wish to conduct in Namibia.

I found the fax number to the Office of the Prime Minister in the yellow pages (those books are effective pre-internet relics, by the way), and then faxed a brief letter of introduction requesting to meet him during my trip to Windhoek on Friday, 19 March. I followed up with a phone call, during which the secretary reported to not have received my fax; so, I confirmed the number, sent it again, and then left it alone. About an hour later, my cell phone rang and an unidentified cell phone number appeared on my caller ID. “You sent a fax to my office, wanting to meet with me?” inquired the caller. It was the Right Honourable Nahas Angula, Prime Minister of Namibia, himself.

Luckily, I am always ready for “unknown” callers because of my partnership work; however, I was indeed surprised by his direct outreach and personal response to my request. We spoke for a few minutes and established that I would arrive at his office at 1:50pm the next day, after he swore-in the new Members of Parliament.

During our meeting, the Prime Minister was very relaxed and welcoming; although, I didn’t really stick to my script or get any of my prepared questions answered. I wanted him to help me expand my current list of books and policies to read and review; I wanted to hear his opinion on the ideal roles of foreign partners in Namibian education; I wanted to get his recommendations for people I should contact regarding my studies; and I wanted his advice on approaches to my research.

Instead, it was a loose, comfortable, and honest discussion that ended up focusing more on my current work and constructive dialogue about the challenges associated with my volunteer project - computer-based learning centres. He actually switched the direction of charge to me, by requesting my formal involvement on a computer-based learning project he has in mind for a foundation he began in the North. Of course, I accepted. Since our meeting, we have spoken via e-mail on his project and I plan to join an exploration team he pulls together in mid-May.

My meeting with the Premier, a title used interchangeably with Prime Minister, was a success, was memorable, and hopefully opened the door to ongoing dialogue. Nahas Angula’s role in this country’s liberation struggle and rebuilding, especially in regards to education, places him in an invaluable position in my quest for knowledge and understanding and support of our global struggle for equality and equity.

On my departure from his private office, I had another memorable encounter, with the just retired Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Libertine Amathila. She was patiently waiting for Mr. Angula to head to her farewell celebration in Parliament Gardens nearby. The photo included in this post includes the three of us, outside the building, before they whisked off in their motorcade.
The following is a link to information about Nahas Angula, from the Teachers' College Press Room.
The Prime Minister of Namibia is appointed by the President in terms of the provisions of Article 32 of the Constitution. Further, Article 36 of the Constitution stipulates that "The Prime Minister shall be the leader of Government business in Parliament, shall co-ordinate the work of the Cabinet and shall advise and assist the President in the execution of the functions of Government" and Article 34 stipulates that where it is regarded as necessary or expedient that a person deputize for the President because of a temporary absence from the country, the President appoints the Prime Minister to deputize for him.

In terms of the provisions of the Public Service Act of 1995, the Prime Minister is also responsible for the overall management of the public service.

By virtue of his responsibilities of advising and assisting the President, as the leader of Government business in Parliament, as the co-coordinator of the work of the Cabinet, and as the political authority responsible for the public service, the Prime Minister's task involves co-coordinating the work of the government at inter-ministerial and inter-governmental levels and for projecting the good image of the government.

Independence 2010 - Thank Moses!

Last weekend was a colourful, diverse, educational, and festive reflection on the anniversary of Namibia’s independence from South Africa. It was definitely a very different “celebration” than the one I encountered last year, which I don’t classify as a celebration at all (see March 2009 post, “Whose Independence Is It Anyway”). I can point to at least three reasons for the change in tenor.
  1. This year (2010) marks the 20th Anniversary of Namibia’s Independence, “0”s and “5”s usually prompt more attention

  2. This year, I celebrated in the capital city, rather than in the coastal retreat of Swakopmund
  3. I participated in the nationally-planned central activities, which had the benefit of greater financial investment and marketing.

During the weekend, I had my first dance-club experience in Windhoek, which was freeing. I attended my first international football/soccer match, which resulted in a 0-0 draw, but was fun anyway. I got pelted with candies and smiles at a parade down Independence Avenue. I went to a gospel concert where I learned new dance moves (watch out Kirk Franklin). And I saw constant images of the many types of people and customs that classify Namibia as contrasting and beautiful.

Current and former Heads of State and other dignitaries from Zimbabwe, Angola, South Africa, Malawi, China, and Cuba, among other supportive countries, came to Windhoek to witness and participate in formal festivities, especially the day-long celebrations at Independence Stadium. Ah, Independence Stadium. That was an experience.

While the VIP gates, processes, and controls at the stadium were fairly well identified, open, and managed by uniformed officers, the other nine(9) entrances for the general public were jammed, closed, unmanned, and daunting for most of the morning. I, along with two friends, waited in one of these lines with the hundreds of others for about 2 hours, with each of us taking turns checking out other lines and trying to decipher the organizer’s system or plan. Still confused, we finally decided that we would leave the line - it hadn’t moved in the whole two(2) hours we were in it – and either wait in a more direct, shorter line (that also led to locked, unguarded gates) or move to another venue altogether. After watching the chaos of new busloads of would-be spectators arriving, laughing at the impatient (and naughty) children hurling their bodies over the walls of the stadium, and figuring that entry before the end of the morning’s events was slim to none, we continued walking around, scouting out the location of the afternoon’s football game between Namibia and Botswana.

And then, like I blessing, came Moses. I was so glad to see that blinding green suit; it would be our actual ticket in. Convinced that “money talks,” I now know that a fly green suit does the same trick, which is probably safer in the midst of anti-corruption commissions. But, it wasn’t an easy ticket.

Who’s Moses? you ask. Well, Moses “Black Door” Shilongo is a local performing artist, who also happens to be the ever-present husband of the WorldTeach Namibia Field Director, and as such, part of WorldTeach Volunteers’ social network/family in-country. I always have random “Moses sightings” when roaming the streets of Windhoek, but this was an especially welcomed encounter. Black Door, Moses’ stage name, was scheduled to perform IN the stadium, so we promptly each grabbed one of his items (his RED suit, equipment bag, box of CDs) and became his (un)official entourage. Little did we know, at the time, that he was having trouble gaining entry as well. A classic and common retort we received from the uniformed Namibian officers at the various gates to which he was sent was that, “We are not working on ‘African Time’ anymore. Why are you late?” Further, the officers were not a part of the organizing committee and the majority of them basically had no idea where to send the entertainers or any permission (or desire) to abandon their post to help us actually get answers.

After about 90 more minutes of shuffling around from gate to gate with the other entertainers also stuck outside, we finally made it to the big stage and took our places in the open arena, with impressive vantages of the crowd, room to breathe, and perfect positioning for pictures of performers. Thank goodness, because the Himba performers, bodies covered in their traditional red ochre, were getting way too close to Black Door, having actually rubbed against his vulnerable bright green suit, causing even more frustration for the artist who was ready to about-face home.

Yes, we’d missed the parade, the arrival of dignitaries, the formal swearing-in of the president, the announcement of the new cabinet, and the distribution of the lunch bags; but, we were able to hear some of the presidential address and participate in some of the closing morning formalities (Anthems of Namibia and the African Union). Without Black Door, we would not have gotten in before all the dignitaries left, we would have been crunched into the stands when we did get in, and I would not have gotten the cool experiences and pictures afforded me through the eyes of the performers of the day. Good Times. Happy Independence, Namibia!. And Thank Moses.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Start Spreading the News

“Start spreading the news: I’m leaving today (actually in August). I’m going to be a part of it (again) in ole New York.”

I just received and accepted an offer of admission to resume doctoral studies at Teachers College Columbia University in the fall. This time, I will be pursuing a doctorate of education (EdD), rather than a doctor of philosophy (PhD). Over the past years, I have come to understand the difference in the two degrees. While the PhD is primarily geared at nurturing academics for university teaching roles, the EdD is more geared towards equipping senior-level practitioners and executives with the tools of applied research. I will be a student in the department of International and Transcultural Studies, in the programs in Comparative and International Education Development, with a concentration in International Education Policy Studies.

Start sending the money, should be the actual title of this post. It should be an interesting transition after three years of no real salary to suddenly have a US$60,000 bill (the approximate total of annual tuition and fees). It is definitely time to begin hunting for work and fellowships. I’m pretty sure that I have secured housing, so I won’t need to deal with that.

In any event, I am excited to have my next journey semi-mapped out. I was a mere 22 years of age when I began the PhD program at TC. I was focused, ambitious, engaged, bright, and somewhat accomplished (for a first-generation college graduate from the inner-city); however, I lacked exposure to truly place the degree and my future in the most appropriate and satisfying context. At that time, I made the difficult decision and voluntarily left the program, but at least with a master of arts in hand. I always knew I would return to the higher degree and I have never stopped enjoying applied research. With the travels and work I have embraced over the past nearly 15 years, I am now ready to resume doctoral-level study and the Comparative and International Educational Development programs appear to be the good fit.
Over the next few weeks, I will try to meet the current Prime Minister of Namibia, the Honourable Nahas Angula. He is a fellow Teachers College alum. I have already met the current Minister of Education, the Honourable Nangolo Mbumba, a few times. I will, however, also try to meet with him again before June. I would like to share with them my goals for conducting my doctoral field work here, and hopefully receive their blessings, support, extended partnership, and guidance. I have already received an open invitation regarding my graduate studies from the Ministry of Education Directorate of Research, Science, and Technology.