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.

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.