Monday, 20 April 2009

Fasika (Ethiopian Orthodox Easter)

One week after the ferengi Easter, we had Easter here. The locals all seen very happy. I’m not sure if it’s because Jesus was resurrected, or because after 60 days of fasting, they can now eat meat again. There were a lot of nervous sheep, goats and chickens yesterday!!!

I had lunch at my neighbours – the children were wearing Easter outfits that are a blend of traditional and modern. Mum had sent out a box of miscellaneous Lego pieces and they enjoyed making cars etc.

Then it was on to another house on the campus to be hand-fed sheep meat, then later to a house in the town currently occupied by another Swede working with an NGO working in the water supply business. First Göran fixed his electricity supply (second one in two days – that’s the trouble when you used to be an electrician,) then we had rice and chicken in a nice sauce.

It’s been really hot again in the last couple of days. After a brief rain shower tonight I felt chilly air coming in the window. The temperature of the air according to my thermometer was 26°C. I don’t think anyone in the UK would regard 26°C as chilly, but being as our lounge has been up to 36-37°C this afternoon, it’s quite a lot cooler for us.

People will slowly return to work this week from spending Easter with their families, but if it’s anything like last year, nothing much will happen until next week.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Latest Project: Boy with hearing impairment

Before we went to Bahir Dar, a first grade teacher at the local primary school asked if I could help with a boy he had in the class with a hearing impairment.

He is 12 years old and completely lost his hearing due to an illness when he was 7 years old.

I met him today and he seems quite bright and has some lip-reading ability. He can count and relate numbers of objects to digits. He can copy Latin/Roman letters and fidel (Amharic writing) but does not know the alphabet and cannot read. (Remember, even though he is 12, he has only just started school so is in Grade 1 where most of the class are at the alphabet learning / number learning stage.)

I found it quite easy communicating with him as I am now very used to communicating with children who do not understand English. I use lots of actions and gestures as it is with children who only understand Amharic, so it actually wasn’t that different communicating with someone who can’t hear.

I also met his father and we agreed to work on some flash cards and a mat for his desk with some key words (in Amharic, pictorial form and English.)

Today, I managed to find the American Sign Language alphabet (one handed) on the net (it is possible sometimes!) and over about 30 minutes taught myself, so I can teach him and some of his friends now.

I’m not sure if there is a fidel sign language system – I have sent out some emails to find out. I would really like to help him, but my main problem is I have very limited Amharic and I could help much more if I was teaching English.

I think it’s really good that he is in a mainstream school but it will become more difficult if the teachers have no training and there is no support for him.

Anyway, together with a couple of teachers working with me and my neighbour’s son, I will work out a program to see what we can do to help.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Recent occurrences of 37.

After the power cut tonight, I switched on my computer to find 37% battery power remaining.

I have a tin containing 10’s and 1 birr notes. I counted the 1s to find I had 37 of them.

When in Bahir Dar, I had some photos printed for my neighbour. One big one at 25 birr, and 4 small at 3 birr. The bill: 37 birr.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Training visit to Bahir Dar

As part of the training for my small group of guys from the woredas, I took all four of them to Bahir Dar for a quick trip over the last three days.

The main highlights were:

  • Two of them frightened to use a ferengi shintabet (western toilet) and having to go to a hotel with a hole-in-the-ground-style one to complete their business.
  • Visiting the ELIP (English Language Improvement Centre) at Bahir Dar University where some other volunteers are working, to allow the guys to do some research.
  • Having pizza at one of the many “Obama” restaurants that have sprung up recently!!!!
  • Seeing two overturned trucks on the roads on the way (and two days later, still there on the way back.)
  • Suddenly finding out that the college car that was due to take us back after we had gone halfway in the minibus, had broken down 50km away and we had to get a bus – something I’ve previously mentioned as being pretty horrific – coupled with the fact that at first we were told there had been no buses today and only by chance did one come, which the guys managed to scramble and push on to, to reserve us seats.

Training at the Private Catholic School

One of the main reasons we went, was to do our training at a private catholic school on the outskirts of Bahir Dar which had contacted the VSO people at the uni.

It was a very busy day. We were collected before 8am and spent the morning looking at the resources and observing lessons – this would feed into our training in the afternoon.

The school has around 350 paying students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 with an additional 150 from the surrounding community who have free sponsored places.

The guys with me were a little overwhelmed by all the resources: the brick-built buildings, the large, well-stocked library etc, but as soon as we started observing the lessons, we realised the teaching was not so good. In fact, in some classes we observed, the classroom management was much worse than in the mud and stick government schools back in our area. I was really pleased in a way, because it proved a point I had been making with the guys which is: “Money and resources are of very little importance to student’s learning. It is the teacher and the methodology that is important.”* So much time was wasted by the students not doing any work. Some able students finished the work on the board quickly and had nothing to do, others didn’t understand and just copied the questions, others queued in a long line for the teacher to mark their books etc. There was one boy crawling under the desks, a girl was hitting another on the head with a pencil. In another class the usual “copy all the questions so it looks like I am working, but actually I don’t have to think” was observed being used by many students.

Anyway, in the afternoon, all five of us took turns doing the training on active teaching/learning and introducing number fans. I just did small parts and the rest was performed in Amharic by my “trainees” who did a really good job, were expressive and really got the whole “active method” idea while they were training. This is what VSO is all about. I’ve passed on my knowledge to local people and have stepped back to allow them to take over and do the job at hand.

The training was received very well – comments like (and I’ve put it into my own words here), “we’ve had training before but it’s not been relevant and has had no impact, but this training has really hit a chord with the teachers who have found it very useful.” The “sister” said she will start getting the teachers to use number fans tomorrow.

We ended the day by discussing some of the observed problems (in a general way) with the head, deputy and sister who really seemed to take everything on board, so hopefully we have had a big impact. I should be able to make a return visit in about six weeks and see if there are any changes.

*a recent VSO-conducted survey of teachers in a different locations in the country found that they mentioned “lack of resources” as the major concern and reason why the teaching wasn’t so good and if they had more money and resources it would be better. It’s pretty much the standard psychological “externalising their problems” thing (they think that if it goes well, it is because of themselves, if there are problems then it’s due to something outside and beyond their control (and in this instance is because the schools have no money and no resources.))

I wish more Ethiopian teachers could have the experience my guys have had over the last few weeks – firstly having success teaching maths actively and student-led with nothing more than bits of card and bottle tops, and then seeing a “rich” school where the children are not learning very effectively because of “bad” teaching.

Friday, 3 April 2009

VSO, CPD and other acronyms

I had a visit from my VSO program manager today. It went well and he visited the recorder and maths lessons, although there were only three students in the maths lesson – we found out this was because a young girl had been shot last night and the school had been closed in the morning. We discussed my work and future plans for the college and any future VSO volunteers.

Before that, the two woreda reps and I had visited some of the schools to check on the CPD programme progress. Some schools find it very hard to start and they make all sorts of excuses as to why they hadn’t when we get there. You know they’re stalling when you ask the first question “which session are you at” and they mention a page number in the book because they say they are not sure - A low page number that I know is round about the first session!

I made a really bad decision at one school, mainly because I was getting bored. One head was moaning that they needed note books (4ETB each – about 20p) to keep a record of the work they do on the CPD program for career development and in a moment of weakness (and to make them shut up about the books) I gave them 50ETB to buy a book each for the teachers on the promise they get a receipt so I can get the money back from the college.

The repercussions could be enormous – every school in the region asking every ferengi for money to buy books… we’ll see. At least I didn’t just say it was from me, and that I would get the money back from the college when I get the receipt from them.

It’s now less than 100 days until I return home and next week I will have been in Ethiopia for a total of 500 days.