Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Actually Sharing Skills!

Good news:

Two people from two of the Woreda’s (small regions) have arrived in Gilgel and over the next few months I will actually be sharing my skills with them. Then they will return to their Woreda’s and pass on the information, including starting the CPD Programme in their areas.

I began training them today with introduction to Number Fans and active teaching methods. Later this week I will get them into the schools practising some active teaching themselves.

What with the conference a few weeks back, it really seems like I am beginning to spread my knowledge much further – things are looking up (at the moment!)

Friday, 20 February 2009

Training, the bad and the good.

I used to think that the problems I had with training were quite interesting as they would make a good blog entry. Now I’m getting bored. On Tuesday, the 8:00 (local time) car was not in sight – we finally left at 08:25 after the driver was tracked down. Arriving at the school where we had training organised by one of the Vice Deans there were no teachers – one lot were “too busy” and the other lot claimed they had not been told.

Sometimes you get very close to giving up. This came on top of my counterpart, who I had arranged to accompany me from the college to the local school at 3:00 (local) ringing me from the school at 4:00 (wrong place and wrong time.) We doubled checked tomorrow’s training (as much good as that will do).

The latest problem with the CPD course at the local school is that they want certificates but also are getting the facilitators to falsify attendance at the training. I tried to explain that if we just give out certificates to teachers whether they attend / participate / do the work or not then all the certificates are, are pieces of paper.

On Wednesday, over the day we did successfully manage to train the two shifts of teachers (it’s a big school and half the students and teachers come in the morning, and half in the afternoon). They seemed much keener than teachers in other schools, so there is hope for this seventh school we have trained. During the time between training sessions, I had lunch at someone’s friend’s house. They pay 100ETB per month rent (£5.) The walls (which are mud-based) are covered in newspapers and old product packets cut open and stuck there.

Thursday was also successful. We again performed training to a two-shift school – the largest in our cluster with 50 teachers and around 3000 students. It all went well and they do seem interested.

We have one more training session next week to two smaller schools together and then the task I started about one year ago (when I first knew about the CPD course) will be fully in action in all ten schools of the cluster. Our next task is to monitor the progress in all the schools.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Training update and other news

The CPD manuals are printed, the training is booked for next week, so (at the moment) all looks on track to get the last four schools started down the path!

Recorder group went well yesterday, I was getting them to score music from my playing.

Also, I have heard that representatives from the different woredas (small regions) will be coming here to spend the next four months learning from me, so that when I leave they can go back to their respective woredas and begin training and introducing the CPD Programme there. I’ll believe it when I see it. They were supposed to arrive on Monday… It’s Friday – but excellent news and a good finish to my time here if/when it happens.

I weather had cooled slightly, but in a couple of months it will be over 40!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Rain! (and CPD Booklets, the ever continuing story)

Like round about this time last year, we had a few spots of rain on Monday night. It really was a short few plops, but the last rain we had in Gilgel was on 18th November, so it was quite an event! Maybe it will trigger a few insects to invade!

I did my talk to another 200ish teachers on Monday. It went without a hitch (except for a faulty power adapter that was quick to fix), and the teachers all seemed enthusiastic about using number fans and some of the other ideas.

Next on my schedule is to introduce the CPD course to the remaining four schools in our cluster.

Additional (written two days later)

The day after the rain was pretty horrible, weather-wise. It felt much hotter than before. My logger shows that the average temperature over the 24 hours after the rain was 3-4°C hotter than the running average for the last few weeks, and the maximum temperature in the shade hit an all time high of 36°C at around 14:30 in the afternoon. (How’s the snow in the UK?)

Checking up on my CPD manuals that one of the vice deans had promised to re-print (as he sold* lots of my other stock about two months ago.) The print-room guy had stopped because he was out of toner and master sheets.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong but in the UK, if someone is in-charge of the print room, they firstly make sure there is spare toner and other printing related consumables. Also, should the said UK print-room person run out of the aforementioned supplies, he would arrange for replacements PDQ.

Not here in Ethiopia. It’s like: “I’ve run out of toner. FULL STOP.”

I’m already dangerously close to not having enough time for the schools to do the CPD course before the summer vacation because it takes 15 weeks and I have had so many delays with printing, bureaucracy, fuel shortages etc that we are about one week away from that deadline.

I have been promised that the new manuals will be finished ready for the introduction of the course which we plan to do in the four remaining schools next week. (Yeah, like that’ll happen. Why didn’t I realise when I said ok to the Vice Dean to sell them two months ago that the manuals would not be replaced.)

Well, as ever, I’ll believe it when I see it!

* it's OK, the CCU did get the money for them.

Comment on the Situation in the Developing World

This is like a mixture of my own opinion, but extended to an extreme to get you to think and comment about it. I have no accurate facts to back it up, and have no other experience than what I have seen in this small corner of Ethiopia. Even so, I’d be interested in what you think.

You know, I think the trouble out here, and the difference between the developing world and the developed world is that it took hundreds of years for the UK (for example) to sort out offices, bureaucracy, technology, filing, meetings, punctuality, deadlines etc until it was in the reasonable state it is in now. Out here in Ethiopia they are being given computers and foreign ways of working to use, but there is no underlying cultural discipline. There is no support network for the offices, electricity, the water, the mobile phones, the computers. No-one has the skill – it hasn’t developed in the culture over generations, it has been imposed. (A bit like the “they haven’t earned the knowledge” speech by Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park.)

This is why I believe in the whole VSO “sharing skills” idea. Although not perfect by any means, we do need to spend more time getting the underlying principles and ideas and technically skilled people in place here before we start dumping “tax-break” computer systems on the country – computers that, without support become riddled with viruses, break down and are either sitting there useless, or being used to listen to music and play patience. They never seem to be used for anything more than typing Word documents, often re-typing the same memo each time. You might as well use the money to provide more paper and pens to school kids and stick with manual typewriters! (A side issue here is: why do I read about schools in the UK sending paper and pencils to Africa. There are thousands of exercise books and pencils in the shops here in Gilgel costing significantly less than the ones purchased and sent at great expense (and oil) half way across the world! I’m sure this is true all over Africa.)

I also wonder if most of the people here are better or worse off with this interference from outside: Some of the Gumuz people around here (for example) living in their mud, wood and straw houses, growing crops, having families, selling things at the market seem a lot happier than the instructors in the college writing up Chemistry equations on boards for students to copy and ultimately never use in practice because there is no money, no labs and no jobs in that field, all longing to go to ‘The West’ having seen the idealised version on the television. Would it be better if they didn’t know what it was like in ‘The West’?

And the population: I think the population in Ethiopia has doubled in about 30 years. Huge areas have been deforested for fuel and shelter and it is getting continually worse. Any kind of natural control (for that read disease and famine) has been bypassed with medical help and foreign aid, but again, without any underlying cultural change that ‘The West’ was forced to develop a hundred years ago (birth control in particular) and relative population stability – are we making it worse with our “help”?

I think it is possible that all ‘The West’ has done, is changed a country that had a relatively stable population (but admittedly with high infant mortality and low life expectancy) to an ever increasing population that is very close to using up its natural resources and food growing potential. Instead of a million people dying a year, in a few years it may be tens of millions.

Well this all seems very negative, but like I said at the beginning, this is more like a “discussion” document than my opinion, but we really do need to think about what we are doing when we send a box of toys or clothes out to Africa to get rid of that niggling guilt about our fellow humans. But we also need to think, are we doing the best thing? Humans evolved to live in small groups and for tens of thousands of years lived off the land. We seem a heck of a lot more stressed in the “modern” world and are becoming less and less fit. Most people I see in Ethiopia are thin and strong and have a pretty good immune system, because anyone who wasn’t strong when they were young, died. Natural selection continues here. In the UK all sorts of people are surviving who shouldn’t. For the first time in the history of life on Earth we are weakening the gene pool – it’s not survival of the fittest – it’s survival of the richest. I for one would not have got that far a couple of hundred years ago. I would certainly be unable to hunt with my eyesight and probably not even be able to find berries!

Anyway, I seem to have drifted into several different issues, so I’d better stop now.

You can leave comments on here (they will be checked before they are published in the blog) or email me.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Biggest training session ever!

On Sunday evening I held my biggest training session ever to between 300 and 400 teachers in the auditorium at the college. Last week I checked the microphone and amplifier (a bit of re-wiring needed!) and got a Powerpoint presentation ready. It was a combined talk about using number fans, the CPD programme and my new “Quick and Easy Active Learning Methods” guide.

Anyway, it was a little dicey when the power went out for a few minutes before I set off out of the house, and a couple more times while I was setting up in the auditorium. I also had a few problems with screen settings on the computer etc (primary / secondary display) There were know problems with the projector not showing red + the microphone could not be moved or it crackled, but I ended up standing for the presentation - but still - so not very dynamic!

The teachers started coming in – I had some music videos playing (including “Listen to the Voices” sung by my old school choir from a few years back) and then the power went again. We had a guy on standby for the generator, but luckily the power came back and stayed on the whole hour of my talk.

The talk pretty much went without a hitch. All the photos appeared when they should, all the video clips played etc. I used number fans (300-400) with all the teachers – the biggest simultaneous use of number fans I (and probably anyone) has ever done (you can’t say these trainees weren’t active)! I made some jokes about teachers giving wrong answers to simple questions and they laughed (cross-culture, second language humour is always difficult so a couple of laughs was pretty good). I also slowed myself right down and pretty… much… separated… every… word… I… spoke… so at least some of them would understand.

Afterwards two Vice Deans (including my line manager) told me it was very good and they were impressed and the teachers were all clamouring for my guide (one of the same Vice Deans had only let my produce enough for one per school!!!!)

So, all-in-all a pretty successful day, “Sharing Skills” with so many in one go can’t be bad. And my potential – maybe – next year counterpart was there and I said “You’ll be doing this next year.”

Now I have another 200-odd teachers on Monday for the same again!!!!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Quick and Easy Active learning

I have finished my guide with some simple ideas to make lessons more active. It incorporates some of my sketches of example lessons, and I also got it translated into Amharic and am having a bilingual version printed.

I will be giving out copies when I do a presentation to two groups of potentially 500 teachers next Monday.

Next week should also see the continuation of getting the CPD course into the remaining four schools in our “patch”.

More news next week.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Dates and Stats


On Jan 26th it was the latest sunrise here in Gilgel at 06:59. This means, that from now on the sun will be rising earlier, giving it time to heat us up more quickly to reach the peak at the end of March where I measured inside temperatures last year in the upper 30s.

6th Feb is the halfway point of my second stay in Ethiopia. I’ve been here the second time for around 5 months and have 5 months remaining.

7th Feb I will have been in Gilgel Beles for 1 calendar year (365 days.) At that point I will have been in Ethiopia for 438 days in total.


Using the data I have recorded since I set my data logger up outside on 19/10/2008:

The hottest shade temperature was 34.5°C on 9 Jan.

The coldest temperature was 10°C on both 17 & 18 December 2008.

The overall average temperature (24 hours so that includes and average of day and night temperatures) = 23.3°C

This average temperature has been fairly constant, but it is the range of temperature that has increased. At the start the range was around 16°C to 30°C (14°C). By the end of January the temperature was changing over a day from 12°C to 33°C (21°C change) This is linked to the decrease in humidity after the end of the wet season (less water in the atmosphere to hold the heat during the night and heat up during the day). During the measuring period the average daily relative humidity has dropped from 80% at the end of October to 40% at the end of January.


Sometimes here, there are short power cuts of a few minutes, and sometimes they have happened while I have been asleep or away from the house, but otherwise, I have been making a note power cuts.

Statistics for January 2009:

Of the 31 days in January there were 10 days with long power cuts.

8 started around 1830-1900. 7 finished around 2100-2200

The average length of a power cut is 2h30m during an evening although on Sunday 18th Jan, the power went off from 10:30 to 16:50 and then again from 18:50-21:20.

Apparently these cuts are due to insufficient generation capacity. The hydro-electric generators cannot supply enough electricity to meet the country’s demand. (I also heard rumours that they sell electricity to neighbouring countries rather than supply their own population completely – but this is just a rumour.) The solution is to “ration” the electricity and switch off different regions on different days. If the pattern follows last year, it will get worse during the dry season as they have to slow down production or they will drain the dams and lakes. In this period the power usually is off for a whole day, every other day, or sometimes worse.