I Still Go To School

on teaching, learning, travelling


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eEducation and eLearning

As I am currently continuing my education with an MA in eEducation at FernUni Hagen, I am hopefully soon to complete module 3 (Developing New Media) . The degree consists of 8 modules, which can be freely chosen throughout the course.

Generally speaking, the courses haven’t been as I expected them. Having heard of distance education courses offered by US or UK universities, my expectation was to have lots of online sessions with streamable lectures and interactive content.

But it turned out differently, in a very challenging way: the courses consist of 3-6 excercises, mostly research papers. As a student, your sole input is the instruction: complete this task until given date, stick to APA. Some modules have links to useful papers attached, but that’s as far as input goes. So basically, I was on my own, on new terrain. Of course there is a pretty well kept and regularly forum for each task… but I frequently had the problem of not knowing which questions to ask the tutor, apart from “Where do I start?”, which was frustrating!

With time I got into it, and with a friend and study buddy figured that this might just be the modus operandi we have to get used to. Now every paper and every product for the course is super hard work, made from scratch, which gives learning itself a completely different meaning.

I found, that I mostly had to teach myself!

So I’d like to show you the fruit of my effort a bit. Please be gentle with judgement, it’s the first time for me to ever create a video, and it took me AGES to learn how to edit sound and motion picture and record speech. Personally, I’m still not satisfied, but anyways, I’ll have plenty of chances to improve.

I’d be grateful if you left your feedback here:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1j_-GhMo3xP8QZw5hDYgpYjmHrM9gLIfZpYyv2w0EswY/viewform

[ALERT: it’s all in German]

Picture credit: @demandaj / Flickr

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Back to school

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Well hello there!
Twelve months have passed since I left Vienna for Abidjan. Two months have passed since I came back to Austria.

My Holidays were more relaxing and less intense than the usual case. Main cause: I’m broke! 😦 Anyways, had a nice time on the country side in Gaflenz with parents and family, also watching Miyazaki’s Kaze Tachinu, meeting people in Vienna, helping out at a summer camp in Holland and right after staying in Amsterdam and Utrecht.

Achievement Unlocked: “Travel to Amsterdam and neither get stoned or drunk, nor hit by a bicycle!”

Thank you everyone who contributed in making my holiday enjoyable as it was! 🙂
And the show goes on: Back to Vienna, back to school!

I just finished my first week at my new school in the 15th district of Vienna, where I’ll be teaching Physics and Chemistry. The teachers and headmistress have welcomed me nicely and I felt it’s a good start. Though I’ve only held two lessons so far, as we held no afternoon lessons this week, I felt they were good. Many bright kids in there!

The first few meetings with other colleagues at school was generally funny. They immediately thanked me for coming and relieving them from the stress of having to teach physics and chemistry themselves. That’s the Austrian system: if your school doesn’t have a teacher in a certain subject, all other teachers need to hold the lessons instead. My school hasn’t had a physics teacher in more than 5 years! I even received an applause at the initial teacher’s conference, how weird is that? Like science is some kind of disease and I am the only cure. Meh, anyways I will see how much the kids will remember from the previous years.

There are several  “plusses” of this school:

  • it’s a UNESCO school
  • it’s Catholic and private, yet open to everyone and rather mixed in both culture and religion.
  • I am the one and only science teacher, so I got two rooms on my own!
  • Every classroom and also the science room have a projector, which I will use for some blended learning when possible
  • it takes me just 35 minutes to get there

I am working part-time as a teacher because…

In October I shall be starting a MA degree in eLearning at Fernuniversität Hagen (Deutschland!), which will be great as well! I just like to continue to progress on many levels at the same time, so both working and studying at the same time is the ideal option for me right now. I also value mobility and flexibility, so having a distance learning course about eLearning is perfect and authentic.

All in all, I have a year to look forward to!

 

 

This gallery contains 11 photos


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What matters in the end?

I have enjoyed an eventful last week in Abidjan: going to the local Zoo, visiting a Reggea Club, celebrating July 4th at the US Embassy, go-karting, and visiting many friends.

Unfortunately my mobile phone got kidnapped by a friendly taxi driver. I realised it was not with me immediately after I left the taxi and it drove off, but when we called with a different mobile a minute later, he had already switched it off. Had to happen 4 days before I leave 😦 I got a cheap replacement and Orange replaced my SIM with the same number. The guy who gave me the SIM was happy to speak English to me, so he didn’t charge me anything, so I had got that going for me, which was nice.

 

So anyways, I lost my pictures from the art market “CAVA” (Centre Artisanal de la ville d’Abidjan), which is a completely underrated artisan village close to the shopping center “CAP SUD”. It’s literally a village, where the artists are in wooden huts or outside of them, creating all kinds of art: painting, many carvings, jewellery, decorational weapons, traditional masks and much more. It’s the best place to get ripped off and spend lots of money as a tourist! Not everyone overcharges you, but I just tell you: beware the Senegalese 😉 So best visit the place with a local friend, whose mere presence already makes the artist/merchant nervous and lower the price. Anyways there is also the arts market in cocody, which is much smaller though, and less authentic. I recommend going to CAVA to anyone interested in traditional African art, or who wants to get a souvenir.

Another must is spending an evening at Parker Place, Abidjan’s best Reggea club. It’s not too overpriced, plus the live bands on the weekends are rather amazing. They play classics as Bob Marley, national music as Tiken Jah Fakoly or Alpha Blondy, as well as their own songs. Rastafaraay feeling all inclusive (excluding the drugs, no smoking in the place!)

Abidjan’s Zoo is bit of a sad place. Not only because there are animals in captivity (for preservational reasons), but because during the civil war, many animals died, as there was no caretaker for them. So the lions are gone, and there is only one elephant left, and one python. Else, they got lots of monkeys, crocodiles, chimps, a leopard, some birds and one of the few remaining pygmy hippos. Because of policies (greediness), visitors have to pay to take pictures. Didn’t want to reward that silly policy, so we only took a picture in front of the gate.

Friday, on the evening of my departure, Lorette was invited to the Independence Day party at the embassy, as she’s been working there a long time as a French/English teacher.  The US Embassy has wide grounds in Abidjan, and the building is rather humungous! But – no pictures allowed. You find something on google, though. The Independence Day celebration was quite nice, with the Embassador giving a speech, the Stephane Wrembel Band playing their jazzy tunes, and snacks for the attendees.

After the celebration we arrived back home just in time for the World Cup game Brazil – Colombia. It was fast-paced, and a bit too foul, but many great moves and nice goals. The better team won in the end 🙂

But then it was time to say goodbye! So many people took care of me during the 10 months I spent here. I got to know new faces and have made many new friends.  This is what matters most in the end!

Now that I’m back in Austria, I will take some time to settle back in. I’m on a holiday until September, when I will start teaching physics/chemistry at a school in Vienna. So I will continue writing the blog, as surely there are many more things to be experienced and written about. And who knows where else I may end up teaching for a while…

 


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Endspurt

It is done!

Friday, students were allowed to come in casual clothes, and they brought food for everyone.

Friday, students were allowed to come in casual clothes, and they brought food for everyone.

My year of teaching English in Abidjan has officially come to a close.

We had our graduation celebration last Sunday at the big event hall of the Police School. It was a nice event, a very positive vibe going on and lots of people (over 200). For me, it was an enjoyable occasion, though it also meant saying goodbye to the kids, whom I will miss a lot.

The last couple of weeks very quite intense, having to finish the report cards, and many of the kids finally waking up to the reality of school: If you don’t do any work, it will show in your results. Some understood that when I told them, others were honestly surprised. So most of the time in class I was moving from student to student non-stop, corrected their work during break and lunchtime and handed it back the lesson after. I did not sit down for a minute!

I have learned so many things this year about being a teacher and understanding African culture! These experiences will help me in my future teaching, and remain nice memories. My point system for discipline worked out quite well I believe, at least for 70% of the class. Some improved their behavior a lot during the year, some stayed the same, but none declined, which is nice! Additionally, I could make many connections and find really good friends in my colleagues, a fact which cannot be taken for granted!

I have only 10 days left in the country, 5th of July I will be leaving 😦

With my students: Maryvonne and Yan Ting

With my students: Maryvonne and Yan Ting

With my students: Maryvonne and Roseline

With my students: Maryvonne and Roseline

My students: Grade 8 Graduates!

My students from Grade 8: Graduated!

The Highschool graduates giving their speeches, and many tears are shed

The Highschool graduates giving their speeches, and many tears are shed

Pierrick and I

Pierrick and I

With my bro Willie

With my bro Willie

With the sports teacher, Eloge

With the sports teacher, Eloge

With my bro Armand

With my bro Armand

I will try to get more and better pictures of graduation when the official photographer arrives.

Meanwhile, the rainy season has started quite dramatically, from months without any rain during the day, to an entire week of torrential rain. The effect of rain on society here is immense! Think of it equivalent to snow in London: public transport stops, few people show up to work, markets are closed. When it rains, everything stops here. To top it off, sometimes electricity breaks down, so even working inside on your computer is not possible, unless your place has a generator (not many places do).

 

Moi et mon frere Wisdom, at his home for dinner

Moi et mon frere Wisdom, at his home for dinner

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His daughter, who tried taking pictures and succeeded after some tries 🙂

I visited the home of Wisdom, a friend I made in Palmerai. He is motivated to find a good job as a driver, and always on the search, but even with an agency it’s tough. If you have a car, you can hire someone privately for about 80.000 FCFA (€122,10) a month, to drive you around at any time to any place you want. You need to be lucky to find someone who pays decently. He told me he wants to work for white people, because they pay well and on time.

Anyways, he invited me for some spaghetti africaine. I think it’s amazing how easy people can trust you here and invite you into their homes, feed you and everything. And you find many who really just want to give out of a good heart, not because they want money from you.

What will I be doing until I go back to Austria? I want to try to visit different places, but most probably within Abidjan. I hope everything works out and I can tell you after 🙂

One thing that is sure:
I have started working on a website for the school, to give it more publicity and make the information for the parents more accessible. For now I’m gathering information and pictures.

 


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The Old Gods and the New

The Old Gods

One of the many busses with "Dieu", many other have Bible verses on them. Ignore the bullet holes.

One of the many busses with “Dieu”, many other have Bible verses on them. Ignore the bullet holes.

At our school, we have kids who are Christian: Catholic, Protestant. We also have kids who are Muslim, also some with Jewish background. The dialogues are quite interesting, considering that the school provides a Christian American curriculum. Sometimes the Muslim kids complain about having to study about the Bible and Jesus. They tell me (mostly when studies are tough),

“I’m a Muslim, I don’t need to study the Bible!”

I ask them, “So then why are you at a school with a Christian curriculum?”

“My parents put me here.”

“Are your parents Muslim?”

“Of course!”

“Then they are wise people.”

As of 2008, 38,6% of Ivorians are Muslim, 32,8% Christian, and 28% African Indigenous (wiki). Generally speaking, in Westafrica, the North of the countries is majority Muslim, and the South mainly Christian. The cities, especially Abidjan, are completely mixed, though.

Especially these days when you hear about groups such as Boko Haram terrorizing in the name of God, and the killing of Muslims in Central African Republic, having kids of different background, nationality, ethnicity and faith in the same class truly crosses borders. With the right sense of mediation, this kind of coeducation helps to prevent future misunderstandings and conflicts.

Quite striking when arriving from Austria is the quantitative jump of church attendance here. Sunday morning is Church Time. The pastors are like rockstars here. The Archbishop Duncan from Ghana has an own police escort plus three Escalades and a Hummer. While we were stuck in traffic, police ploughed his way through the masses. Truly a man of God, with the purse of a King (the former may be debatable). On TV you may watch some preachers putting their congregation into trance and people fainting when he touches their heads. They have definitely developed their own style of worship, with dances, drums and chanting. I would recommend to anybody to partake in a service like this, even just for the experience. As the pastors are rockstars, the service becomes a rock concert 😉

The New Gods

“And the white man comes directly after God!”

is what a friend told me recently. “Because they can do so many things that no black man can do!”

“But what is it they do?”

“They can build roads; all the companies for construction, they are not from here!”

The new God: Jack Bauer!

The new God: Jack Bauer!

 

"Thank you, mother". You may not fear God, but you better fear your mother ;)

“Thank you, mother”. You may not fear God, but you better fear your mother 😉

papa_lacoste

Lacoste, Gucci and DG are popular brands to show off your money. Of course you can buy them at the market for 2 €.

While the tourguide at the national heritage museum was mourning the disappearance of African Indigenous religions, others welcome the change and see it as development.

So I ask the questions:

  • Concerning the growing middle class, who try to copy the “European (middle class) Dream”, how will secularisation affect the local culture?
  • Is the decline of spirituality inevitably connected to the rise of wealth? Why (not) in Africa?
  • In the perspective of diversity and preservation, should indigenous religion and culture be encouraged and developed?

 


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You Shall Not Pass! (on first try)

We just finished the second of three terms at school, and I handed out the report cards showing the grades. Everyone passed. But the reason is, simply put, because there is no possibility to fail.

Our school works with the homeschooling system. The student can study at his/her preferred speed. Some of my students finished two grades within one year, or two within three years. It sounded amazing to me, as it seemingly only depended on your level of motivation, when you finish your grade.

But there are some hurdles which are quite tough to pass:

Dilemma 1: Haste

Frequently, my students tell me: “Mr teacher, I cannot do this, I am too stupid.”

And I ask them, “What do you have to do, and what is the problem?”

“I don’t know what I have to do.”

“Did you read the instructions for the task?”

“No, I just want to do it. I want to do the tests and finish my grade!”

The problem is simple: the pressure is on finishing tests and grades, not on learning a language properly and doing your work well. They end up leaving out tasks which they don’t understand or feel like doing. They get angry with the teacher when he/she tells them that they cannot skip tasks: “Teacher, you are blocking me from advancing, I want to finish my book!” or “Ah, teacher, you don’t like me!”, as if working well and studying was a punishment.

Dilemma 2: Buddy system

The setting would be perfect for a buddy system, where students help each other out: older students, or those who are more advanced already, could help out those who are struggeling. I’d love to utilize that system. Problem: “buddy” too often means they hand over their books and copy-paste the results, including errors. Learning progress: zero.

Another problem: conflict. Maybe that’s just my class, but there are verbal and manual (to the face) fights nearly every day. Buddy system means communication, and communication means noise, that is unavoidable. I’d be fine with that, but sadly whenever I gave it a try – the noise happened, but the work didn’t. Furthermore, instead of helping the other person, the older buddies make fun of the younger students, resulting in a fight.

Dilemma 3: Multiple-choice tests

It’s no news that our educational system is seldomly testing knowledge, abilities or intelligence, but rather only the ability to regurgitate temporally stored information.

We study, not to learn, but to pass exams.

This contradiction reaches a new level when using multiple-choice tests. Now you don’t even have to just learn how to remember things, you can basically stop understanding them at all. In fact, you can pass tests without even having read the questions.

For grade 6-8, which I teach, there are 20 questions on the test. There are three possible answers for each question.

The lowest you could score is 35%, a clear fail. Now the real problem is that students can redo the test without the first try being counted, and being allowed to inspect the former (identic) test sheet. The theoretical score is 70%. Voilà, you passed!

Cheating slips used to be hard work to create, and enhanced the learning process of the author. With multiple choice, a slip that will get you 100% may look like this:
“11323213311123123323”.

Easy to forge, easy to hide, and no enhancement whatsoever.

Resumé:

The homeschooling system does not give freedom. It just switches positions of teacher and student.

In the classical school system, the teacher is literally and also figuratively in the front of class. He is deciding the speed of learning. If you can’t keep up, you’re left behind and fail. But not matter how fast you think you’re going, you can never really catch up with the Achillean tortoise.

Homeschooling puts the teacher behind the student – again both literally and figuratively. The student decides the speed of learning; The teacher stands behind him, looking over his shoulder and helping him solving problems. But it does not end there. The teacher also has to be like a bulldozer, pushing the student to advance.

So even though it seems that homeschooling is meant to be students doing work in their books on their own, and the teacher just passively in the background in a supportive role, it really is MUCH tougher for the teacher than being in front. He has to rely on the student’s motivation and will to study, and their maturity. Now… how much maturity and eagerness to study can you expect of an average 11-year-old? How about a 6-year-old?

 

On the bright side:

It’s mango season 🙂 There are around 4-5 different types of mangoes at the local market, with different origin, taste and colour.

I got this beauty (they say it’s a Nigerian Mango) for FCFA 150 (€ 0,23) from across the street of my home.

When a mangoes to Africa he'll go bananas for some fresh fruit. (I apologize)

When a mangoes to Africa, he’ll go bananas for some fresh fruit. (I do apologize)

Otherwise, I’m fine, and recovered well from the Malaria. The kids suspected I had Ebola and recommended I took milk with honey, because that’s what their doctors always tell them.

As I will be enjoying a week of holiday until May 4th, I have some travelling planned. This weekend I will be going to a UPF conference in Gagnoa,  northwest of Abidjan. It’s a smaller place, and I usually enjoy the peace and quiet of such places. I’ll keep you updated!

 

 


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“Here in Africa, we beat our children!”

Classroom discipline is one of the most important, daily responsibilities of a teacher. Yet there are barely any courses on how to achieve it, neither is the problem really recognized by the public. As a young teacher, you are thrown into the lions’ den, and then God help you.

This was also my feeling when I started teaching at Jina school in Abidjan. I had no real concept for keeping the class quiet and neat, or what kind of punishments apply when rules were broken. I just handed out the school rules, which included good behavior and respect towards the teachers, and thought that this should do the trick. I even went as far as most websites and books on discipline suggest:

  • have a classroom discussion about rules
  • create rules together and discuss what kind of punishment is fair and just
  • print them and put them up in class
  • apply the rules with great consistency and hold students accountable

As you might guess, that’s by FAR not all that is needed to create a classroom atmosphere where students behave and feel motivated to study and treat each other respectfully. The classroom continued to be loud and there were no 5 minutes of focussed studying. I am not even exaggerating. The punishments for misbehavior were in order of graveness (after a warning):

  1. copying the rule you broke 10-50 times into your book
  2. kneeling at your desk
  3. being sent out of class for the remainder of the lesson
  4. being reported to the headmistress
  5. being reported and your parents get a phonecall

The students know these and have seen all of them carried out. Still, no change.

Then one day, student Timmy (name changed by author) goes too far. He is on his knees already, copying the rule he has broken, and just starts insulting a student behind him until that one gets upset and they start an open fight in the middle of class. I have to interrupt my lesson, go inbetween the two students who had started strangling each other, and bring them to the headmistress’ office. Together, we decide to give the parents a call. Having had teaching experience in Austria, I thought, “Anyways, what’s the point of telling parents, they don’t really care.” I was so wrong. We got the mum of Timmy on the phone. After a few sentences of explanation, she just answers, “Ok, I’m coming.” and hangs up. 20 minutes later she is with us in the office. I explain to her what happened in class, and why we had given her a call. And she looks at me, not without anger, and said,

I know that in Europe, things are different. But here in Africa, we beat our children”

And she did. In front of the headmistress, the secretary, and myself. On the head, the back and shoulders, while talking to him angrily why he was humiliating his family. When she was done, I took my leave to continue teaching in class, with TImmy being left behind in the office. Besides the anger I felt for him disobeying and fighting in class, seeing him getting beaten in front of everyone I actually felt pity for him.

The incident made me realize a few things:

First, African kids fear their mothers more than anything else. Nothing will scare them, no extra work, kneeling, being sent out of class. But you mention their mothers, and they will budge.

Second, despite having followed and carried out the disciplinary measures, less than half the class followed them and went through a week without being punished.

Third, I want to find a way how to manage my classroom without beating kids, obviously. But is that my arrogant Western-European attitude, my inability to adapt to the culture? If I want the kids to succeed in studies, they need to be disciplined. I just have to find a way how. So I created a behavior scale with different measures. Every student starts with 100 points, and when they break a rule, I deduct 2 to 6 points. When their points reach below 80, the office will call their parents. At the start of a new trimester, the points are reset to 100. There is also a reward system, if they do really well or when they hand in extra work.

The system is working quite well, except for some kids. I wondered why, and saw that it’s connected to the punishment. If at home, they get beaten, but at school they can “get away” with easier punishment, they will take advantage of it. Some students behave like angels at home, they are calm and respectful; but once they enter school, hell breaks loose. They become bossy tyrants, and disrespectful towards any authority.

Just beat them!

Is what the behaved kids in class say.

I’m waiting for the day you will beat one of us!

Is what they say themselves.

So for now I can say that discipline is still a great issue in my classroom. I fight with it every day, and it’s making me tired. Now two students are permanently outside class, and another joined a different classroom. There is only one single teacher in the entire school, where the students are (almost) quiet and respectful. And you can guess, why…