Archive for February, 2014

After five decades of being an educator, I am growing weary of the constant discussion over the divide between education and technology. When will we reach a point where we will discuss Education, teaching and learning without having to debate technology? The idea of learning hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. We learn to survive and improve. Much like breathing, it is what we do naturally. Unlike breathing, some learn better than others, but the concept is the same for everyone. It is the degree of learning that is the variable.

Education addresses learning and teaching for specific goals. Of course what those specific goals are, is a point of contention among many people, both educators and non-educators alike. I think we can agree that education teaches many skills, which people can use to exist, thrive, compete, and create in society. This should hold true for whatever skills are taught in whatever society they are taught in, be it primitive, or advanced. Obviously, the more complicated the society is, the more sophisticated the skills that must be taught.

If we analyze and list all the skills that we deem essential to teach, I think there would be a great deal of commonality without regard to any country. The languages may vary, but the skills would be the same. Discussions of education in these terms would sound similar no matter what country in which these discussions took place. For the sake of this discussion, we could break down all education to its basic elements of reading, writing, and speaking.  I am sure that there are some educators who remember education being just as simple as that from back in their day. Actually, it wasn’t all that long ago.

What has changed in education since the late seventies is not the specific skills we teach, but how they will be used. Technology has crept into our society in both obvious, and subtle ways. It has changed the way many of us do things, but for our children it is the only way they can or ever knew how do things. We old folks grew up watching TV. It was part of our culture. Kids today do not view it the same way. We used to dress up as an occasion to travel on a plane. Today, never a second thought is given to jumping on a plane dressed in any manner to get anywhere. A second phone in a household was once a luxury, and today each member of a family carries their own phone. The world has changed and continues to do so at a frightening pace. It is not something we control. IT has become part of the infrastructure. It is as important as roads, rails, planes and power grids.

The very skills that we as educators are charged to teach our kids will be used in a technology-driven society. The skills remain the same, but their application has drastically changed over the last decades. We can discuss education as education without technology, but at some point we must address how kids will be using that which they have learned. If the application of their learned skills will be technology driven than the very tools they should be learning with should also be technology-driven.

The biggest problem with technology is the pace at which it evolves. It moves faster than folks can catch up to it. Because of that, it becomes a burden on educators to learn what they need to know in order to teach skills in an environment close to what kids will be expected to live in. Many educators are running as fast as they can to catch up, but too many others are reluctant.

Some believe that just teaching the skills is enough. They feel kids will adapt, after all they are digital natives.  I don’t feel that way. I have come to see that kids are great at exploring the Internet, Google searching, downloading music and movies, and texting at lightening speed with two thumbs. Beyond that, kids need to be shown how the skills that they have learned fit into the world in which they will live. This requires using tech in education as a tool and not a skill. We need not teach tech, to use it. It should be a tool for curating data, collaborating, communicating, and creating. This requires an application of their learned skills to produce and create stuff in a format that society recognizes as relevant.

I think the point that I am painstakingly trying to make is that technology needs not to be in discussions of education, but rather in how will the education of any kid be applied in an ever-evolving, technology-driven world in which tour kids will be required to live. We need to recognize what it is we are educating kids for. Where will they apply their education? If it is a world void of technology, than technology is less important in education. If not, than we need to better prepare them for what they will need.

In order to accomplish that, we need to better prepare ourselves as educators to deal with that. Educators need to be digitally literate and that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes an effort. The excuse of “too much on the plate already” doesn’t hold up against the argument of professional responsibility. The argument of education for the sake of education and the hell with technology doesn’t hold up in light of the technological world in which these kids will live. Yes, we need to do more, and it isn’t always easy. If we are to better educate our children, we need to better educate our educators. It is not an easy job. Isn’t that what we tell people all the time?

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The World Education Blog in association with Education For All Global Monitoring Report is sponsoring #Teacher Tuesday. Each week for the next ten weeks they will share blog posts from ten different educators from around the world. The intent is to give voice to educators from around the world in an international discussion of education. Feel free to comment and enter the discussion.
Esnart Chapomba, Teacher Educator in Malawi

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is great honour for me to be here in front of you today. As you have already heard, my name is Esnart Chapomba from Malawi. I would like to share with you some of the teaching and learning experiences from

Malawi. As most of you might have already known, Malawi is one of the countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

After adopting a Free Education Policy in 1994, the primary education sector in Malawi has been facing a learning crisis affecting the disadvantaged the most.

Teachers are few and far between. Class sizes are enormous and from the facts that I am going to share with you, I think that you will all agree that this has to change.

In Malawi children are not getting the best education and the quality of education is poor. Let me share with you some examples of what I mean by this.

I have seen children crammed into classrooms with more than 200 students and only one teacher.

I myself, have taught a class of 230 children and I had to teach under a tree because there was no classroom.

With so many students, I was only able to teach three subjects out of 6 on the daily timetable because I had to finish correcting every student’s work before proceeding to the next subject; as a result, I just ran out of time.

Many teachers especially those working in rural primary schools in Malawi will tell you the same story – we are far behind the Government’s target of 60 pupils per classroom.

Even more shocking is the fact that some rural schools have less than four teachers in a school of about 1000 children.

This means that on many occasions, children are left sitting in a classroom on their own, without a teacher, or they are sent home early. These children will learn very little by the time they graduate from the primary cycle.

Sometimes classes are combined and children from different grades sit together to learn from the same teacher . This is a form of multi-grade teaching).

To make this way of teaching more effective, teachers learn about ‘multi-grade teaching’ in training colleges so that they are able to handle students from different grades.

As you can imagine, this is not the best solution, but we are working hard to accommodate children in classes as best as we can.

In my experience, children in rural areas suffer the most. A 30 minute lesson would be taught in less than 20 minutes because they learn under very unfavourable conditions, like sitting under trees, and are frequently interrupted by rains and other external factors.

And I’m sad to say that rural children are taught by teachers who are often demotivated due to poor working conditions, poor accommodation and are living in remote areas where they are unable to access healthcare and other social amenities.

These issues are now being recognised and the Ministry of Education is providing rural teachers with an additional amount of money to cater for their hardships, and by building better houses in these areas to keep teachers motivated so that they can drive the provision of quality education.

The truth of the matter however is that huge classes and learning under unfavorable conditions in Malawi drastically reduce the quality of time that a teacher can spend with a child.

This is having a negative impact on the quality of teaching and children’s ability to learn. This has consistently been demonstrated by the SACMEQ results.

You will be shocked to hear that some children in Malawi reach grades three and four without being able to add up, read or write.

I’ve even seen children as old as 9 and 10 who are unable to read and write their names when clearly they should be able to do this.

These children will miss out on good opportunities and will be without the skills they need to have a decent future.

A lack of resources is also hampering teaching and learning. There are simply not enough books and pencils to go around. In most schools I have worked in, up to 10 children share a textbook. Again the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Malawi has been working to help provide one textbook per child, but this can’t come soon enough for the children who have already been left behind in their studies.

The Ministry of Education is also in the process of strengthening the early grade curriculum, all aimed at simplifying Teacher’s Guides and introducing more relevant and effective teaching methodologies.

The underlying truth is that the knock on effect of children performing poorly is catastrophic.

Children end up being demotivated and repeat and/or drop out of school before completing their primary school years. In Malawi, dropout rates are higher for girls across all grades. On average, 12.3% of girls will dropout compare to only 8.6% of boys according to official statistics(EMIS 2012).

Therefore, there is an urgent need for policies and strategies that can ensure that all children not only complete primary school, but also secondary education.

The situation I have faced is sadly not uncommon, as this year’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report highlights. This is why it is vital that policy-makers take note of the important messages in the Report – to make sure all schools have enough teachers, and these teachers receive the necessary support so that all children have the chance to learn.

As a teacher educator, I am aware of the challenges teachers face in schools; therefore, I try and teach teachers to carry out their work professionally with limited resources.

I show teachers how to motivate children to learn, especially through frequent assessments and then providing children with feedback.

It is imperative, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen that the government of Malawi continues to commit itself to educating its children and reach out to the most disadvantaged.

An education must prepare our children to be productive citizens of our country so that we can lift ourselves out of the vicious cycle of poverty and have a better future.

I believe that a quality education liberates people’s minds making them able to provide for their livelihood and is an essential tool for solving their daily life problems.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you very much for your attention.

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I was very fortunate to recently to meet Richard Peritz at FETC. Richard is a television producer for the EduTech Foundation. Rather than write about my interview conducted by Dr. Cindy Burfield. Much of the interview refers to transferring from 20th century learning to the 21st. It will be like going from Reading, Riting, and Rithmatic to Communicating, Collaborating, and Creation. Here is the interview.

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I am very fortunate to be able to attend a number of Education Conferences each year. This offers me a perspective of education conferences that is not afforded to a majority of educators. When one considers the total number of American educators compared to the total attendance at these conferences and then factor out the people who repeatedly attend each year, it is easy to see that most educators do not get to these national conferences. That is a shortcoming I believe that hurts the profession. There is much to be learned and shared at these conferences that can make a difference to an educator.

Of course many of these conferences are so vast that it is difficult to report on the whole conference when one can only experience a small part of it. It brings to mind the five blind men trying to describe what an elephant looked like based on only one part of the elephant that each had physical contact with. Each description was completely different, and not one accurately described the whole elephant.

My last three conferences were Educon, FETC, and TCEA, wonderful conferences all. In each of these I met with many connected educators and participated exclusively in sessions of discussion or panel-driven discussion. I find these types of sessions more in line with what suits me in learning. I feel that I can personalize the sessions for my needs, and I can even participate in the content of the discussion personally becoming a part of the learning.  Educon of all the conferences is the one conference that focuses on these types of sessions. Of course that would make it my conference of preference.

The other conferences generally depend on “sit and get” PowerPoint demonstrations, or “bells and whistles” software presentations. There will always be a need for these sessions, but I question the balance, or lack of balance, they have when compared with discussion sessions at any given conference.

The glaring deficiency in any session is that it must be submitted and approved 8 to 12 months in advance. How does that maintain relevance? How is the latest and greatest in education even represented at these conferences, unless it is discussion? Discussion can be more timely than any presentation that is eight months old.

Discussion adds the ability to deal with topics of pedagogy and methodology as opposed to just the mechanics of a lesson. Discussions of education that do not take place in school buildings can take place with educators of varied experience to share and elaborate. This is the fodder for reflection. Reflection goes a long way in changing the way we approach things. It often prompts change and promotes reform.

I believe that the success of the Edcamp format where discussion and collaboration are the focus, and the popularity of real-time chats on Twitter and Google Hangouts are all indicators of change. Educators are personalizing their learning in larger numbers. This may be a trend or something bigger. Whatever it is, we need to adjust the way conferences are providing what educators need as a profession.

As a connected educator, I loved being with and sharing ideas and discussions with other educators with whom I am connected. Our conversations were not the same as those of unconnected educators at these conferences. As I talked with educators who were not in collaboration with others on a regular basis, I found a need to define and explain things to them that are discussed and understood online by connected educators daily. I am not saying that these unconnected educators are not good teachers, but maybe not as informed as a  professional needs to be, or as relevant as a professional could be. We are in a profession that deals with information and learning. We need to be relevant in two areas, content and education. Online collaboration enables that to happen more efficiently and on a constant basis. These online discussions are carried further in a face-to-face setting of a conference. Those not involved with online collaboration are often playing catch up in the discussion. A worse alternative is that they withdraw from involvement in the discussion altogether.

Technology has moved collaboration from a way of learning that only happened in a limiting face-to-face setting, to one that takes place anywhere at anytime breaking down the previous borders of time and space. For educators not to take full advantage of this new-found ability is a missed opportunity. We need to support, enhance, and encourage collaboration in all of its forms, online and face-to-face. Ideas that are born at conferences can be continually evolved online. The discussion need no longer end after the closing keynote. Ideas that are born online may be expanded and improved in the face-to-face collaboration of the conferences. We don’t need the opening keynote to start the thinking and connecting. We are professional educators who need to do a better job educating ourselves as educators. If we are to better educate kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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I recently attended one of the largest education conferences in the United States, FETC in Orlando, Florida. The focus of the conference was the use of Technology in Education. The sessions and vendors were for the most part all technology-driven. Education and technology today are often linked together and are the predominant force in education conferences today.

Technology provides both educators and students a means to Communicate, Collaborate, and most importantly to Create. All of these “C Words” however revolve about the biggest  “C Word” of all in education, Content. Every teacher is familiar with the expression “Content is King” It is what has driven education since its beginning. It is the focus of lecture and direct instruction alike. It also, to my casual observation, appears to be the biggest draw for educators at these education conferences. The products that offer content delivery seem to draw the largest gatherings at the vendor booths on the exhibit floor. Of course, when this observation first gelled in my mind, I may have only then viewed the entire conference through that lens which might have skewed the results in my head.

Content delivery, however seems to be the magnet that draws in educators because that is how many educators envision themselves, as content experts. Of course that has been drilled into the heads of American educators for two centuries, so it should come as no surprise. The 19th and 20th centuries did not have the wherewithal in technology to support educators the ability to Communicate, Collaborate, or Create with any efficient, or convenient way. If it could not be done face-to-face and created by hand, then it could not be done. Of course this began to slowly change in the second half of the 20th century and sped up as that century closed out.

The addition of electricity first, and then computers moved everything forward at a rapid pace, but again it was all for content delivery. Movies and filmstrips dominated the 20th century. The overhead projector, which is still used to deliver content today, is technology that is over 75 years old. Video was a great step forward, but again for presenting content. As videotaping became easier, cheaper and a more convenient technologically, more creation began in the form of TV shows and videotaped presentations. Once students discovered the power of video, it was a game changer. Think MTV.

As technology advances, our abilities to use it to expand what we can do, and how we can communicate, collaborate, and most importantly create has changed. We can do all of this more effectively and efficiently than any of the previous centuries allowed.

Communication has taken on many new forms that affect us every day. Texting was only an idea in the 20th century and now we live by it. Collaboration was a face-to-face process in the bygone days of the 20th Century. Today, we are not bound by time or space for collaboration. It takes place anywhere, at any time, both locally and globally. The ability to create has surpassed anyone’s imagination in the 20th century. The computer can replace publishers. Movie, TV, and Sound recording studios also now can be computer-based. Creation of content has never been so easily accomplished.

Yet, with all of this change in our ability to Communicate, Collaborate and Create with content, many educators insist on focusing on content delivery. This is squandering a great opportunity to educate. Whatever happened to Bloom’s Taxonomy? If we fail to change the way we teach, we will have quickly outlived our ability to do so. Our kids do not need content experts, or content deliverers. The Internet does a far better job of that, than any educator can do. Content may always be King, but the approach to it must change in education. Educators need to be sounding boards and mentors, guides and counselors. We need to teach kids what is worthy and what is not – Critical Thinking. That is the biggest “C word” of all.

Kids are no longer limited to learning in the classroom. That is a myth that many believed in for decades. Access to information takes place 24 hours a day, but that is not education. We need to stop viewing technology as a distraction from education and see it as an attraction to it. It is only a distraction to students who have teachers who do not know how to approach technology meaningfully to use it to educate.

Technology is not the silver bullet for education. It is a tool for information and content that continually develops. Content and information are the basis for all education. If educators can’t adapt to the developing tools for communication, collaboration, and creation students will find their own mentors and guides. Educators are left with two choices, Relevance or Irrelevance. There will be little time to catch up at the rate technology is changing. Open minds and a continuing need to learn must be part of the profession. We need to continually develop as professionals and share out what we have learned to our community of educators. Technology is as much of a tool for the educators as it is for the students. Educators need to employ the best methods of; communication, collaboration and creation to do with content that which needs to be done to educate technologically driven students. This will require a change in both attitude and methodology on the part of today’s educators. The big problem is to get this concept across to educators who are not reading this post, or any other education Blog, the unconnected educators. How do we change the minds and hearts of people not connected to the means to do that? The other “C word”, Connected.

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