Often not an easy question to be asked, but I guess I can give it a bit of a blast after the last 20 months here in the heart of rural Ethiopia and the fine city of Adola. Okay it’s still only a town, but just you wait it’ll be a city one day – watch Addis!
“Just saving Ethiopia!” could be my reply. Fret not, I am not so arrogant to assume that my actions are going to turn this place into a developed country overnight, but I do hold some hope that what I have shared here is part of a massive effort on the part of countless people who have given a little of themselves and their experience to guide the country to new opportunities.
As I think about previous blogs I realise that mostly I have written about experiences I have had and very little about what I actually have been doing here. I want to take the chance to share some of this now, as I look back and reflect on my time.
The main purpose of my recruitment by VSO was to help out with the Higher Diploma Programme, which, in brief, is about developing different teaching methodology in schools – specifically in my case for primary schools. In order to work on this I was sent to a rural teacher training college in Adola- a town whose praises I have sung more than enough in the past.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, way back at the beginning of my time here, it took a while for the course to get started. In spite of some frustration in this, I soon adapted to the rather laid back approach and rather than get stressed out and angry, I decided it was better to go with the flow and make the best of it; making use of time when it happened.
At times it was an uphill struggle- there is understandable reluctance for change especially where the only experience people have had is in lecturing to students or being lectured to – imagine a teacher trying to lecture to a class of 7 year olds in the UK… for the whole 40 minutes (the length of a lesson here) and that followed by 5 more 40 minute lectures. I don’t think they class would survive until the end of the day!
There were many arguments why they couldn’t encourage their students to be more active participants in their learning-“We don’t have enough time to deliver the course content”; “The class sizes are too big”; “We don’t have any resources.” What they couldn’t say was the real reason: “We’re scared to change.”
I realised I needed to encourage them to believe that they could change, that they can have an impact and that their students would actually learn far more by being active, rather than passive, in the classroom. I wanted them to change their focus from them “teaching” to their students “learning”. The overarching idea being that they then pass on this philosophy to their students- the teacher trainees- who in turn take it to the schools with them.
While I would love to say that Active Learning is now the norm here in Adola, I am not so foolish as to not recognise that these things take time. Some staff adapted more readily than others, but I have to say I was impressed by how willing they were to at least give the whole thing a try. And I wasn’t gentle – I really made them work hard and this became clear when, at the end of the first year, I went with two colleagues to the moderation workshop. The standard of what the participants here had produced far exceeded that of the other institutions. Not only was their work complete, it really showed depth and that they had engaged fully in the process. Most importantly their lesson planning clearly showed their efforts to implement active learning and assessment for learning – two key areas of the HDP.
The second year I handed over the mantle of the day to day running of the programme to local colleagues, which gave me a little more time to focus on some other areas. The Dean had not been shy in asking me to work in several areas and was open to my insistence in each case of working with a local counterpart to encourage a transfer of skills and sustainability. This certainly kept me pretty occupied during working hours.
Working with colleagues, we have helped the college to open and resource an ELIC- English Language Improving Centre (sic). It is still in the early stages, but has potential to be a great place for students to go and experience English in a lesson rigid and formal environment. This place has been a focus for two other areas I have been keen to work on- the quality of English language teaching and raising the performance of girls in education.
In the first case I have been really fortunate this year to be able to work with some of the students who have chosen English language as their focus. For the third year students this was a mixed group, but for the second years I asked to concentrate on the female students.
In general they are more reluctant to participate in classes and by bringing them away from their male peers I was able to give them a chance to be more involved and the efforts that they have made have made it highly worthwhile, with some of them shining in a way that would not have been possible in a mixed class.
When one of the English Lecturers at the college came to me to ask for help in delivering a programme to G8 girls I was delighted. Instead of being asked to generally help in one area, this guy had actually a focused plan on what he wanted to do and he wanted me to help him out.
This, for me, was a key moment and at this point I realised that all my efforts had been worthwhile – the local community was not only identifying its own problems it was also coming up with solutions too. This for me is exactly where development needs to be- rather than someone from the outside coming in and dictating how the community should change.
I have loved the variety of tasks that I have been able to get involved in here. I have given ICT training and technical advice- it gives some idea of how much people here have to learn if they are coming to me for the technical advice! I have worked with lecturers, teachers and students as well as the college management and local government and have enjoyed every interaction. I have built desks and planted trees and all this was just my day job!
If anyone were to ask the secret of my success here though, I would have to concede the glory to the people I have been working with. They have been open to new ideas, new ways of doing things and trying them out to discover what works for them. They have gone out of their way to involved me in the community and to make me feel welcome. There is no doubt that it is their effort that has made all of this possible and, as I reflect, I realise the part I played was really very small in the grand scheme of things, but I am glad that I have been able to make my little contribution to sustainable change in Adola and Ethiopia.