Archive for the ‘Teaching in Ethiopia’ Category

Sinble School Observation

On Tuesday, May 22nd I visited Sinble Elelmentary School to observe three Grade 1 classes.  The purpose of the observation was note the class size, resources and dynamics, as well to look at the teaching styles being used by the teachers there.  The plan is to use the information gathered during the observation to organise something to give the teachers new ideas for teaching activities and ways of constructing resources to use in their lessons.

Grade 1 (A)

the ‘super teacher’ that everyone has hopefully had

Student-centred teaching is utilitarian.  It can be used to train new teachers, and the students can benefit from these types of activities because they are learning from each other.  The idea is to avoid boring classes taught from a textbook by an unenthusiastic teacher.  But nearly everyone can remember a teacher that captured the attention of the class in a way that was not boring.  This type of teacher just seems to belong in the role:  a sort of mother hen type figure.  This was the atmosphere in the first Grade 1 class that I visited.  I am not sure if it would matter if this teacher had any resources at hand.  She would have had the class engaged all by herself.

Obviously she was a very experienced teacher, and I think she just switched to an English lesson so that I could watch something I could understand.  There was a lot a choral drilling and the volume of the answers was deafening with 50 students in the room.  The students really enjoyed taking the roof off the place.  Then it was the students turn.  They would come up to the front and lead the class in the choral drilling of body parts and basic classroom items.  They would ask ‘What am I doing?’ and then perform some sort of action.  This may sound like pretty straightforward stuff, but there are a lot of classrooms where the teacher just writes on the blackboard or reads from a textbook, and the students are just expected to write.  It was refreshing to feel the energy in this classroom.

After these drills and performances were complete, individual students would come up to the blackboard and write the alphabet from A-Z.

The classroom seating was arranged into groups of 5 or 6 students facing each other.  There were about 9 of these groups spaced throughout the classroom.  The classroom had the English alphabet and the numbers 1-100 in posters on the wall of the classroom.

Grade 1 (B)

hamming it up for the camera

The lesson in this class is not being conducted English, and I believe the lesson content was about the properties of water.  Despite my limited understanding of Amharic, it was fine to observe the activities of the teacher and the students.  Once again, there were about 45-50 students and the seating arrangement was the same as the A-class.  The classroom teaching resources were also the same, with the ABC`s and numbers hanging from the classroom walls.

The teacher roamed through the desks talking and asking questions.  The students were responding to his questions.  Asking questions of the students is considered to be a new, active learning method by some.  In comparison to the teacher just talking, never asking or accepting questions, and expecting students to take down notes, it is a step forward.

I felt a bit intrusive in this lesson as about half of the class was staring at me at any given time.  The teacher had the attention of the students immediately around him, and all of the others stared at me at the back of the classroom.  When the teacher shifted his position to another part of the room, a new staring crew would start their shift.

Grade 1 (C)

This is a tough one to write about because the lesson was about Amharic grammar.  The teacher has a national curriculum to follow and the students are expected to be mastering Amharic from an early age.  Amharic is not the lingua franca of the local population, who are Afar and speak Afaric.  Amharic is spoken by a lot of the shopkeepers, and bureaucrats who come to the Afar from Amharic speaking parts of Ethiopia.  Certainly anyone who wants to get a job in Ethiopia will need to speak Amharic, and any skilled job requires literacy in Amharic.  But Ethiopia`s literacy rate is not that high.

The gap I feel most comfortable filling in Ethiopia`s education sector is in student-centred pedagogy, but my biggest impression walking away from this class was in the gap in inclusive education.

It was just one observation, and I do not know the students or the curriculum/administrative demands placed on the teacher, but here is what I saw.  There were 45-50 students in the class.  75% of the students had notebooks.  In the back corner of the class were 5 children that were dressed more shabbily and looked dirtier than the other children in the class.  None of the students in this corner had notebooks or writing materials.  It struck me that these students were grouped together, some with their heads down, whispering to each other and not paying much attention to what was going on around them.

There was an Amharic grammar point written on the blackboard, and the teacher explained the grammar point.   The students sat and listened to the explanation.  Two were called to the front and asked to read the sentences aloud off of the blackboard.  Two or three students were writing the sentences off the blackboard into neatly organised notebooks.


The way forward, I believe, is to try to present a lesson in a way that really concentrates on what the students will be doing during the lesson.  Each lesson that I observed was on a different topic, and it is impossible to deny the effectiveness of the first teacher that I saw.  But student activity in each of the lessons was nearly identical.  They were always focused on one individual:  either the teacher or some teacher appointed reader / writer / performer.  The majority of the class was expected to listen, write, or answer questions from the focus person.  Students did not interact with one another or have a chance to learn from one another.

The need for this type of cooperative learning can be justified from at least two perspectives.  On the one hand, Vygotsky’s theory of ‘social constructivism’ says that students will learn from more capable others when given a chance to work independently in groups.  The other perspective is that the ability to work in cooperative teams is an overarching demand of the 21st century job market.  If neither of these reasons are compelling enough to encourage the teachers here to try out new methodology, there is always the fact that the Ethiopian Ministry of Education demands that they do so.

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overlooking Awash River

Busy times in the VSO world.  It had been ingrained into my mind not to expect things to move quickly.  The message was that if volunteers spent the first half of a placement cultivating trust so that something could be accomplished in the second half then that placement could be considered a success.  But things here move along at quite a good clip.

On the College ELIC (English Language Improvement Centre) front, I have created a levelling system.  This consists of a baseline speaking test, and an analysis sheet to use in assigning students to a level.  This allows for students to join an English conversation class that is appropriate to their level.  It also gives students the opportunity to see which skills they need to work on in order to improve their English.  The results have been digitally stored in student profiles and will be kept on the ELIC computer.  In this way, College staff will be able to continue utilising the system after my departure.  This is capacity-building in the Ethiopian education sector.

At the moment, workshops run by ELIC are only available to language majors.   The plan is to expand the availability of ELIC workshops to all departments by using the same levelling system.   A science student will be able to attend ELIC workshops and will have a better notion of how the ELIC services can be of benefit.  Students will be able to choose whether to attend a Basic, Pre-Intermediate or Intermediate ELIC class or workshop based on a level of achievement received after completing the baseline test.  The College is excited to expand the services of ELIC to students from the various departments.  Installing this system will exponentially expand the number of students that receive help from the centre.

In addition to coordinating the ELIC at the College, I have begun managing a project funded by the Guernsey Overseas Aid Commission to build a Girls’ toilet and improve the library infrastructure at a local primary school.  This week I met with local education officials to select an appropriate school.  We visited the school to ensure there was space for a toilet and to have a look at the library facilities.  The principal signed on for the scheme.  Next week I will be in Addis Ababa for an ELIC conference and will deliver the paperwork to the VSO Programme Office in order to release the funds.  Then I will monitor the progress of the project, collect receipts and write a report for the funding organisation.  The toilet and the library should be completed by the summer.

location of new toilet

library to be upgraded

library study area

Asaita College of Teacher Education is also working with some NGO’s.  One is called the Development Expertise Centre from Holland.  It is funding a 5 year project to train teachers in student-centred pedagogy.  The College will be supporting teachers in its cluster to help them gain proficiency in student-centred pedagogy.  My role as Cluster / In-service Trainer will be to assist the teachers with taking a student-centred approach to learning.

Finally, I take part in the College’s Higher Diploma Programme.  This course is a prerequisite for all teacher trainers at colleges and universities throughout Ethiopia.  It can be summarised as a crash course in Western pedagogy, and would be familiar territory for any teacher.  The first time the programme ran here it was facilitated by a VSO volunteer, but then one of the course graduates took over as facilitator.  I attend mainly because it is a good way to get to know the teaching staff at the College.  Small group work is how the course runs, and there is lots of opportunity for good professional discussions about teaching with some really committed instructors.  Sometimes I facilitate a section of the module, but the intangible ‘building professional relationships’ seems to benefit the most.

Higher Diploma Programme participants engaging in some active learning

This wraps up my update.  Thank you to everyone that has sponsored my work here.  I believe that the fundraising is 72% complete.  If you feel like you can contribute, please click on ‘Brian’s Fundraising Page’ in the right hand tool bar.  If you could ‘Share’ this blog on Facebook, that would be appreciated also.  Trying to spread the word about the type of work being done in Ethiopia is part of my mandate.

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