Posts Tagged ‘Teacher education’

Asaita College of Teacher Education has a number of primary schools in its cluster.  Student teachers from the College do their teaching practicums at these cluster schools, and College Instructors have to visit the schools to assess how the student-teachers are progressing.  I asked to accompany the College Instructors on their journey.  These schools are not easy to get to, and have not been visited by VSO volunteers in the past.  It was a great opportunity to see what the conditions were like for teachers and students at remote schools.  The school invited me back to conduct lessons using student-centred pedagogy next week, so I’ll be returning to teach class there.

It’s hard to capture words to describe this school’s location.

Mamole PS

There is one paved road in Asaita that comes in 50kms from the the main Djibouti-Addis highway.  Most of Asaita’s shops are located on this one main street.  If you follow the road all the way through town it stops at Asaita’s southern edge.  Right at the end of the paved road there is a busted up World Vision complex.  It was ransacked by rioting students from the local high school last year when a teacher asked a student to stop reading the Koran in class.  This was taken as a slight against Islam and the anger amongst the students ended up being directed at a Christian organisation that was seen as proselytising.  So now, the end of the road has something of an end of the world feel to it, and it was, up until this visit, the farthest I had walked.  The unpaved road continues on for another 50kms towards a group of salt lakes straddling the Ethiopia-Djibouti border.

When you drive into Asaita, the scenery is sand, sand sand.  One is left wondering why anyone would build a town here, let alone one that is considered to be the spiritual home of the Afar people.  There are a few patches of green with enough branches for camels to munch on.

between Asaita and the Djibouti-Addis highway

out the unpaved end of Asaita

Driving through this desert is the only way in and out of Asaita.  The other side of Asaita has the Awash River Valley.  It is a breadbasket.  The river is irrigated for farmland, and allows for the growth of trees.  The drive to Mamole PS was in a 4×4 with this scenery on either side of us for about 10-12kms.

Eshetu was off to observe student-teachers

The 4×4 was unable to take us right to the school because of a washout, so we had to trek the last couple of kilometres through some cornfields.  There is no electricity after the pavement ends, there are no farming vehicles, and there is no fertiliser.  It is just old school farming.  The crops get harvested with a sickle.  On a side note, the Awash River Valley is where the remains of Lucy were found, though quite a bit upriver from here.  Nevertheless, this valley has supported human settlement for a looong time.

the result of our recent rain

It has been raining a bit here over the last couple of weeks.  Usually it begins with a dust storm, followed by some amazing lightening.  Then the heat breaks and there is some temporary relief with the rain.  Drought would mess up this whole farming operation, so I am glad that the rains have come as scheduled this year.  This tree was filled with pretty yellow finches.  Birds are absent from Asaita, and it was really nice to hear their voices.

Grade 1 class at Mamole

The Grade 1 class was very well-behaved.  A little too well-behaved.  I always expect some attention-seeker to wave and say hello.  This group stood to attention.  The note-taking skills needed to succeed in the university style lecture taking place were not in abundance, but there was no disruption.  The students had notebooks and writing materials, but the school has no library, no teaching resource room, and no electricity.  Teaching Grade 1 is not exactly my forte, but I think that I can offer some ideas about getting the students to do something other than listen to the teacher and copy notes from the blackboard.

Teachers’ dorm

In addition to not having electricity, there is no public transportation.  So the teachers live on campus from Monday-Friday and trek into Asaita on weekends.  Cooking is done with charcoal.

It’s a bit strange interviewing teachers about their jobs.  I’m not sure how to ask questions such as, ‘What are some of the challenges you face as a teacher out here?’  The answer is obvious, there is no electricity,  water must be pumped and stored in the jugs visible on the porch.  When the sun goes down, darkness descends.  It is a pretty tough gig.  Lost in the photo is the heat.  The school will shut at 1pm, and the students will return to relatively cooler mud houses.  This ‘modern’ concrete building will heat up like an oven.

school cafeteria

Education is not highly valued by traditional Afar families.  In an effort to increase school attendance, the school offers lunch to the students.  This is prepared in the building pictured and dished out to students on break from class.

One picture that I wish I had taken was of the back of the 4×4 when we hiked back out to the main road.  People will take transportation to town whenever it happens to come along, so we drove back with about 25 people piled into the back of the truck.  On our way back the driver offered to stop at a local plantation where he knew the owner.  There were bananas and dates growing there.  Everyone piled out of the truck for a look around.  It was a really nice garden, and is where lots of wedding photos are taken.

most of Asaita does not look like this

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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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It is early days here in Asaita.  The first few days have been spent touring around my College and the local area.  I have been busy performing administrative tasks such as opening a bank account, learning my way to the College and trying to avoid getting lost in a warren of little mud houses.  But here is my place of work…

Asaita College of Teacher Education ELIC

Welcome to Asaita College of Teacher Education!  This building is the library and it houses the English Language Improvement Centre (ELIC).  I will take over as the ELIC Coordinator when the current volunteer finishes his placement in the next couple of months.  The ELIC is currently housed in the College library, but efforts are underway to move the ELIC to a part of the College not designated as a quiet study place.  The staff in the library is very strict about the noise levels and the location is not really conducive to speaking English.

The ELIC will engage in activities to strengthen the capacity of English teachers in the Ethiopian education system.  Student-teachers will attend English classes and be introduced to student-centred approaches to teaching English.  Likewise, the instructors at the College will be encouraged to attend lesson designed to promote student-centred pedagogy.

dusty-foot philosopher's walk

This is the walk to work.  Mud is the most common construction material.  Whilst mud may not be the most attractive of building materials it does come with the advantage of being cool.  My concrete house releases its heat at night, so I sleep outside to avoid the oven which is my home.  It is February here, but it is heating up.  Afternoon temperatures break 35 degrees.  Electricity has been off most of the past 3 days, so there are no fans; only shade.  The adage ‘but it’s a dry heat,” does not apply.

school Vice-Principal in front of new girls' toilet block

This picture is of a school toilet block.  The school is part of the cluster associated with the Asaita College of Teacher Education.  There is a lack of toilets for girls in Ethiopian schools, and this contributes to the dropout rate among female students in Ethiopia.  The volunteer that I am taking over from has been overseeing the project to build this toilet.  Asaita really is the edge of humanity.  Ethiopia is a poor country.  Asaita is in Ethiopia’s Afar region, and it is considered to be one of the poorest parts of Ethiopia.  The teacher’s college where I work does not have any toilets for men or women!

out of service classroom

This is the old school.  It has recently been replaced, but it has not been out of use for more than a couple of years.  Obviously there is a lot of work to be done here.  This classroom will be of limited use for achieving what Canadian teachers would call effective learning.  Keep in mind that the students have no money for school supplies and the teachers are not supported with more than chalk.  Girls are often married before they are 15.  They are often betrothed at a much younger age.

new school with a new girls' toilet

This is what the school looks like today.  It is a simple concrete structure.

local students


Though it was a Saturday, these students were hanging around the school.  They were eager to be photographed and had some serious poses well-rehearsed.

So begins my needs assessment for Asaita’s education sector.  The list is going to be long.  And getting the schools and the College the resources that they need will likely be fraught with challenges.

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