Support the English teacher/soldier in Afghanistan!

Paul Park is an English teacher from Saskatchewan who has just been shipped out to Afghanistan on a task force with the Canadian Armed Forces. He is blogging about his experiences from his perspective for the benefit of his students.

Dean Shareski shares an email from Paul that was sent out to the teachers.

If you are a teacher who is interested in having your students follow Paul’s blog, please consider having them read and comment on his posts. They are fascinating and heart-breaking at times; what a terrific way for our students in developed nations to have a first-hand glimpse of the struggles of innocent students and civilians in a war-torn developing nation.

Please consider leaving a comment for Paul – he has left behind family, friends, and safety to serve people in a faraway land who hope for a better – and peaceful – tomorrow.

On my way to South Africa with Teachers Without Borders

Teacher and Students from Fezeka

I have mentioned to many of my friends in the last two or so weeks my exciting news! I am accepting an invitation to accompany Noble Kelly (prez of TWB Canada) and some others with Teachers Without Borders to South Africa for a few weeks this summer.

This morning, I had the great privilege of skype conferencing with two teachers and an advocate in South Africa along with Noble (who was in Vancouver). It was quite exciting to hear their passion and excitement about some changes happening in their school in Fezeka (a school that has been given support through Education Without Borders in Vancouver), in the townships of Cape Town.

They are in a most challenging situation. I want to share with you part of an email one of their advocates sent me this morning to describe the conditions there.

Teachers at Fezeka in Gugulethu township just outside Cape Town tell me that:

A- Of the 1150 students at the Senior Secondary school this year, some 70% of the students are from single parent families

B- Average unemployment in RSA townships is of the order of 44%

C- The teachers usually play the role of :
1 Social worker
2 policeman
3 nutritionist
4 nurse
5 councillor, Only then are they able to get on with their true teaching Role.

Life Skills orientation is taught instead of the older Careers counceling.
The issue is that the teachers are out of touch with the ever changing needs of commerce and industry.
Township schools are still deprived in many ways due to the legacy of apartheid.

We try and practice a policy of “Hand up not Hand out”.

Family sizes are still very large in township rural black communities with 5.5 children not being unusual among the less educated.
Of the 50 million South Africans, we have approximately 10 million illiterate people, So here one can already see the link between high unemployment and the illiteracy rates.

When school finishes at 2.00pm the children are often on the streets so that they are influenced by all the negative role models of gangsterism to the issues of violence, alcoholism, drugs and sex.

We have a large job to do over the next 5 years if we are not to let the bad influences succeed in taking over from the good!

Expectations are high and service delivery by many government departments has been shoddy to say the least. So this results in much frustration especially on the part of the township inhabitants.

My source for this information also pointed out that no provision by the government has been made for after-school activities that might spare the students from seeking out the negative lifestyle choices (gangs, drugs, etc.). He also mentioned that the incidents of rape of the young women are very high.

There are many who want Fezeka school (today the teachers I spoke with were teachers there) who are passionate to create a different future for their school.

The Fezeka school choir has already attained international recognition for its choir; now they want to provide support and professional development for their teachers so they can use the two computer labs they have onsite in the school.

Today we discussed the possibility of setting up mentoring relationships between teachers abroad and teachers in South Africa and creating partnerships between classes of students.

(If you are interested in partnering with a class in South Africa for grades 10-12, almost all subject areas, please let me know!).

I have an ambitious vision about creating a system to bring together teachers for mentoring relationships – more on that as the plan crystallizes!

Please enjoy the youtube video which shows the dedication of the teachers and students at Fezeka!

Use of multiple literacies in province-wide exams in Québec

Each June, grades 6 and 11 graduating students take a province-wide standardized exam in English. Last Friday, I, and the language board consultants from the rest of the province, were the first to take a glimpse at what this year’s exams look like. The folks from the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS) provided us with a 2 hour presentation of their exams and evaluation situations.

I was very impressed.

Not a multiple choice question, fill-in-blank, or short answer question in sight.

Of course, that hasn’t been the case for years anyways!

What was remarkable to me about the exams and evaluation situations was that they used multi-media, multi-modes, and multi-genres of the presentations of the texts. One of the evaluation situations created was based on the issue of how much technology is taking over our lives. Students are expected to make written responses in a forum that is to be considered an online forum. Social networks, blogs, forums and instant messaging environments are explored and even used as vehicles for communicating some of the text the students will use as they make their responses.

These exams and evaluation situations will be given to thousands of students in our province. In a sense, this will force teachers to become a bit online-savvy so they can appreciate the extent of the issues in the evaluation situations.

I am really proud of our very hip folks over at the ministry!