Tag Archives: education

School Girl’s Blog Feeds Thousands!

(from NPR)

Scottish school girl Martha Payne is just nine, but she caused a national kerfluffle last week when she was told she could no longer publish photographs of her school lunches on her daily food blog, NeverSeconds.

Martha began blogging in April about the quality of her school lunches, with the help of her father, David. Each day she posts a clear photograph of a meal, and rates each one on its taste, health, price and number of pieces of hair that turn up in the food (mostly none).

She also started accepting photos from other kids who’ve taken snapshots of their school lunches. Martha won the support of chef and food activist Jamie Oliver and, to her delight, of fans who contributed increasing amounts of money to her food charity, Mary’s Meals. The group sets up feeding projects for children in developing countries.

However, her occasionally unflattering descriptions of her own meals didn’t please the local Scottish governing council. Last week, officials told Martha she couldn’t publish images of school lunches anymore. That’s because a newspaper article described Martha’s efforts under a headline that read, “TIme To Fire The Dinner Ladies”, according to the BBC. The council objected, saying school lunch workers were now afraid for their jobs and that Martha was only photographing one lunch item out of several offering.

The camera ban lasted less than a day.

The local council faced a “storm of protest on the internet”, says the BBC. Council chief Roddy McCuish quickly released a statement lifting the ban, praising Martha as an ‘enterprising and imaginative pupil’ and insisting that censorship had no place in the council.

The brief censorship had a remarkable effect. Millions of people visited Martha’s food blog to voice support for her and then chose to donate to her hunger charity. Martha’s now helped raise more than $146,000, enough to build a full kitchen at an elementary school in Blantyre, Malawi, according to the Guardian. There’s enough money to feed the school’s nearly 2,000 pupils for a year.

Martha writes: “Mary’s Meals asked me what I would like to call the kitchen and I said ‘Friends of NeverSeconds’ because if it was just me I would never have managed to raise enough but now we have!”


Pressure Cookin’ Kids

According to a new documentary being promoted on CNN, America’s youth are under too much pressure.

Are we truly “educating the creativity out of our children?”  And even if we were, would shutting down AP programs at high schools actually work toward preventing stress and promoting creativity?

Check out this interesting interview with a documentary film maker, former Wall Street Journal lawyer, and mother of a stressed out kid, courtesy CNN.

Personally, with the exception of one time at a very young age, I never felt pressure from either of my parents to perform with greater intensity than I was already exhibiting.  Most of my motivation came from somewhere within.  I found all the time I needed to perform in all the college pre-requisite categories, as did most of my friends.  Then again, we were growing up in Hawaii, where everything feels easier – not a bad side effect of paradise!

Certainly there must be alternative approaches we can enlist to promote well-rounded successful students in the States, without forming ulcers.  Modernising the language used in the home and school is one general method mentioned in the short interview.

How about visualization, breathing and secular meditation techniques?  Just how open would schools be – private and perhaps even public – to scientifically-proven methods in reducing stress?

And just to provide a little musical background, some classic Queen . . . UNDAH PRESSHAH . . .

Classroom Window

Go on, take a peek!

Ever wonder what a kindergarten classroom in the Western Region of the UAE looks like?  Well, if you have, you’re a part of a very niche group of people, I can assure you!

It’s always fun to have a window into the lives of people we know and love, or just some random stranger who happens to be doing something you’re interested in.

So, without further adieu, my KG1B children introducing themselves . . .

The kids are generally about four years old and they’ve gone from wetting their pants and crying for mommy, to answering simple questions in English, and testing twice a semester.  It’s not an easy curriculum for the wee ones – integrating all the English and Math vocabulary with hands-on activities has been a challenge, especially in the face of a rather ambitious pacing chart.  But we’re having fun and learning together.  Every day gets a little easier.

And a little more interesting . . .

The kindergarten classroom is setting the stage for these kids’ futures.  And some of the scenes are rather entertaining!

Take, for example, the little rascals who happen to be a bit bossy, always standing up, not necessarily paying attention to the lesson, they’re smart when they try, but usually they’re trying to tell some other kid what to do.

As teachers, we put these kids into leadership positions for two reasons: 1. It keeps them from getting into trouble.  Much better they’re passing out pencils than smacking their neighbors upside the head!  2. Ever heard the phrase, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?”  Definitely applicable here!

What’s funny, is these kids are likely going to run countries or big companies when they grow out of the drooling stage.  They’re power hungry, they get into things, they need to be in charge.  So what do we do?  We vote for them!

Then there’s the Nerd Alert of the classroom.  Don’t get me wrong, I love these girls – and yes, they are just about always girls – I may actually have been one of them at some point in my academic career.  They know all the answers, do more than they’re asked to, and even finish early.  But what do we give them in return, besides a “good job!” and a sticker?  Extra work!  I say with nothing but hope, that this kind of student will eventually find their way back into academia where they can continue to … do more work!

I’ve already mentioned the uncanny parallels between some of KG kids and boys I’ve dated in the past.  There’s the masochistic charmer and the starry-eyed dreamer to name a few . . .

And then we have the Shadow Teachers, that rare breed of super bebe that embodies all we’re looking for in a student: smart, sociable, confident, respectful, creative.  This kid’s got it goin’ on.  What’ll they grow up to be?  Anything they want!

We’ve lost a few kids on the roster these last few weeks because the UAE asks foreign residents to pay for their kids to come to public schools.  Some parents simply can’t afford it, especially if they’re supporting their other children through school, not to mention the fact that Kindergarten isn’t compulsory.  An interesting topic for debate there, perhaps at a later date when I’m not actually living under Big Brother’s watch.  😉

So goes another week in the desert.  I’m still writing lotsa yoga-related articles, and just got one accepted by Elephant Journal for online publication (yay!).  More on that to come . . .

Til next time x

I Believe the Children are the Future . . .

. . . teach them well and let them lead the way . . .

We ARE the New School Models

This year, the Abu Dhabi Education Council announced the launch of the New School Model, a long term plan that puts UAE students at the center of a multi-faceted bilingual education, aiming to make use of “the real wealth” of the UAE – an educated human resource.  By placing teachers from Canada, America, Ireland, the UK and South Africa in KG-3 classrooms, the government is aiming to produce students with the knowledge and experience necessary to make them global leaders not only in the oil industry, but in all innovative industries of the future. For the New School Model, ADEC has recruited 1,405 native English-speaking teachers out of 50,000 applicants world-wide(Lucky us!)

The opening ceremony at the ADEC meeting in Abu Dhabi, attended by over 6000 educators, admin staff, specialists and dignitaries.

Putting Things Into Perspective

Before the discovery of oil, there was very little development in the UAE, and no compulsory educational system to speak of. In 1962, when oil production started in Abu Dhabi, the country had just 20 schools for less than 4,000 students, most of them boys. Lacking the necessary infrastructure for development (hospitals, proper housing, airports, etc.) as well as qualified human resources, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, former UAE President, certainly had his work cut out for him.

The discovery of oil provided the necessary finances to improve the education system. This was a top priority for the president, whose approach was summarized in the powerful statement: Youth is the real wealth of the nation.

Since then, the UAE has come a long way.  Working with the Women’s Federation, they’ve increased literacy amongst women from 30.9% to 77.1% (as of 1998) – beating out a 73.4% literacy rate amongst men.  And as of 2008, the overall literacy rate was up to 90% – amongst youth aged 15-24, the numbers soar to 98% (Unicef).  And all this can be attributed to strong leadership from the top down, efficient allocation of funds and a sharply focused implementation strategy.

New Schools for New Challenges

The New School Model is simply the latest in the country’s vigorous program to increase reliance on human resources over oil resources.  At the ADEC meeting this week – attended by over 4000 educators, including myself – the Director General of ADEC, Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, announced a goal of 40% reliance on oil by 2020, compared to the current rate of 60% reliance today.  The hard cold obstacles educator would face were presented with transparency:

  • The UAE has an average school year of only 142 days – 50% of the highest scoring nations in education
  • An increase of 150,000 students by 2018 translates to a need for at least 150 new schools
  • Many non-urban regions in the UAE severely lack the funds or infrastructure to provide a quality education to their students
  • 350 million dhirams (about 1 million US dollars) must be invested to provide internet access to all schools in the UAE
  • To address these issues, ADEC is working closely with many private companies, like my employer, SABIS, to ensure the model is implemented in an efficient and thorough manner.

“The model focuses on the engagement of students and cooperative group activities. Children are encouraged to learn through play, problem solving and creativity,” Rhian Johnson, head of faculty and adviser for cognition education at Umm Habebah School, explained.

Video from the inspired presentation on ADEC’s New School Model.

Creativity, Leadership, Teamwork

The curriculum focuses on these dynamic human qualities (rather than a simple linear focus on ‘technology’ or ‘grade point average’), putting students in groups with academic and managerial leaders to keep the activities moving along smoothly.  Detailed pacing charts and materials are provided, giving the teachers time to focus on the effective delivery of the subject matter.  For KG classes, local teachers will be present to ensure behavior is kept in check and group games executed without wasting any time between language barriers. Results from frequent testing are recorded electronically and analyzed on a regular basis to ensure the students are best benefitting from the classes.

Dr. Lynne Pierson, ADEC’s Director of P-12, presented the key elements of the NSM and its implementation phases.

Although most of the native English-speaking teachers are enthusiastic about the program, the New School Model could look more than daunting for the local teachers whose classrooms are being invaded by men and women often with much less experience under their belts.

“The program looks great in a Power Point Presentation – and the teachers at my school have been incredibly welcoming,” says one of the ADEC hires, “But the actual on-the-ground process is delicate.  Some of these teachers have been in Emirati classrooms for 15 years.  They know the kids, they have their own system.  And we come in, some of us with only a few years of teaching experience, and we’re supposed to be in charge.  I can see how it’d be a tough situation – at first.  But there’s been a lot of cooperation.  We should be able to find our middle ground to achieve the big goals.  And we all know it’s in the best interests of the kids.”

The government is aiming for 90% of the workforce to be local UAE residents by 2020 – which means teachers like myself are here to implement, model, and hit the road.  That being said, for high-level education, pronunciation, career-specific English and the finer points of grammar and writing will certainly still be subjects native-speaking teachers could present.

My Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

With a comprehensive education system for boys and girls and free education for nationals in governmental schools, colleges and universities, the UAE hopes to become a major competitor in academia – the sooner the better. The private education sector is constantly being improved and some offer foreign language education in English, French, German,Urdu and a Chinese program with a waiting list of 1200 students.  Green schools are popping up all over the country, complete with solar panels and recycling program – 50 of these green schools are set to be completed by August.

“It is wonderful to see the initiatives ADEC implemented slowly, but surely, coming to fruition. We are proud to see Abu Dhabi’s educational landscape positively shifting and our students reaping the benefits of years of planning and dedication from everyone involved,” said the Director General during a visit of public schools this week.

Watch this space for updates on how things are looking on the ground!

And for making it all the way to the bottom of this article:

More photos of the event: