Safia Ama Jan risked her life by running an underground school for girls from her home in Afghanistan during the reign of the Taliban. Later, as the director of women’s affairs in Kandahar province, she worked tirelessly to champion efforts to get all Afghan girls back into school, and to provide professional and vocational training for women. She was shot and killed outside her home in Kandahar on 25 September, 2006.
A month ago I wrote about the global war on education, but I used that phrase as a figure of speech, not in reference to a literal war. Since then I read a new report from UNESCO about deliberate and strategic attacks on schools, teachers and students. That report is the source of the quote above.
The report, Education under attack, cites armed attacks on schools, assaults on teachers and students, and forced recruitment of child soldiers, as acts that specifically target institutions of learning; "general daily violence" such as that between students and teachers is excluded.
Specific data from 13 countries is presented, mostly from countries affected by armed conflict. It is reported that "up to 40 per cent of the 77 million or more children in the world who are not attending school can be found in countries affected by conflict". A summary of the report, with a link to the PDF document, can be found at Eldis.
I just realized today, after reading a myriad of posts in dozens of blogs reporting on the NECC and BLC conferences in the US that, with one possible exception*, I have never met another "edublogger" face to face.
This week, thanks to some new social networks at Ning, I've met online some Argentine edubloggers (none from Catamarca yet), and one from Guatemala (I'm waiting to see if she's from anywhere near Tacaná). These connections, and the possibilities they hold, amaze me every day. Some would even say the world is getting flat.
The world looks flat to some people because they are on the rooftops of high rises, waving and cheering to each other across the gaps; closer to each other than they are to the people on the ground floor of their own buildings.
To carry the metaphor further, visibility at ground level is so bad that people can barely see across the street.
While a relatively few people are becoming ever more connected, there are still millions who never go to school. I have known adults who did not know how to look at a photograph or how to dial a phone. I have known children who died of diarrhea and adults who died of measles. I have known women who didn't know if they were widows, because their government wouldn't tell them. ICT? Information at that level is scarce, communication is paralyzed, and technology is busted.
This isn't about guilt. It's about the frustration I feel that, in spite of all the talk about bridges, the bridges are connecting like to like. I don't want to give up the technology we have, and I don't think we should. Yet at the same time we can't leave so many behind. Sure we need bridges, but we also need elevators, chair lifts, moving sidewalks. We need to connect vertically as well as horizontally.
*a friend who blogs mostly on politics, occasionally on school politics.
Here's a piece that I missed in the Turkish language media: a Turkish punk band performed a song that criticizes the excruciatingly competitive 3-hour exam all university hopefuls must take, and which decides their options for where and what to study. The song ended up on (where else?) YouTube, and now they have been taken to court for insulting Turkey.
So far I haven't gotten into trouble by disagreeing with the exam policy via this blog (such as here and here), but then the association which governs the network of schools where I work has been far more vocal than I with their Hayat = 195 Dakika mı? campaign (in English it means, roughly, Is life defined by just 195 minutes?).
That campaign has picked up steam and many organizations have adopted the slogan. However, they are up against a billion dollar industry of prep courses and prep books (and not a few psychiatrists) that feeds on the fear of failure, so in spite of the anti-exam rhetoric of the politicians campaigning for the election here on Sunday I don't expect much change any time soon.
I'm just hoping the court case doesn't lead to another YouTube shut down. What would we do?
Asombrose un portugués
al ver que en su tierna infancia
todos los niños de Francia
supieran hablar francés.
"Arte diabólico es,"
dijo torciendo el mostacho,
"que para hablar en gabacho
un infante en Portugal
llega a viejo y lo habla mal
¡y aquí lo parla un muchacho!"
(translation at the end of this post)
The last two posts were a little bit of fun with the Turkish language, but with some serious thoughts behind it. First, a story.
I remember many years ago while living in Guatemala, hearing a surprising comment from a local friend who had traveled once to the United States and was amazed to see there a parrot that spoke English! For him, it was normal for parrots to speak Spanish, and it had never occurred to him before that people in other lands teach their parrots differently. Anyone who has studied a foreign language as an adult has probably had a similar reaction when seeing for the first time small children speaking with no effort that same language that adults struggle with for years, and can never get quite right.
Just yesterday I was on a bus, listening to a mother and five year old son behind me. The little boy made almost no grammatical mistakes even though he was using some pretty complex constructions. Not only does Turkish pile lots of suffixes onto words, but the vowels in each suffix change according to the vowels in the root of the word! That's totally bizarre to us foreigners, but this little boy had it down pat. He even showed some objective awareness of his own language, since he was talking about Spiderman, and conjectured that "spider" meant örümcek and "man" meant adam (he was rıght).
Likewise, in my travels and experience with an unusual assortment of languages, I have noticed different ways in which native speakers relate to non-native speakers. It seems that the more people see foreigners with differing ability speak their language, the more the native speakers learn to adapt their behavior to facilitate communication. Conversely, the fewer foreigners there are who learn a language, the more difficult it is for a native speaker to understand the foreigner's problem. After all, their language is the normal one; it's only foreign languages that are different.
In touristy areas in Latin America, people readily speak more slowly and adjust their grammar for me, since they can tell I'm a gringo from a mile away. In Turkey, though, many people don't slow down or simplify their statements even when I ask them to (the ones who do slow down tend to be bilingual). In fact, one time a Turkish gentleman refused to answer a question I asked in Turkish, because he automatically assumed I was speaking English. In a village in western Guatemala where I worked for a while among speakers of a Mayan language, I was the only non-native speaker most folks had seen, and since this was the first time they had seen anyone shred all vestiges of sense out of their language, I became a sought after source of entertainment for the villagers on market days -- all I had to do was talk!
I wonder sometimes in discussions about what education should look like in the 21st century, with schools and classrooms and everything 2.0, if we digital natives and digital permanent residents aren't a little too hard sometimes on those who haven't had as much contact with us foreigners (can I call them digital tourists?). Maybe we need to step out of our assumed roles and stop thinking for a moment that we're the normal ones. How can we bridge those paradigm gaps and learn to live with other kinds of normal? Perhaps by speaking more clearly to the "recent learners' among us when we're the majority, and learning and serving with humility when we're the minority?
At the rate technology is changing, I wonder how many of the tools and approaches we advocate now will be obsolete in 10 years, and yet some of us who are at present in the vanguard will insist that we keep using them because they are the norm: Twitter? But teacher, that is soo 2008!
As promised, a (not so poetic) translation
A Portuguese man was surprised
To see that in their tender years
All the children in France
Already knew how to speak French.
"This must be sorcery" he said,
Twisting his moustache.
"For a child in Portugal
To learn to speak French,
He'll grow to be an old man
And will still speak it badly,
Yet here even a small boy speaks it!"
We have a winner! In my last post I posed a linguistic puzzle, which was solved by clever reader Jane. Well done! For the rest of you, the second clause in the first sentence was made negative by inserting -me after the verb stem. And yes, native speakers also think these words were kind of long, but not outrageously so. I've observed native speakers many times stop in the middle of a word as they think about how they are going to end it.
Jane had the great idea of adding a sound clip so you non-Turkish speakers out there could hear what those megawords sound like. So I asked our IB secretary Hande to give us a reading, and this is what we got: Download mukemmel_1.mp3
Even though she reads Turkish very quickly, I thought I detected a slip. We listened together, and sure enough, she said
which is, like, a totally different word. Well, sort of: before the notorıous -me negator suffix she had inserted an -e-, so that the word comes out meaning one of those whose houses we were not able to perfect. So here is the recording of the sentence as it was printed:
Here's the morphology of the word (and just remember this is automatic for native speakers):
mükemmel : perfect, awesome (borrowed from Arabic), can stand alone as an adjective;
-leş- : a verb aspect which denotes process, as in becoming awesome
-tir- : causative aspect
-me- : negative
-dik- : past participle
-imiz- : first person plural genitive case
-den- :ablative case, here like the partitive case
-mi- : yes/no question marker
-siniz : second personal plural nominative case; many old school Turkish grammarians tack the 'misiniz' onto the previous word
If you're curious about less studied languages, see this blog post from a few months ago:
When we moved to Turkey eight years ago I had the advantage of prior study in several languages, and actually achieved competence in a few, so I'm particularly interested in how people learn languages. However, I've been immersed in Turkish long enough to occasionally forget how amazing it is that for native speakers this language actually sounds normal. Then I get a jolt like this flier my wife brought home a few days ago.
Turkish grammar is fascinating for its adherence nearly without exception to its many rules, but since word formation and grammar are almost complete the opposite of English (although occasionally it's more like inside out), you have to learn a lot before you can use even a little. In the case of this document, for example, an adjective accumulates enough suffixes to change it into a verb, then a participle, and then into a full fledged dependent clause.
The flier is an advert for a home decor store, and the first sentence reads, Are you one of those whose home we have perfected, (or) are you one of those whose home we have not perfected?
Knowing that much, can you figure out how the second clause was made negative?
I've known about SlideShare for a while, but am just now trying it out on this blog, to compare with making slideshows in Flickr. SlideShare is to PowerPoint presentations what YouTube is to video. You can upload your presentations and others can view them on the web, download them, or embed them in a blog, like I did here. If you're reading this via an email subscription, you might have to go to my blog site to see the slideshow.
PowerPoint can be dangerous in the wrong hands, but maybe sites like this where people can vote and add comments, might encourage more people to learn to use it as a communication tool instead of a stun gun.
Last weekend the new iPhones went on sale, and several of the bloggers I read regularly rushed out to be among the first to own one (or two), and publish their reviews. Around the same time I came across a news item from Nigeria about a school that has joined the One Laptop per Child Project (OLPC).
The news from Nigeria was that the Galadima Primary School in Abuja was without electricity so students could not power up their new laptops. I visited the OLPC wiki and left a message to follow up on this, and got a nice response from Walter who said, as I expected, that the OLPC is certainly aware of power shortages in the countries where they work, and have strategies for many alternative energy sources, including hand cranks like the ones shown above.
It's not clear to me why the news article did not go one step further to learn about these alternatives, but it was ironic to me to read, just minutes apart, about basic infrastructure problems in Nigeria and then about a new iPhone owner complaining that it takes too many screen taps to call his wife. It's always interesting to me to see what becomes important when the truly important things are taken care of.
The OLPC features what some have called the "$100 laptop", but which actually costs around $175. These are real computers --not toys-- and they have Internet connectivity, built in microphone and camera, a swivel screen, and the capacity to store hundreds of books (click on the image to enlarge).
I'm not saying people definitely should not buy an iPhone, but we can encourage them to consider an opportunity to divert some discretionary funds to change someone else's world. At least check out the photos and student work here before you decide.
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