What’s happening at work?

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Office Party

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What’s happening at work?
It’s a while since I wrote about my work. The last time I touched on it was last year so time to get up-to-date.
My main work has been office based – a change for me and not where at I’m at my best! The REB (Regional Education Bureau) asked me to do some finding out about teacher motivation. Feedback through the various channels told of dissatisfaction amongst teachers. The “finding out” turned into a piece of research – a first for me.
Step one was to find relevant reading material to get some background. Googling and fishing about led me to some interesting reads like previous publications by VSO, DFID (Department for International Development, UK) and even one produced by the Reading based CfBT (Centre for British Teachers). They were the most useful and described many common issues in sub-Saharan African countries.
Next came designing research materials and questionnaires, deciding which schools to choose and planning interviews. I chose two local urban schools and two rural schools, these a good eight hours away by road so a contrast with Mekelle. The interviews were with individual teachers in each school, then additional teachers in focus groups, plus the head, chair of School Association, as well as curriculum, local and regional advisers. All quite an undertaking. The interviews were done by last June (with the help of a translator) and since then I’ve been pulling the data and information together.
That’s when my headaches really started! For various reasons (including language and costs), I wanted to work independently, but not being an Excel whiz-kid, that was a challenge. Luckily I came across “Survey Monkey”, a web-based survey/data analysis program. It took some time working out how to set it up but once I got there I’ve enjoyed using it. A prerequisite is however, reliable Internet. That’s something I don’t get at work, so doing all the data entry whilst I was in the UK for the Olympics was a win-win.
Since my return in September I’ve been having fun discovering all the different possibilities of working with Survey Monkey – and have any number of Excel figures to choose from to demonstrate results. I’ve steadily worked through the analysis, drawn conclusions and just finished the recommendations and been surprised at how long it’s taken me to get this part done.
It turns out that more teachers are positive than negative and the biggest cause of negativity is very poor pay. They have had a small pay rise since the interviews, but as inflation is high it’s still a cause of dissatisfaction. Quite a few of the differences between the UK and here have become apparent. One is the trend of teachers continuously moving from remote /rural areas to towns. The rural schools had almost no teachers over 30, and most had already worked in three or four schools, with numerous transfers. Another feature is the system for appointing for teachers and head teachers. It is more like the French system than the UK, where teachers and head teachers are allocated to schools rather than appointed and selected locally. This isn’t always satisfactory and means some schools are without head teachers for periods of time, leaving unprepared and sometimes reluctant deputies leading the school. The criteria for a deputy and head aren’t necessarily merit. I met one deputy with only two years’ teaching experience and he left a lot to be desired in terms of commitment and staff inspiration.
Despite the limitations, there has been tremendous progress here in developing the education system, all of which has more or less taken place in the last 20 years. Imagine the massive infrastructure of teacher training, school building and equipping to provide for all pupils.
Now the report is finished I’m faced with another IT challenge – getting to grips with all the sophistications of MS Word, like the clever ways of entering the table of contents, citations, bibliography, lists of figures /tables etc., as well as getting the chapter numbering to work properly.
Whilst the research into Teacher Motivation has been the common theme of my days, there are quite a lot of other things going on too. For example, this week I’ve just finished working with the office “Gender” expert deciding how the Bureau will mark International Women’s day in March. Many families actively discourage girls from remaining at school after 15, preferring them to stay and help at home in domestic roles. We will invite a panel made up of schoolgirls, teachers, education experts, members of the regional women’s association and the women’s affairs bureau to a discussion forum with the REB staff. Seems yours truly will be speaking. Refreshments and the obligatory coffee ceremony will be part of the session, and it looks like we will go for a “first” and invite men to volunteer to take the coffee round – yes! – that could cause shockwaves through the place! Thanks to a fundraising offer from a UK friend, this will be followed up later by another forum where female university students will feed back on how well or badly they have been prepared for university, letting the bureau know if there are other things we can do to prepare girls for university.
Later on I met the person responsible for Climate Change education, a new addition to the Environmental Education curriculum. This is just being rolled out through teachers’ Continuous Professional Development and will be introduced to schools soon. We may again link with an interest from the UK, through PAWS, the Pangbourne sustainability group I belong to. Jackie Hoskins, who leads the education section, wants to do a Skype session on Climate change awareness raising between here and schools in Pangbourne. It’s ambitious, but could be good – we’ll see what happens.
Lastly, I have been liaising with an American Peace Corps education volunteer over the last few weeks. This has been to help her prepare for a two day conference in Mekelle for all the Tigray Education Peace Corps volunteers. Today included a tour of my offices and tomorrow I will join their conference for a presentation on the teacher training programme here.
VSO has a volunteer committee and I’m the rep for the north. I’m really pleased that, after a degree of pressure, funds have been found to hold a national conference for all the Ethiopia volunteers. Like most things, you don’t get much notice and there’s exactly 4 weeks to do all the preparation – finding a venue for 150 to fit the budget, plus the rest of the logistics like getting people there, as well as drawing up the programme. Venue found! A run down lakeside resort in the south – and it’s the only lake in Ethiopia safe for swimming. We still have 2 ½ weeks to go, so there’s a chance it will come together. Again, a UK friend has helped by sending workshop stationary like flip charts and pens and post its. Thank you!
Work isn’t all work and no play. Last week there was a sort of holiday, but it seemed we were expected to get to work for lunchtime. It was a celebration of the anniversary of the foundation of the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) 38 years ago. This local organisation was the power house behind the overthrow of the Derg, a struggle led by the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. The office insisted that John come too and we were duly treated as privileged guests. So privileged that there was no refusing our turn to lead a dance. Mmmm. I think I’ve said before that music and dance are a big part of any celebration here and our efforts caused much amusement. I’ll include photos, but just to explain that many dances involve everyone going round in a rough circle, with energetic shoulder movements. Men often dance with men and a scarf is a pre-requisite for anyone dancing, so men also tie women’s scarves around their hips. It all seems quite normal now! Wonder what will feel normal when we get back?

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