“This is to help you set up an Internet in your town” (Friday, 2010 June 18)

June 19, 2010

Today I found the "tech sessions" (the lectures that teach us how to be education people rather than simply people in Cameroon) especially frustrating. I’m not exactly sure why. I mean, there are certain obvious things, like the material…

The Organization uses a format called 4-MAT to plan all our lessons, and mandates that we use it in ours as well. 4-MAT structures each lesson according to Motivation, Information, Practice, Application. In Motivation, presumably we are given some kind of motivation for why we are learning the things we are learning (today: lesson planning in a test-driven system), but generally it starts off with some random question that has nothing to do with anything. They also list some "objectives", which are typically things like "Trainees will be able to reverse-engineer the four different syllabii"[1] or whatever. Then there’s the information, which may consist of writing a table of facts on the board and expecting us to copy it. Then finally there is practice, which consists of stupid exercises or other forms of cockduggery, and then at some nebulous future we will have "application".

[1] One syllabus for each educational system, naturally, and two more for the exams. Bonne chance!

Today we learned how to phrase SMART objectives using the fashion of Kirkpatrick education principles or some other fucking thing. Additionally we discussed teaching techniques, and learned what makes each one not applicable to our circumstances (many students, few resources). Cool story, bro! We also looked at a lesson plan for class 3 of a computer course, where the objectives were "Students will be able to turn on a computer and, using the start menu, turn off a computer". OK, I get it, we have to start slowly! Sure, these people have never used a computer before! But this isn’t fucking rocket surgery! Do you take a whole day of driver’s ed to turn the car on and turn it off again?

And on top of the shitty material, there’s the shitty instructor — I won’t say instructors, since it’s really only one — who drones on and on, doesn’t understand the questions we ask, and has very little in the way of engagement or strategy. Maybe that makes him an excellent instructor by Cameroonian standards. But I want to do something more.

Some people went to the bar afterwards, but me and Allison (and also Karen, who is in another group) had a language class, since our classes had been cut short by a soccer game earlier in the week. (Cameroon lost to Japan 0-1. Go Lions.) So instead we spent an hour studying French. The ICT person who I respect the most here hasn’t been able to get the USB key/modem things to work in Linux (and he claims not for want of trying).

So all in all, it’s still a lot like college. The homestay coordinator is going to do room inspections next Saturday, just like an RA in a dorm. Ça va un peu.. ("It goes a little")

Claude convinced me to go running with him this morning. He estimates we ran 3 km, which isn’t bad for a start, but really it’s him that ran 3 km and me who stopped to gasp for breath and limp the rest of the way. Additionally I went to draw water from the well (not the well by our house, which is only for washing the floors, but another well nearby which is "more clear", although we still only use it for washing ourselves). Little Vladimir is sick; Astride tells me it is a pulmonary infection (which I think means lungs, right?) and they are staying at the hospital overnight.

I miss Gus. I ate all my chocolate (please send help) for fear of attracting insects (or, more for fear that they’d get to it first). We took a survey of who has what games and Jenny asked me to bring Pandemic next Thursday (Thursdays are "recess", although they just call it "dead time after the general meeting when people can run around and play sports or whatever"). And, birthday paradox be praised, we have at least one shared birthday in our group. I was trying to discuss my doxy-tan with my family and they suggested the word "noircir" ("to blacken") instead of the more prosaic "bronzer" ("to bronze") or "tanner" ("to tan"). I’ve had a runny nose lately (which is weird — haven’t had any allergy attacks per se) and I’ve been wiping my nose on the kerchiefs I’ve brought, which naturally enough smell like chalk, but at least I don’t smell like mold any more. I go too long without shaving because shaving in a bucket bath is not awesome. All in all, good times.

There are still one or two questions I haven’t figured out for myself yet. Is it more sustainable to teach Linux or Windows? (Assuming that Linux is "harder", but also more open.) If our goal is to improve the educational system, how much do we kowtow to it? (This 4-MAT bullshit is not for our benefit, and it’s certainly not for the students’, so by process of elimination it must be for the benefit of the inspectors who "verify" what we do.) I guess all in all I’m having a little bit of a crisis of faith. I told myself going in that it would be possible that my (admittedly specialized) skills may not be as useful as the more general skills that a developing nation might need to learn and a volunteer organization might want to depend on, but I’m just not used to an environment that not only doesn’t demand my best, but actively suppresses it. But maybe it won’t be so bad when we get to post. Speaking of which, us education trainees should discover that next week or so.

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