They say that, “Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach”.

Does it follow then that those who can’t teach…teach teachers?!

Well that’s what I’m doing here, folks 😉

The programme I’m working on is called the HDP- Higher Diploma Programme.  It is a year-long in-service training programme for teachers and the aim of the programme is to improve the standards of teaching and learning in Ethiopia.


In the University where I work, the HDP is in its infancy having only started 6 months ago.  Previous to the start of the HDP here the only training new University graduates received was a three day induction course on “how to teach” after they initially secured the job.  That is to say that having done a 3 year BA in their subject area, let us say, English Language, they arrive here at the ripe old age of 21 or so and are expected to then become teachers of English Language themselves to students almost the same age as them having never taken any course on teaching 😦

As you may well imagine, this is an unsettling and uncomfortable beginning for the teachers especially if they have no background in pedagogy whatsoever, not to mention the woeful effects on the students 😦  The teachers are let loose in the classroom (nay thrown to the wolves) and in the words of Declan Moffat, “the beshta luck to ya”.

As a result, most of the classes are lecture style and consist of the teacher writing notes on the board which the students then copy:

“a process in which information passes from the notes of the lecturer into the notes of the student without passing through the minds of either.”

When I first heard I was to be placed as an instructor in a university I felt more than a little uneasy.  As a young teacher, I felt a bit of a fraud and wondered how the lecturers would cope with being schooled by a young foreign upstart like me.  But as it happens I didn’t have much to be apprehensive about.  The lecturers welcomed me with open arms, most of them being younger than me (even some of the faculty deans are younger than me).  Whatever disadvantages this may have, the overwhelming advantage is that the lecturers are receptive, enthusiastic and dedicated to their professional development.  They are interested to learn about the theories of teaching and learning, willing to experiment and fully participate in the course.

About a month after I arrived here I interviewed most of the candidates as per the requirements of the course.  The last question I had to ask each of them was if they had any criticism of the course or any suggestions for improvement etc.  One of the candidates pondered this and then said that he really appreciated my arrival because previously the course had been very theoretical, eg exposing the candidates to Active Learning Methods by way of a two-hour lecture on the subject (which is surely an oxymoron if ever there was one!)  His genuine appreciation made me smile and I thanked him before he added,

“You are like a spice.  You make it more delicious!”

Hahahahahaha! Fair play to him!

Here are some other things they said in interview,

Each afternoon we train the teachers for two hours in the use of various teaching methodologies and the like and the rest of the time is taken up with classroom observations, project work and the planning of the programme.  The course takes up four hours out of the candidates’ teaching week so it’s quite a considerable undertaking on their part with “homework” also.

Not surprisingly therefore, the HDP (Higher Diploma Programme) is fondly renamed by the hard-pressed candidates as the “PHD” or alternatively as the “Human Discomfort Programme”.  😀 This in turn is part of their Continuous Professional Development or what is better known here as “Continuous Professional Disease”!

I have to say I find it easy to sympathise with them because the year I put down in Cork doing the HDip was truly one of the worst years of my life juggling the demands of a teaching job for the first time and a full time college course.

And so while from time to time they do grumble about the demands of the programme mostly they are very appreciative of the course and the knowledge and skills they are developing along the way.  It is always quite heartening to see their genuine reaction to the different methods we use although in the Ethiopian context they are far better able to talk about the methods than to execute them themselves, something which we are trying to overcome.

A fellow volunteer recently told me a story illustrating this point which I will title, “When Active Learning goes wrong” and I haven’t stopped laughing since.  While on a monitoring visit to a local school the volunteer was delighted to see on the teacher’s plan that she had incorporated Active Learning into the lesson.  Wonderful!  Less talk, more action!  There was to be a role play…on the Digestive System.  Now, as you imagine the children acting out a scene of belching, farting and the breaking down of food by enzymes and bacteria etc, I’m sorry to tell you that’s not the way it went.  In actual fact the teacher’s idea of what role play is was mercifully different to what role play really is and so instead of this she had each of them stand in a line with a given “role”.  Their job was to take a step forward in turn and explain to the class what their role was in digestion.  For example, the first child was “the mouth”.  The child was wearing a hat with the word mouth attached on in English and on cue, took a big step forward and parroted off loudly, “I AM THE MOUTH!” and then gave a few lines about what the mouth does.  The second child, wearing the oesophagus hat, roared out, “I AM THE OESOPHAGUS!” and so on…until the last little girl in the row, who presumably drew the short straw, roared out, “I AM THE ANUS!”

She was even wearing a little hat with the word “Anus” on it!!!!  Heavens above tonight!!!!

These people need our help!


2 responses »

  1. Hey, I had never taught before my VSO placement! Though VSO gave me a crash course in teaching in Harborne Hall and I had lots of experienced teachers as fellow volunteers (many of them were running HDP too). Love the story at the end 🙂

    Melkam Fasika, by the way, I trust you ate copious amounts of injera & doro wet today!

    • Enkuan abro aderesen! I am full of “tibs” mostly which is not a bad feeling after two months of shiro 🙂 Do ye celebrate it now that ye are at home in Ireland? x

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