August 23, 2015 By
August 16, 2015 By
“Don’t waste inspiration” – Salman Khan (founder of “Khan’s Academy”), “The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined”
With the recent release of CAPE and CSEC results, pretty much everyone’s mind is on education and schooling. And it all got me to thinking about a 2011 TED Talk by Salman Khan (the founder of Khan Academy, NOT the Bollywood actor). I used Khan Academy a lot in high school and I still use it now in Med School.
The beauty of these videos (apart from their clear and concise explanations) is that you can pause and repeat specific portions as many times as they want. There’s just no escaping the fact that everyone learns at his or her own pace. The current classroom, with its one-size fits all method of teaching, just doesn’t account for that that fact. But in our pedagogical model, teachers don’t really have a choice- they’re given a syllabus to cover and a specific number of hours to cover that material. If they’re conscientious, they’re constrained to teach at a particular pace, never mind the actual needs of their students.
That’s why Khan’s “Flipped Classroom” idea is so attractive and why some schools in the US are already using it as part and parcel of their curriculum. The gist of the concept is that kids look at the videos at home, and do the traditional homework at school instead. This way, students can actually learn the material at their own pace at home and the classroom time can be used by the teacher for productive one-on-one time with the student, instead of the usual passive session where the teacher talks at 30 students. The in-class sessions can be interactive, productive discussions of the concepts covered.
The Khan Academy site shows dashboards in which the teacher can pinpoint exactly where each of their students is progressing, where they’re lagging and precisely what concepts they’re struggling with. And then they can hone in on those concepts and work with the student on those particular areas.
While it’s true that in the current classroom situation, a student is free to just ask the teacher to clarify the topic they’re struggling with, from what I’ve seen in school so far, that doesn’t always work out quite so neatly. First off, when would the students ask the teachers? During class time most students don’t want to interrupt the session to hold back the rest of the class. And they would be holding back the class: students who’ve already understood the concept would just be sitting twiddling their thumbs.
And there’s precious little time outside of the classroom Most teachers have different classes throughout the day so it’s impossible to track them down outside of the class.
This is probably why loads of students turn to extra lessons for help.
In many school, every couple of weeks we get tested as a part of our coursework grade. And whether or not a student gets 70% or 95%, the class moves on to teach new concepts. But the thing is, the new concepts usually build on the concepts taught previously, especially in subjects like math. So if a student only has a 70% understanding of the concepts taught before, their foundation will be extremely shaky.
Sites like Khan Academy test you until you score that 100%;until you have a complete grasp of the topic. And then the following topic builds on the previous one.
In Guyana, the one-laptop per family program already offers the platform for this type of e-learning.
Frankly, I believe that the KA approach is the wave of the feature – you learn at your own pace and you choose how to internalize and interlink concepts to broaden your knowledge base. Especially for a country like ours where we have a shortage of good math and science teachers, the approach is going to be revolutionary.
August 9, 2015 By
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”.- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
With the change in administration, there’s inevitably been announcements to change both the content and method of teaching in our schools. “Inevitably”, because one has to justify “change”, if nothing else.
I’ve been in school for the past 15 years of my life and having been in school for that length of time (I’m beginning to see a faint light at the end of the tunnel!!), I’m also beginning to see teachers falling into two broad categories. Some go about their jobs like they truly love what they’re doing – teaching is a “vocation”, while others seem to just go through the day – teaching is an “obligation”.
But no matter what their teaching attitudes or stance, we do learn a lot from our teachers – and not just the curriculum. Teachers teach more than just Science and Math and all the other “subjects” – they teach ethics as well. While you may have the weekly one hour of “Pastoral Care” as I did at Queens, where ethics is taught explicitly, they also do so via a more powerful medium – their actions. Their behaviour impacts their students strongly. And of course, it’s always best to lead by example, so we’re most likely to do as our teachers do, rather than as they say. How will the new administration get teachers to change their habits?
On reflection, my current value system is a melange of what I’ve been taught at home and whatever modifications my experiences have forced me to make – with me spending a third of my time every day in school learning from teachers and peers.
And I realised how damaging it could’ve been if I had no counter-values to teachers whose values and ethics standards that were not solid. What about teachers who throw things and scream at their students, calling them names, belittling them? If a student didn’t have a strong personal value system or positive role models, they could easily accept that sort of behaviour as being okay, or acceptable. And they might carry over that type of behaviour into adulthood in their professions and personal lives. Nowadays, the whole field of ethics has been turned on its head by a school of thought that says the validity of our knowledge (epistemology) is contingent on the ethical framework in which it is imparted.
Our teachers as a consequence have great power; they have the most interaction with us, especially during our young, impressionable years, when we’re still forming our opinions of the things around us and deciding how we want to fit into society.
The new Minister of Education should therefore place more emphasis on training teachers in their role in moulding the values of their students through their actions.
Values like the importance of confidentiality and the importance of privacy could be emphasized by the teachers so that when the students leave the school system, they’ll be able to function like adults that are capable of respecting the persons they interact with.
Other values like the importance of accountability, punctuality should all be established as being important from a young age. Teachers that violate these tenets in their classes do damage beyond the details of the “subject” not being covered.
Our teachers can hold great sway over how we might turn out at the end of our tenure at school; they could be the difference between whether we become successful professionals, or whether we go about our jobs in a very unprofessional manner. We need a solid foundation in professionalism, and our teachers can give us that, hopefully by their actions and not just their words.
August 2, 2015 By
Yesterday, August 1st was Emancipation Day! Slavery was abolished over 180 years ago. Yet oftentimes I wonder what has happened to the promise of that seminal event.
In Caribbean History we spent a lot of time learning about conditions on the sugar plantations during slavery and after Emancipation. It was a descent into horror. We learnt about plantation society, about sugar manufacturing and we even had to build models of a typical plantation.
Most horrifyingly, we learnt about the slave trade, and about the terror of the Middle Passage which, when contraposed against the societies from which the slaves were snatched, becomes an object lesson of “man’s inhumanity to man.”
I loved reading about the societies and culture that was already established in West Africa, about the Kingdoms like Dahomey and Ashanti and about the Oyo Empire. There Were so many rich cultures, religions and art. I got lost in the stories and legends of the Akan religion.
When the Africans were brought to the Caribbean, they weren’t allowed to practice anything of their own culture. They weren’t even allowed to have families. They were forced into Christianity of which the Spanish version had determined that they had no souls and could therefore be enslaved. After they were freed and it was conceded they MIGHT be human – but had to give up their own religions and adopt the Europeanised Christianity and all its anti-African biases.
They were forced into a European social structure, where they would always be inferior striving to be what they could never be- white men and women. Never mind that they already had their own well-organised social structures for hundreds of years. Their “we” rather than “I” centered of Ubuntu would address much of the anomie of western society.
But what I really can’t imagine is what it would’ve been like living like that, being treated as being less than human. As chattel – someone’s property to do as they please- even inflict death on a whim.
One of my favourite heroes in WI history was Toussaint L’Ouverture. To have a man – born a slave – take on the full might of one of the greatest European powers of the day, for the right to be free, was awe inspiring. He was indeed an “Opening”: the eventual independence of Haiti showed the path that every other colony had to walk. But yet we hear ad nauseum about the American and French Revolution and their impact, but never about the Haitian Revolution.
I mean lots of people have the notion that you have to move on from your past completely in order to have a future. But that idea completely disregards the point we are our past: we are, in a word, our consummated past. And this is not just the past of our own short lives, but the past that has been transmitted to us.
History shows how families, countries, laws and institutions are formed, how they evolved and why certain ones have survived while others ‘bit the dust’. If a nation is just defined by its present- how shallow is that? Look at how much our country and our people have survived and suffered through and yet we’re still afloat. We need to be aware of our past. We need to be aware of our heroes, of the adversities we overcame. We need to remember our heroes like Cuffy and Quamina and all who followed on and off the sugar plantations.
Think about how those who came before you struggled and fought for their freedom and how lucky we all are now, to be living free. We’re not enslaved, we’re not indentured: we’re living free, so it’s inexcusable if we don’t work hard to give ourselves the future we want- the shackles are off.
As our own West Indian prophet Bob Marley sang, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.”
Happy Emancipation Day!
July 26, 2015 By
When I was in primary school, my mom used to regularly douse my hair in coconut oil. I hated the smell and I hated the feel of the slippery oil on my hair and the inevitable tendrils of oil that would snake down my neck. When it was time for my hair to be soaked in oil, I pouted, I whined and I cried- you know those tears of anger and frustration that spring to your eyes when you know you’re being deeply wronged.
As I got older, my mom eventually caved to my whining and I no longer had to suffer through the horrors of the coconut oil hair treatment. Of course, for some odd reason, my hair was no longer as silky, smooth and luxurious as it used to be. Whether my callow mind just didn’t realize that it was the coconut oil that’d moisturized my hair, or whether I was just too stubborn to admit it, I’m still not quite sure.
But time marches on and there I was, my first year of med school, not quite pleased with my hair- still a bit too dry for my liking. So I hopped onto the Internet for a remedy to my ailment and angst. And lo and behold! All of the beauty gurus and hair wizards were extolling the virtues of coconut oil. “No!”I thought, “Could it be? My nemesis is to be my salvation?”
I came to grips with the truth of my situation and on my next visit, I sheepishly asked my mom to procure some coconut oil for me. To her credit, she didn’t say, “I told you so.”Just like she didn’t when I admitted that she was right about cod liver oil, vitamins and so many other things.
But yeah, though it might seem like it so far, this article isn’t about the trials and travails of my hair. It’s like the title says- it’s about coconuts. They’re everywhere! Coconut oil is being pushed as some sort of miracle liquid. They say, “Use it for you hair! Use it as a body scrub! Cook with it! Use it to remove makeup! Use it to heal sunburn!”And on and on and on the list goes on.
And imagine the Americans had convinced us a while back that coconut oil wasn’t healthy for cooking. And our local coconut oil industry collapsed under free trade in U.S. and European “vegetable” oils. After they had to reverse themselves, they then went into market the very same coconut oil!
Yes, we still manufacture some coconut oil, but unfortunately most of the ones I’ve seen aren’t as “pure” as the ones on the international market. Just the other day in Survival Supermarket, I saw a bottle of Crisco Coconut Oil- it looked amazingly pure. We really shouldn’t be importing that- we should be making that right here at home and exporting it!
Coconuts really do have a lot to offer- coconut water being one of my favorites. There’s not much that’s more refreshing than a tall, cold glass of coconut water on a hot day. And it’s good for you! It’s chock full of electrolytes and it’s healthier than sports drinks because it has less calories and sodium. And the branches of the coconut trees are used to make brooms! Coconut milk is used in cooking in so many cultures. Conkie, anyone?
And we have so many coconut trees in Guyana! We really need to do more with them. We should capitalize on everyone going gaga over coconut oil and market it like that. Make soaps, lotions, hair products- the whole 9 yards. And coconut water! Why are we importing canned coconut water?
The bottom line is that our entrepreneurs have to step up to the crease and the government has to provide incentives for them to bat on a more even wicket. Just think of all the jobs that’ll be created.
It’s pretty coconuts that we aren’t doing more with our coconuts.
July 19, 2015 By
“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won›t be worth a dime.” – Babe Ruth… NY Yankees
There’s absolutely nothing like cricket in Guyana. The atmosphere in the Providence Stadium is electric. There’s just so much energy pulsing through the stadium. In Guyana, we don’t ever have trouble ensuring sold-out matches and a jam-packed stadium, we›re always starved for more cricket. I›m not going to get into why we have to suffer from this «starvation» since this is a family newspaper!
It’s really a spectacle to behold when Guyana turns up for cricket- the traffic jam outside of the stadium, the throngs of people walking towards the stadium with flags in hand and the roar of voices chattering excitedly and expectantly about the match in the offing. Normally being stuck in traffic makes you bang your head repeatedly against the steering wheel, turn into the Hulk or shriek at the top of your lungs about the country needing better infrastructure to deal with the rapidly growing number of vehicles.
But seeing all of these people making the trek to rally around our team makes it really something special. We›re sharing in a mass ritual that builds nation and consolidates a people.
Stepping into the Providence Stadium, seeing our Warriors on the field, seeing the crowd wave their flags really gets your heart racing. I guess this is probably what had all those Romans screaming and showing thumbs down when their Gladiators entered the Colosseum. With my team named «Warriors», you know what role the Zouks were supposed to play in this drama!
After the disappointment of having our match against Jamaica washed out on Wednesday, the crowd was clearly hyped for this match. And our Warriors certainly delivered against the Zouks! There’s this indescribable feeling of pride you get when you’re looking at your home team play. Never mind that all of the players on the team aren’t Guyanese: they’re wearing our uniform, our colours, we feel that same sense of them being a part of our team, of being ours.
This is part of the success of professional sports in general, and the IPL and CPL in particular – taking the «club» approach and making it linked with a geographical city or region. Us humans have this built in inclination – amounting to a drive – to band into groups on very arbitrary criteria. Also these groups quickly assume the deepest “us” vs «them» feelings. There›s a famous experiment that demonstrated this process decades ago at Stanford University. It›s been made into the eponymously named movie released this year.
But I have to say, there was more than a passing twinge of regret not seeing Santokie or Guptill on our team this year. After two years, you really do become attached to certain players and start to see them as being synonymous with the team.
I was especially impressed by Ramdin on Friday night. To me his performance demonstrated perfectly the importance of having a strong, steady and calm leader at the helm of a team. When our bowlers were bleeding runs at the beginning of the match, he rallied his troops- Guyana began tightening the noose around the Zouks. As we were chasing, with wickets tumbling all around him, he kept his head, and stood firm. It was inspiring to say the least.
Despite some poor umpiring decisions, our Warriors still triumphed. We were all on our feet as Permaulhit that winning six.
There are some moments in life that are forever etched in your memory and the Guyana Amazon Warriors are certainly providing us with many of those.
So let’s wave our flags, let’s scream and shout until we’re hoarse, “Go Amazon Warriors!”
July 12, 2015 By
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill
We’ve all been forced to do group assignments at some point in our school life. Most of the time, these groups are arbitrarily assigned by the teacher. And so, without a say in the matter, you find yourself lumped together with a bunch of people, some of whom you’d love to work with and others…ummmm…you’d really, really rather not.
I’ve always had a theory (more than a sneaking suspicion!) that the groups are never really quite as arbitrary as they’d have us think. Sometimes I get the feeling that teachers deliberately assign students that don’t get along to the same group. Is it because they want them to learn to get along by having to work together? Or is because they just want to watch the world burn? Sometimes it really isn’t clear which.
I’ve never really liked group assignments. There was always this uneven divide, with some kids who actually cared about getting a good grade and others who didn’t really care one way or the other and were content to just kick back and relax. So it inevitably fell onto the shoulders of the kids that cared about their grades to carry the load of the assignment and do most (all?) of the work.
So you quickly develop survival rules. If you start off too gung-ho at the beginning, chances are that you’ll be the one saddled with the brunt of the workload. You learn to suss out the situation before making your move. You observe the other group members to see who the “try-hards” are, who “the slackers” are and who falls somewhere in the middle. And then you plan your future interactions with the group accordingly, hoping to hit that sweet spot where you’re a valuable member of the team, doing your part, while not having to carry the entire project all by your lonesome.
But even while detesting most group assignments, I still appreciated that they were a not-so-subtle metaphor for real life. As far as metaphors go, this one really whacks you round the head.
Whether it’s at a new job or in college, you’ll be stuck with co-workers or classmates that you didn’t choose. And you’ll have to find a way to work with these people to get the work done.
And if you chose to learn from your experiences with group assignments in school, you’ll find that you’re well equipped to deal with these group situations.
So here are some things I learnt from group assignments in school:
• Be assertive. If you’re being left with the majority of the work to do on your own, speak up. Tell the rest of the group in no uncertain terms that they have to start pulling their weight.
• Some people just plain suck. They just won’t listen or participate. Sometimes you have to ignore those people, get the work done and hope to never have to work with them ever again. They’ll get reality-checks sometime down the line.
• Everyone has different perspectives. By finding a way to incorporate everyone’s viewpoint, you can end up with a much better project. Basically the lyrics for “Let up cooperate for Guyana”
• Some people can surprise you. Sometimes there are bad surprises, but sometimes people can surprise you by being really efficient or passionate about the project.
• And a bunch of other life lessons that I’m sure group assignments taught me but I really can’t recall right now.
It’s impossible to avoid working with other people (I mean, it’s probably possible, but it’ll be lonely). So you have to learn to put aside your differences and just do what you gotta do. And the Winston Churchill quote above can be really applicable to group situations- sometimes you have to speak up and assert yourself and sometimes you have to be patient and listen to what others have to say.
July 5, 2015 By
“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Tomorrow is CARICOM Day! Long weekend!!! Incidentally, two “CARICOM Days” ago I had just graduated from high school. It feels like so much time has passed since then but at the same time it feels like just yesterday I was back in high school.
Tomorrow is the first Monday of July, a day set aside to celebrate Caribbean Unity. There are aspects of Caribbean Unity that I think have been particularly successful, CXC being one of the most important to me.
And after having spent two years on the Joyce Gibson Inniss Hall of Residence of the UWI Medical School at St Augustine Trinidad, among students from most of our Caribbean neighbours I developed a better perspective of how and why a unified Caribbean could be possible and necessary. The thing is we have so much in common, us and them.
There’s so much overlap with the food we cook, the music we listen to and the slang we use. It was incredible to see that all of the kids from the different islands had a version of curry that they cooked- I must’ve seen at least five different ways of cooking curries. Variations on a theme, but a theme nevertheless.
We all learnt so much about each other’s culture and I began to really understand the whole concept of Caribbean unity on not just an intellectual level, but on an emotional level. I mean, I always used to get emotional supporting our West Indian cricket team, alternating between weeping tears of joy and tears of anguish, but this past year I’ve managed to make personal connections with persons from the different Caribbean countries.
Over the past year or so, we’ve been assigned public health research projects. One of the areas my group honed in on was that of Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – with good reason because according to a PAHO 2012 report, the Caribbean region has the highest burden of NCDs in the Americas! The things that keep us together!
Non-communicable diseases, like Diabetes and Hypertension (“high blood pressure”), are those that are by definition non-infectious and non-transmissible among people. An infectious disease would for instance be malaria. NCDs are the leading causes of death and disease worldwide.
In our readings for the project, we stumbled upon the 2007 Declaration made by the CARICOM Heads of Government, “Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases”. So it was heartening that at least we were taking a common approach to this major challenge. It demonstrated perfectly one of the main reasons for us to stick together as a region, apart from sharing a common heritage and culture – the benefits of pooling our resources.
And it was interesting to read about the follow-up implementation of this seminal declaration towards which each member including Guyana made “commitments” towards achieving the original goals. At this time the declaration had been implemented with different levels of success with the most successfully achieved in the larger countries. Our own previous Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy was a key figure in placing the NCDs on the agenda of PAHO, the Commonwealth, the UN, WHO and possibly as a new Development Goal for the world. This is progress borne out of cooperation at the CARICOM level.
While there is some gloom and doom about the future of CARICOM, it is evident there has been progress in many areas. For there to be further and wider real change and real progress , it’s absolutely essential for our Caribbean leaders to work together to tackle the epidemic of NCDs and other challenges collectively. We need to buckle down and implement policies (guided by research) as a unified Caribbean.
Happy CARICOM Day!
June 28, 2015 By
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest” – Confucius
I’ve been home a month now and there is evidence that my automatic compulsion to repress any thought of Medical School is waning. Fickle mind!! I’ve been thinking about this course called PECH (Professionalism, Ethics and Communication in Health), which we have to take in addition to our medical courses.
The line is that it’s all a part of training us to become “well-rounded doctors” – not just some jaded automatons treating diseases instead of treating the actual human patient.
And although I sometimes (most of the time) rant and complain about the added work we have to do for this course, I actually do appreciate the importance of such a course. I think anyone who’s ever stepped into a hospital has had at least a few instances where they’ve had to deal with a medical professional who really wasn’t very professional at all.
Whether most of us students are absorbing the things we’ve covered in this course and will actually apply them when we become doctors remains to be seen. But at least so far, there are a few takeaways that have already proved useful.
First of all, there’s the notion of integrating work and action with the acquiring of knowledge itself – all within an ethical framework. I come from a tradition that insists that information isn’t knowledge when one hears it or even cogitates upon it and integrates it with other ideas.
It becomes “knowledge” when it is put into action. And “in-forms” you. So PECH was not entirely a novel experiment.
In our first semester, a big portion of our assignments for PECH was to write a series of reflective essays. We were supposed to select news articles, videos or even TV shows, reflect on what feelings they evoked and then write down our thoughts on the matter.
And it wasn’t that bad, except for the part where our tutors kept telling us that we needed to dig deeper and pour out more of our feelings into these essays and it all felt like impromptu (and unwanted) psychiatric sessions. Kind of an extended Woody Allen movie.
But at least the course forced us to take the time to reflect on the things around us. In this current time when the Internet is so accessible and there’s so much information accessible, so much information just filters through, doesn’t stick and we don’t think much about all of this new information.
At the time, a piece of new information might cause you to think, “Oh. That’s interesting.” You’d pause for a moment, and then you’d keep scrolling and move onto something new and probably forget about that other thing. We don’t really process and internalise much of this information.
Of course, much of it isn’t really worth retaining. And this is where your ethical values come in handy: so that you have a framework – in addition to the purely “medical” or “scientific” rules to evaluate information. I don’t think there’s a prize out there for remembering all of the details of celebrity marriages. How do you ever keep up with the Kardashians??
But some of it, you should at least try to think about how the issue might impact on you, on your life and on the people around you. It’s nice to step out of your personal bubble and take a genuine interest in the things you read, hear or see, instead of letting them pass you by.
So slow down a bit in your incessant scrolling through information. Take some time to actually read though an article and pass it through your ethical screen before commenting, instead of forming an opinion off of just a headline.
June 21, 2015 By