Teacher Tuesday Week 7: Mosammat from Bangladesh

If someone told you there was a floating school in Bangladesh, you’d immediately begin to questions its logistics and structural integrity. If someone told you there was a floating school in Bangladesh that featured computers with internet access which were powered exclusively by solar panels, you’d think they’d begun to confuse reality with a Terry Pratchett novel.

However, that is exactly what is happening as you’re reading this. Mosammat Reba Khatun is 40 years old and lives in a small riverside village in Bangladesh. For the past ten years she has been teaching Bengali, Maths and English on Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha’s floating school on the Gumani river in the Pabna district in northwest Bangladesh. In total, the school teaches 90 students between six and nine years old. Almost two-thirds of the pupils are girls.

It may seem like a bizarre and fantastical notion at first but the rationale behind Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha’s floating school is quite logical. Mosammat tells us that “flooding is a major problem in Bangladesh. In the monsoon season, at least a third of the country is affected by flooding which isolates entire communities and means children can’t get to school so we thought ‘if the children can’t come to school, the school will come to the children’”.

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha was a 2012 WISE Award winner (World Innovation Summit in Education, Qatar). You can find many more details, including videos, about the solar-powered floating schools on the WISE website.

Because the school is mobile, it is able to travel around villages in the remote river basin where it makes port. This means that the teachers within the school can discuss and converse with local parents easily. As if the case with much of the developing world, Mosammat tells us “the children under age 5 are malnourished and infant mortality rate is high. Girls are not allowed to move around freely.  We meet with the parents monthly to encourage them to send their children to school regularly…as a result; the rate of early marriage is reduced” The fact that the school doubles as a means of transport enables wider communication, a truly novel and innovative idea.

The solar-powered nature of the boat means that technology can be used aboard it The latest EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4  notes that technology as an excellent means of disseminating information not only for pupils for also for teachers, the internet provides an excellent platform for teachers in developing countries to take a self-guided approach to their development. Macmillan Education have released TeachPitch, a free, global teacher-learning platform for teachers global to continually self-improve.

Despite the yet untold potential of technology and internet in developing communities, it seems there will never be a substitute for a caring, dedicated teacher. Mosammat finished her interview by saying “I decided to become a teacher because I love children and wanted to help them towards developing a better future,” Mosammat told us. “I think teaching is a gift of a lifetime. It has given me immense opportunity to give back to my community, help poor students to access to school, and impart positively on children.”

With the right attitude, a good deal of determination and even more innovation, Mosammat is helping deliver education to children in spite of natural and cultural barriers, she is a paragon of pedagogy and a trailblazer of global education.


Teacher Tuesday Week 6: Cees from The Netherlands

cees7Until now, Teacher Tuesday has focused on countries that are still developing and learning how to produce good teaching structures and what is conducive to an effective educational system.

So today we observe the other end of the spectrum. Not only what are triumphs of teachers, schools and systems in the worlds’ most ‘successful’ countries in terms of education but also what problems are they facing? This week, we spoke to Cees, a history teacher from the Netherlands.

Dutch pupils are consistently among the highest performers in the Organisation for Economic Collaboration and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) with 15-year-olds scoring higher than average in literacy, mathematics and science.

I find it difficult to answer why the Netherlands are doing so well because what do grades mean?” – …To which countries did you compare?’ Is Cees’ first reaction when he is confronted with the statistics regarding exceptional performance in Dutch schools.

There are a number of reasons Dutch and North American/Western European education are successful, including:

Class sizes: Cess teaches several classes with an average size of 26. Many studies have shown that smaller, more focused classes are integral to a well-structured learning environment. This stands in opposition to the stories of Margaret and

Professional Development: Every year, Dutch teachers have to fill out a professional self-assessment, therein they have to set out their points for development and goals. Their head teacher goes through this with them and puts them on development courses tailored to their specific needs. Cees says ‘A teacher can spend anywhere between 5-10% of their work time on professional development’. By investing in its teachers, the Dutch education system is providing quality teaching for its students.

Feedback from pupils: All Dutch teachers are formally evaluated by their pupils. This accountability forms part of the basis for their professional development and constant self-improvement.

Pupil-centralism: Much of the Dutch education system is pupil-centric where pupils are in charge of their own education journey and teachers teach cooperation, self-motivation and how to learn as well as the topic they cover.

These are just a few examples of strengths within the Dutch education system. However, it is not without its own criticisms. There is an internal argument that this education system is ‘too standardised and designed to do well in international rankings such as PISA but which does little to address the needs of the individual pupil.’

This notion is exemplified by OperationEducation, an organisation in the Netherlands dedicated to individuals finding their own strengths and talents in a holistic manner, rather than being represented as data on a page. OperationEducation claim ‘We need a different definition of ‘excellent’ education’ and point out the need to find a means of expressing achievement that doesn’t come in the form of an education certificate to make a ‘valuable contributions to society’

Cees says he is ‘really hopeful about technology helping us to improve the organization that is needed to implement student-centered learning. Last Friday we had a mind-blowing presentation of the Dutch educational entrepreneur Bob Hofman that introduced ‘Peerscholar’. This computer program is a very good example of how teachers will be able to help students really reflect on eachothers’ work, and which will improve their responsibility to their own learning process. Less focus on grades and more on the content and the reflection of how they are learning.’