Archive for September 2009

The government isn’t too fond of foreigners entering migrant schools right now. Happy “60th Birthday” China.

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September 20, 2009
Eager Students Fall Prey to Apartheid’s Legacy

KHAYELITSHA, South Africa — Seniors here at Kwamfundo high school sang freedom songs and protested outside the staff room last year because their accounting teacher chronically failed to show up for class. With looming national examinations that would determine whether they were bound for a university or joblessness, they demanded a replacement.

“We kept waiting, and there was no action,” said Masixole Mabetshe, who failed the exams and who now, out of work, passes the days watching TV.

The principal of the school, Mongezeleli Bonani, said in an interview that there was little he could do beyond giving the teacher a warning. Finally the students’ frustration turned riotous. They threw bricks, punched two teachers and stabbed one in the head with scissors, witnesses said.

The traumatized school’s passing rate on the national exams known as the matric — already in virtual free fall — tumbled to just 44 percent.

Thousands of schools across South Africa are bursting with students who dream of being the accountants, engineers and doctors this country desperately needs, but the education system is often failing the very children depending on it most to escape poverty.

Post-apartheid South Africa is at grave risk of producing what one veteran commentator has called another lost generation, entrenching the racial and class divide rather than bridging it. Half the students never make it to 12th grade. Many who finish at rural and township schools are so ill educated that they qualify for little but menial labor or the ranks of the jobless, fueling the nation’s daunting rates of unemployment and crime.

“If you are in a township school, you don’t have much chance,” said Graeme Bloch, an education researcher at the Development Bank of Southern Africa. “That’s the hidden curriculum — that inequality continues, that white kids do reasonably and black kids don’t really stand a chance unless they can get into a formerly white school or the small number of black schools that work.”

South Africa’s new president, Jacob Zuma, bluntly stated that the “wonderful policies” of the government led by his party, the African National Congress, since the end of apartheid 15 years ago, “have not essentially led to the delivery of quality education for the poorest of the poor.”

Scoring at Bottom

Despite sharp increases in education spending since apartheid ended, South African children consistently score at or near rock bottom on international achievement tests, even measured against far poorer African countries. This bodes ill for South Africa’s ability to compete in a globalized economy, or to fill its yawning demand for skilled workers.

And the wrenching achievement gap between black and white students persists. Here in the Western Cape, only 2 out of 1,000 sixth graders in predominantly black schools passed a mathematics test at grade level in 2005, compared with almost 2 out of 3 children in schools once reserved for whites that are now integrated, but generally in more affluent neighborhoods.

“If you say 3 times 3, they will say 6,” said Patrine Makhele, a math teacher at Kwamfundo here in this overwhelmingly black township, echoing the complaint of colleagues who say children get to high school not knowing their multiplication tables.

South Africa’s schools are still struggling with the legacy of the apartheid era, when the government established a separate “Bantu” education system that deliberately sought to make blacks subservient laborers. Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister who was the architect of apartheid, said “Bantu” must not be subjected to an education that shows him “the green pastures of European society in which he was not allowed to graze.”

The struggle against apartheid dismantled the discredited structures of authority in education that Mr. Zuma’s government is now seeking to replace with a new approach to accountability. In those years, the African National Congress sought to make the nation — and its schools — ungovernable. Supervisors — part of an “inspectorate” that enforced a repressive order — were chased out of the schools, as were many principals.

Mary Metcalfe, who was the A.N.C.’s first post-apartheid education minister in the province that includes Johannesburg, recalled principals in Soweto being forcibly marched out of the township. After apartheid ended, Ms. Metcalfe, recently appointed director general in the country’s Higher Education Ministry, said there was a grab for “power and jobs and money.”

Most teachers in South Africa’s schools today got inferior educations under the Bantu system, and this has seriously impaired their ability to teach the next generation, analysts say. Teachers are not tested on subject knowledge, but one study of third-grade teachers’ literacy, for example, found that the majority of them scored less than 50 percent on a test for sixth graders.

But South Africa’s schools also have problems for which history cannot be blamed, including teacher absenteeism, researchers say. And then when teachers are in school, they spend too little time on instruction. A survey found that they taught for a little over three hours a day, rather than the five expected, with paperwork consuming too many hours. Mr. Zuma noted that this deficiency was worse in poor and working-class communities.

“We must ask ourselves to what extent teachers in many historically disadvantaged schools unwittingly perpetuate the wishes of Hendrik Verwoerd,” he recently told a gathering of principals, implicitly challenging the powerful South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, which is part of the governing alliance.

As South Africa has invested heavily in making the system fairer, the governing party made some serious mistakes, experts say. The new curriculum was overly sophisticated and complex. Teacher colleges were closed down, without adequate alternatives. The teachers’ union too often protected its members at the expense of pupils, critics say.

“We have the highest level of teacher unionization in the world, but their focus is on rights, not responsibilities,” Mamphela Ramphele, former vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town, said in a recent speech.

South Africa’s new education minister, Angie Motshekga, said in an interview that a lack of accountability had weakened the whole system.

“There’s a complete breakdown,” said Ms. Motshekga, a former high school history teacher.

Teacher vacancies commonly go unfilled for months, she said. Principals cannot select the teachers in their schools or discipline them for absenteeism.

Ms. Motshekga said she had Mr. Zuma’s strong backing to give principals greater authority, and would also seek to change the law so the education department could pick principals directly — and hold them accountable.

“The president said to me, ‘Minister, immediately look at the powers of principals,’ ” she said.

Here in the Western Cape, where the opposition Democratic Alliance recently came to power, the province is considering monitoring teachers’ attendance by having them send text messages or e-mail messages — in response to an electronic query — to confirm they are present.

“We’ve got to get discipline back in schools,” said Donald Grant, the provincial education minister.

Discipline for Teachers

Kwamfundo Secondary School illustrates just how critical an effective principal and disciplined teachers are to student achievement — and how quickly a school’s success can crumble if they are lacking.

For much of this decade, Kwamfundo was led by Luvuyo Ngubelanga, a commanding man admired by students and teachers alike for his strict insistence on punctuality, his work ethic and his faith in them. He prowled the corridors of the yellow brick school, poking his head in classrooms and collaring misbehaving students, making them pick up litter, sweep the halls or clean the bathrooms.

Mr. Ngubelanga, who now runs a vocational college, said most teachers are dedicated, but some could “be naughty like kids.” He recalled finding a classroom packed with students and tracking down its AWOL teacher loafing at the back of another class.

In his years as principal, 75 to 82 percent of students passed the matric, a set of examinations given to seniors that shape their life chances. But the school has struggled since he was succeeded by his deputy, Mr. Bonani. The matric passing rate plunged to 65 percent in 2007 and 44 percent last year.

Teachers and students describe Mr. Bonani as a far less forceful presence, though he says he is engaged and active. Teacher absenteeism has been a major problem.

“There’s a lot of teachers who take sick leave,” said one teacher, who asked not to be named, as it would jeopardize his ability to work with colleagues. “They are not punctual in the morning. How do we expect learners to behave if we do not behave?”

Hungry for Knowledge

Despite last year’s violent episode, students seem to feel genuine affection for their school and speak of their hunger for knowledge and their faith in education to bring a better life.

The classroom itself, No. 12A, seemed shaken awake one recent first period as 52 seniors lifted their voices in harmony. Tall, lanky young men at the back of the room pounded out a driving beat on their backpacks in a morning ritual of song and rhythm.

Even when they realized the science teacher was absent, the student body president and his sidekick, a radiantly optimistic AIDS orphan, rose to lead a review session on evolution. And when the second-period English teacher was late, they just kept on talking about Darwin’s finches and genetic mutations.

“Quiet!” exclaimed Olwethu Thwalintini, 18, the student leader. “Can I have your attention, please. Exercise 2.1.”

Murmuring voices and shuffling papers fell silent.

“List two environmental factors which make it possible for the vertebrates to move onto land,” said Blondie Mangco, 17, the sidekick, whose mother died during final exams last year.

Blondie has barely passing grades in physical science, but she believes she will somehow raise them to A’s or B’s, win entrance to the university of her dreams and become an environmentalist, a doctor or a biomedical scientist. Now that her parents and big sister are dead of AIDS, she feels a duty to be a role model to her little brother.

“He’s looking up to me now,” she said.

Later that day, Arthur Mgqweto, a math teacher, strode into the classroom, jauntily wearing a township take on the fedora called a square. He teaches more than 200 students each day for a salary of $15,000 a year. His students describe him as a friend, a mother, a father, a guide.

“He comes early every, every, every day,” Blondie said. “He comes here early at 7 o’clock and he’s the last one to leave. He’s given himself to us.”

Mr. Mgqweto grew up in the countryside during the apartheid years, ashamed to go to school because he had no shoes. He finished high school in his 30s, sitting in class with children half his age. His only son was stabbed to death at age 21 in a nearby township.

“I always explain to them, life is very hard,” he said. “They must get educated so they can take care of their families when they grow old.”

His students bake chocolate cakes with him on their birthdays. Dozens come an hour early on weekdays and for Saturday morning sessions with him. He is paid nothing for those extra hours, except in their gratitude.

“I love that teacher,” said Olwethu, the student leader. “I love him.”

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Little Boy Folding Paper
About a month ago I contacted Corinne of Stepping Stones – a Not for Profit started by her and based here in Shanghai. Taken directly from :

“The objective of this project is to assist students in migrant schools in Shanghai to gain interest and confidence in their English language abilities and to help them pass their middle school entrance examinations.”

If you aren’t familiar with the educational system of China…if you don’t get into a good middle school, you don’t get into a good high school – therefore, more than likely not passing your college entrance exam. your life is determined very early in life – it’s very unfortunate that innocent children just have to deal with the hand they’ve been dealt.

From the city center of Shanghai – it took about 45 minutes to get to the bus station. From there, I met Bernice with Stepping Stones and waited for 2 additional people with ai Community. From there, it took an additional hour to get out to the school.

You could hear the English repetition across the school yard – there are 4-6 large classrooms having class. Ages ranging by a couple of years in each room – along with attention span and studious attitudes. I did notice that the girls were paying closer attention than the boys and really trying. I was watching the behavior and games…and kids are really all the same, no matter where they live. There are little boys wrestling and punching one another in the groin while the little girls huddle together talking quietly with cute little dresses on.

I spent a couple of hours there, and you can tell through the progression of my photos, of how they adjust to my attendance. At first they are waving and jumping and a bit of obnoxiousness from the boys. I feel so bad about disrupting classes so I go sit outside during some of the class and chat with some of the kids sitting in the school yard. Between my elementary Chinese and their English – we have some pretty good little conversations. One boy is pulling needles off the pine tree and picking flowers and he asks me what it is and I tell him in English. And I also ask him questions about it, “What color is that flower?” He tells me he likes to draw. I ask him a couple of times, “What do you like to draw?” And he kept responding with “Yes”. Dang – now I know how I sound when people speak to me in Mandarin and I say “dui” – when it wasn’t a Yes/No Question. At least children can get away with that, I just seem like a moron.

The little boy in the picture above was sitting alone in one of the classrooms during break time. The two teachers are there as well. He looks up briefly from his folded paper with a slight smile, but a sense that he is very involved with his current task. “Hello” I say to him.
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Ellen”, and I walk over to him and he stands up, we shake hands (him almost handing me is left hand but switches) “it’s very nice to meet you”.
The teacher translates, he smiles “it’s nice to meet you too.”

During the last hour, some children are playing “SandBag”. It’s kind of like Dodgeball…but way more intense and you get hit by a cloth bag packed with sand/rice/something rather than a ball with air. I ask one of the guys working on the library if he want’s to play basketball with me. So after a couple of attempts, I notice about 6-8 little boys gathering around me and we start a game. Guess who is the only one to make a shot? Yeah, that’s me! I kind of amazed myself but again I was playing with little boys – some half my height. I am not sure how they felt about a girl making a basket, so I laid off and just rebounded the ball.

Eventually we lead into playing soccer – my bad – football. I have the same group of little boys, and I am kicking the ball high into the air, with 2 cameras around my neck. We play a watered down version of a game, a camera in one hand to prevent from slamming against the other. I’m running, I’m sweating…I’m having fun…what a day!

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I did not take this photo – BUMMER.5J328E7N0G5V0001

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So Wednesday, I am riding my bike to Chinese class at the Shanghai Business Center and I see one of the blue flat bed trucks loaded down with flowers. There are a couple of men unloading the packs down to the sidewalk to plant in the very small park/intersection. I have my 35mm film camera with me – but I am rushed to class.

After class, I pull my bicycle over to the side of the road and take a picture from a far. Of course, I am spotted…and it seems to be by the supervisor. He starts smiling, shouting, and waves me over. What? This is a total change of course.

So I roll my bike over to the park and one guy tells me in Chinese that he doesn’t want to have his picture taken, after “Supervisor” is smiling, making the act of taking a picture, and pointing to this guy. I ask, “为什么?“ That’s wei shen me – “why”?He then continues to tell me it’s because he is not “beautiful”. I respond that he is very beautiful. So after some chuckles, and then getting to deep into the language that I have found myself lost for words – they go back to work and I take some more pictures before heading home.

The city really opens up when you can talk the talk.

It’s moments like that and on Monday, when I was at the Shanghai Stadium climbing. There was a group of us – locals and foreigners – over in the Bouldering area. And the foreigners would speak English – while the Chinese would understand but respond in Mandarin – but us foreigners understood – but would respond in English. It’s amazing when you can carry on basic conversations speaking in your native tongue but listening to something so different.

It’s kinda cool.

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Direct Link to Article

Ladies Special train service has been introduced so far in India’s four largest cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta.

Published: September 15, 2009

PALWAL, India — As the morning commuter train rattled down the track, Chinu Sharma, an office worker, enjoyed the absence of men. Some of them pinch and grope women on trains, or shout insults and catcalls, she said. Her friend Vandana Rohile agreed and widened her eyes in mock imitation.
“Sometimes they just stare at you,” said Ms. Rohile, 27.

Up and down the jostling train, women repeated the same theme: As millions of women have poured into the Indian work force over the last decade, they have met with different obstacles in a tradition-bound, patriarchal culture, but few are more annoying than the basic task of getting to work.

The problems of taunting and harassment, known as eve teasing, are so persistent that in recent months the government has decided to simply remove men altogether. In a pilot program, eight new commuter trains exclusively for female passengers have been introduced in India’s four largest cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta.

The trains are known as Ladies Specials, and on one recent round trip in which a male reporter got permission to board, the women commuting between the industrial town of Palwal and New Delhi were very pleased.

“It’s so nice here,” said a teacher, Kiran Khas, who has commuted by train for 17 years. Ms. Khas said the regular trains were thronged with vegetable sellers, pickpockets, beggars and lots of men. “Here on this train,” she said, as if describing a miracle, “you can board anywhere and sit freely.”

India would seem to be a country where women have shattered the glass ceiling. The country’s most powerful politician, Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress Party, is a woman. The country’s current president, a somewhat ceremonial position, is a woman. So are the foreign secretary and the chief minister of the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and the new minister of railways. India’s Constitution guarantees equal rights for women, while Indian law stipulates equal pay and punishment for sexual harassment.

But the reality is very different for the average working woman, many analysts say.

Since India began economic reforms in the early 1990s, women have entered the urban work force, initially as government office workers, but now increasingly as employees in the booming services sector or in professional jobs. Over all, the number of working women has roughly doubled in 15 years.

But violence against women has also increased, according to national statistics. Between 2003 and 2007, rape cases rose by more than 30 percent, kidnapping or abduction cases rose by more than 50 percent, while torture and molestation also jumped sharply.

Mala Bhandari, who runs an organization focused on women and children, said the influx of women into the workplace had eroded the traditional separation between public space (the workplace) and private space (the home). “Now that women have started occupying public spaces, issues will always arise,” she said. “And the first issue is security.”

India’s newspapers are filled with accounts of the frictions wrought by so much social change.

Last week, a husband in Noida was brought in by the police and accused of beating his wife because she had cut her hair in a Western style. In June, four colleges in Kanpur tried to bar female students from wearing blue jeans, saying that they were “indecent” and that they contributed to rising cases of sexual harassment. After protests from female students, state officials ordered the colleges to drop the restriction.

For many years, women traveling by train sat with men, until crowding and security concerns prompted the railroad to reserve two compartments per train for women. But with trains badly overcrowded, men would break into cars for women and claim seats. Mumbai started operating two women-only trains in 1992, yet the program was never expanded. Then, with complaints rising from female passengers, Mamata Banerjee, the new minister of railways, announced the eight new Ladies Specials trains.

“It speaks of their coming of age and assertiveness,” said Mukesh Nigam, a high-ranking railway official.

Many men are not thrilled. Several female passengers said eve teasing was worse here in northern India than elsewhere in the country. As the Ladies Special idled on Track 7 at the station in Palwal, a few men glared from the platform. The Ladies Special was far less crowded, with clean, padded benches and electric fans, compared with the dirty, darkened train on Track 6 filled with sullen men. Vandals sometimes write profanities on the Ladies Special, or worse.

“The local boys will come and use the bathroom on the train,” said Meena Kumari, one of the female ticket collectors in flowing blue saris who patrol the train along with female security officers. “They do it out of contempt. They do not want the train to run.”

As the train began moving, one woman sat meditating. Nearby, an accountant read a Hindu prayer book, while college students gossiped a few rows away.

“If you go to work, then you are independent, you earn some money and can help the family,” said Archana Gahlot, 25. “And if something happens to the marriage, you have something.”

“Even on this train,” Ms. Gahlot continued, “men sometimes board and try to harass the women. Sometimes they openly say, ‘Please close the Ladies Special.’

“Maybe they think the government is helping out women and not men,” she added.

The eight new trains represent a tiny fraction of the nation’s commuter trains. Only one Ladies Special serves New Delhi, though the Railway Ministry has announced future Ladies Special service. Dr. Ranjari Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, said the service was a politically astute move, if not a long-term solution.

“You really need to make every train as safe as the Ladies Specials,” Dr. Kumari said.

Men are hardly the only ones unnerved by the changing role of women in Indian society. Namita Sharma, 39, remembers that her mother advised her to become a teacher to balance between work and family; instead, she chose a career in fashion. Now that Ms. Sharma has a 14-year-old daughter with ideas of her own, she worries about crime.

“She has her own point of view, and I have my own point of view for her,” she said, smiling. “Let’s see who wins. She talks of independence. I am independent.”

But, she added, “Let’s talk of a secure kind of independence.”

Then the train stopped, and Ms. Sharma stood up. Asked what more the government could do for women, she laughed.

“Oh my God, it is a long list,” she said. “But I’m sorry, this is my station.”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

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What’s the greatest thing about being an adult? You can eat ice cream for dinner. A Magnum Ice Cream bar with Dark Chocolate for 4.5 yuan.

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Don’t think that I backed out of this…it’s just that I have been really busy over the past month. I have been struggling to throw up this website, along with revamping my photography site, photo work, and now teaching English 3 days a week.

I’m hustling to make some money to fund this trip. Sure, I don’t need a lot of cash on the road, but I’d like to be able to purchase some extra items for this trip.

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Blogspot is blocked, has been blocked for awhile…drove myself crazy trying to figure out how to embed it into my website WordPress hosts the new Blog…I love it!

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