Weekly Email

The Pursuit of Life Long Learning

Over the holidays and in the new year, I have been trying (and mostly failing!) to be a more involved citizen and community member. I came across some of the writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti – an Indian philosopher, writer and speaker.  Krishnamurti was groomed to be the new World Teacher – an “advanced spiritual entity appearing on Earth as a World Teacher to guide the evolution of mankind.”  He later rejected this and claimed to have no loyalty to any one group, nationality, religion, philosophy, etc. He became a renowned author and speaker, commenting on topics ranging from the nature of the mind to human relationships.

I know – some hippy-dippy, tree-hugging stuff!  It’s not usually the type of work I’m interested in.  But I came across this quote over the December break and couldn’t help but learn more about him.

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There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.

For me, this particularly resonated.  Growing up, I was a very good student – but I was always looking for the end.  I was always looking for the test to be over, for the paper to be finished, for the term to let out.  And I always thought that “learning” was something you checked at the door when those things finished and you could go back to regular life.  But growing older, changing careers, and meeting a partner that was truly intellectually curious made me rethink a lot of those goals.  And it made me want to strive for something better for myself, and for our scholars in Zambia.

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The intrinsic desire to learn is something that is so hard to teach inside classroom walls, but it’s something that resonates through every aspect of our work with Impact Network.  This week, as we kick off our teacher training in Zambia, it particularly holds true for our teachers and staff. Our incredible team in Zambia embodies this fundamental desire every day – and there is no better role model for our students. We always ask for teacher and staff feedback during our monthly training sessions, and for as long back as I can remember, the team has shown a thirst for knowledge, and asked for more – more training, covering a wide range of topics.

To them, we say thank you – and good luck as we start the 2018 school year!

-Reshma

Showcasing the Best of Africa's Art

I came across a TED talk on social media this week by art curator Touria El Glaoui. Glaoui is on a mission to showcase new art from African nations and the diaspora. She also founded 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, an international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa, drawing reference to the 54 countries that make up the African continent. Glaoui shares beautiful and inspiring contemporary art that tells powerful stories of African identity and history. 

As I watched this video, I saw similarities with how Impact Network aims to share powerful stories from Zambia and Africa to educate and engage people.  When I speak about my job with people I meet, they often don’t know where Zambia is. And even the people who have heard of Zambia often don’t know much about it or its education system.  And why would they?  There is not a lot of everyday news out there about Zambia or the many other African countries. And most of the time, when stories do hit the US news cycle – they are negative. They depict African countries with corrupt governments, illnesses, wars, poverty, etc. Not to get political, but the President isn’t the only person who has the impression that these are “s**thole countries.”

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It is our job within the network to educate and inform people of this amazing country and its people, especially our students.  These students have the potential to be Zambia’s most successful doctors, lawyers, teachers, and artists.   They have dreams, and education is the first step for them to reach those. We can be advocates for them, just like Touria is for artists in Africa.  Who knows, we might even have an artist within our walls that will one day be featured in the I-54 art fair.  

 

-Katie

Fact vs. Opinion

This week we have a guest post from Chinelo Nwosu, our Program Manager

At the end of every year, I like to reflect on the decisions I have made and how they have shaped my path for the year. And my personal theme for this year has been: persevering against all odds. Throughout this year I often found myself thinking back to one of my favorite times during my Peace Corps service, that I’d like to share with you!

The first 3 months of my Peace Corps journey began in a small village, Taba, in the District of Kamonyi, in the Southern Province of Rwanda. Taba is where I went through training which included long hours of language (Kinyarwanda), sessions of tech training for teaching the Rwandan Education system, and cross-culture & Health sessions just to name a few. While this time was filled with exciting new experiences, it also had its occasional stresses. Just when those stresses were beginning to peak, we were given the opportunity to put our training to the test. We were allowed to teach the children of the surrounding villages – this was to give us practical training, and it also helped with our confidence in the classroom. For some, like myself, this was our first time teaching in a classroom setting so I was extremely excited to be paired up with Zack, one of my training group’s very experienced teachers.

Since our theme for the week was opposites, we decided to teach Fact and Opinion. “Good Morning class, today we are going to discuss fact and opinion”, Zack said very loudly. After all of the students repeated “Fact and Opinion” in a low mutter, they took out their notebooks and prepared to take notes on the day’s subject. After giving definitions for both fact and opinion, Zack then gave examples, to ensure that they understand. “Rwanda is in eastern Africa.” “It is a beautiful day today.” “I think Fanta Citro is better than Fanta Orange.” After every example, Zack took a poll from the students on whether the statement was a fact or an opinion. He also allowed the students to give their own examples, but before he turned it over to them, there was one last example: “Men are stronger than women”. Right after those words left his mouth the class roared with students yelling “Fact. Teacher, FACT!” Even though taking a poll was not really needed because we knew how the majority felt, we still took a poll. While the majority of the class felt that the aforementioned statement was a fact, there were two students who quietly insisted that this statement was an opinion. As the students laughed at the two, Zack broke the news to them, “Men are stronger than Women is….. an opinion.” The class began to emphatically disagree, yelling “Not. Teacher, NOT! ” “You lie me.”

After getting the students to calm down, Zack explained to them why it was an opinion. They did not believe him. So we decided as a team to introduce them to the wonders of… Arm Wrestling! We showed them a demo. As Zack and I sat on either side of the desk, we quietly argued about whether or not he was going to let me win to prove the point. I won, in both cases. To drive the point home we decided that I should have a REAL arm wrestle with one of the boys in the class. The biggest kid (I believe he was in his late teens) in class chooses to arm wrestle with me. By this time students were excited to see the outcome. The student and I took our seats and Zack prepped our hands for a proper Arm Wrestling Battle. Anticipation was building. I needed to win so that a whole day’s work would not be ruined. I felt like I was on an afterschool special and I, in that moment was an example for women everywhere! Just as Zack let our hands go the Dean of Discipline (a female) walked in and began to cheer me on.

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After about a minute filled with grunting and suspense, it was over. I was the victor. The females were beyond excited, including the Dean of Discipline. As my right arm throbbed, I took immense pleasure in changing the way that not only the males viewed females but also how the females viewed themselves.

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I am sharing this story because it is one that I often return to when I need motivation. One that often makes me think of hope, promise, perseverance and challenging one’s self to go against the perceived norm. This story of my students makes me think of our students in Zambia and the students’ lives that we have yet to touch. Prior to establishing our nine pilot schools, popular opinion might have been that the children in our communities had all of the odds stack up against them. But with the passion for education and commitment to our mission, Impact Network and our supporters are making victory more attainable for our students. With each day of lessons, each year of matriculation, we are gradually changing the narrative of that preconceived opinion and creating several new truths for our students and their futures.

Grit Can Predict Success

I recently came across a 2013 TedTalk by Dr. Angela Duckworth on what is the best predictor of success in a person’s life, including when it comes to goals in education.

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Dr. Duckworth left a job in management consulting to teach math to seventh-graders in a New York public school.  When teaching, she quickly realized that IQ wasn't the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled.  And after more experience, she realized that what is needed in education is “a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational perspective, from a psychological perspective.” 

Dr. Duckworth left teaching and went to graduate school to become a psychologist. Her research spanned a wide range – including West Point Cadets, national spelling bee participants, and corporate sales people.  In all of those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success.  It wasn't social intelligence, good looks, physical health or IQ. It was grit.  She defines grit as the following:

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.”

Dr. Duckworth goes on to say she does not have the answer of how to build grit in people and that is it something we all need to work to understand better.   “We need to take our best ideas, our strongest intuitions, and we need to test them. We need to measure whether we've been successful, and we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.”

Another researcher, Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford University, studied something called the “growth mindset” – the idea that when kids learn that the brain grows in response to a challenge, they're much more likely to persevere when they fail, because they don't believe that failure is a permanent condition.

I would bet that while our students at Impact Network might not study the “growth mindset” at an early age, they see around them the daily challenges of rural life in Zambia.  They see people fail and try again, because of the very nature of their circumstance, and ultimately they see their communities succeed because of this. So I believe that every day, our scholars are learning how to be “gritty”, and that given the chance to attend school, they will be successful! They will be the future lawyers, doctors, nurse and teachers of Zambia. 

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Take the grit test yourself!

-Katie

Learning How to Speak Technology in Our Classrooms

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Hi, I’m Maha and I joined Impact Network in September of this year to help plan Chefs for Impact and stayed on to help through end of year projects.

Before joining Impact Network I was teaching English as Second Language at a private language school in New York City. My students came to New York from all over the world with the goal of learning or improving their English.

At the school I taught, we had a 30+ section, reserved for students who are at least 30 years old, which allowed teachers to focus on the specific needs of adult learners. Research shows that the older you get, the harder it is to learn a second language; I developed a deep admiration for my students in the 30+ section of the school. They were always extremely dedicated, focused and had a clear understanding of the effort they needed to put into their learning. The school also had an online learning platform, onto which teachers posted their lesson plans, homework and any additional activities, and the students in turn could download/submit homework and do some additional practice using the platform.  What I realized, however, was that some of my older students often had a hard time and reluctance to engaging with the technology, and much preferred it if I gave them the homework and activities in printed form. This was obviously due to the fact that they hadn’t been accustomed to learning using technology and didn’t want to invest time in adopting it on top of their language learning. This didn't put a stop to their studying but definitely didn’t take it to its deepest potential; their learning process was still defined by the more traditional methods of gaining and engaging with new knowledge.

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How does this relate to Impact Network? When I joined Impact, I quickly became passionate about their mission. What drew me to it the most was the fact that the students were not only given access to quality education, but that they were learning the language of technology in parallel with the assigned curriculum. In contrast to my students in New York, who come from affluent backgrounds, Impact Network students in rural Zambia come from poorer families. They, however, will be entering the real world as adults who are not overwhelmed by technology but who see it as a facilitator and are able to engage with it with ease and confidence. Students coming from Impact Network schools will never be hindered by technology.  The education they receive from a very young age will empower them to be people of modern and future times, able to compete on a global scale.

Steve Jobs said: “Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.” The team at Impact Network puts faith in its teachers and communities, who do the same with the students, and they are all equipped with the right tools to succeed, be successful and grow into their fullest potential. The technology not only facilitates the learning at Impact Network schools, but also ensures that our students are ready to join the ever-changing technological world of today.

I leave Impact Network this month, fully believing in its mission and the tools that are used in order to drive it forward.  I am proud to have contributed to a team that cares deeply about shaping future generations and I look forward to seeing Impact Network grow and flourish further in the years to come. 

- Maha

Fostering a Culture of Collaboration & Creativity

This week we have a guest post from our Implementation Specialist, Felicia Dahlquist who is currently in Nairobi as her visa is processed and has been meeting with various organizations  – these are some of her reflections on her time there.

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As a teacher I often felt pressure to be creative and thoughtful in my practice. But with the many competing tasks required of teachers (both socially and administratively), it was challenging to come up with new ideas and be truly responsive to my students’ needs. Even when I did have new ideas, I didn’t always know how to implement or prioritize time for them.  I saw how busy other teachers were and perhaps felt too proud to ask them for help and advice. As a teacher you often feel like you should be able to do it all independently and that each challenge faced is on you alone- after all, it is your responsibility to ensure that each student learns what they should. Playing it safe and sticking to what you know therefore often becomes the easiest option. But will that lead to the best outcomes?

In many ways I think that the independent and ‘safe’ mind-set ingrained in teachers also translates into the wider global education sector. Governments, NGOs and private education organisations work independently to solve the big education challenges relating to access, quality and retention in school. Instead of asking each other for help and support, many actors keep their findings and challenges to themselves. This is partly due to the nature of the education funding, which is driven by competition for limited financial resources, causing education actors to rarely join forces or share successes and failures. But I would equally say it is due to pride and the desire to independently solving things, not admitting the challenges and failures.

I recently read an article by the CEO of Results for Development (R4D), Gina Lagomarsino, who talks about how the global education sector has a lot to learn from the global health sector. One of the things she highlights is the importance of ‘bolstering collaborative learning approaches’ for example through peer-to-peer learning and the co-creation of tools and resources. Strong collaboration has been ingrained in the health field for a long time, where health professionals frequently share evidence of good AND bad practice in order to achieve the best health outcomes for their patients. So why not do the same for students?

As I visit Nairobi, I am reminded of the importance of collaboration and learning from what others are doing. The education ‘ecosystem’ in Kenya is rich with a high density of innovative education initiatives. It is hard not to take notice of all the new schools (Bridge, Moringa School, Kidogo, Nova Academies), Edtech projects (BRCK Education, Enenza Education, KyTabu, Arifu and eLimu) and public school transformations that are ongoing. Kenya is ranked as having the highest education quality on the African continent yet still has a long way to go. But there is much to learn from what is happening in Nairobi and from the knowledgeable individuals who are seeking to drive change.

Attending the Metis Fund EdConect event in Nairobi in October, I had the pleasure of meeting educators and change makers from across the education space in Kenya. Metis, an organisation whose main aim is to create communities of practice and co-learning opportunities for individuals/organisations working in education, is one example of how collaboration is having a profound impact on driving quality. The 15 Metis Fellows this year include education professionals who work with girls’ education, education technology, early childhood education, indigenous education and improving government curriculum, among many things. Sharing their ideas and experiences with each other in the fellowship and actors in education more broadly is creating a dynamic atmosphere and pace of wanting to improve learning across the board. Read more about Metis and the inspiring work of their fellows here.

I also had the opportunity to visit a social-enterprise (Tiny Totos) working with early childhood education in Nairobi’s slum areas. Despite the stark contrast between Nairobi’s urban slum communities and rural and remote areas where Impact Network operates in Zambia, I was also struck by the many similarities during my site visit.  With lacking infrastructure, limited access to resources and high rates of illiteracy, parents in both places struggle to find viable options of quality education for their children. Equally so, the practical and logistical challenges are in many ways the same. But the use of technology is providing solutions to many of those challenges.

I was fascinated to learn more about how Tiny Totos have built their own app and trained staff and school mangers in data collection to find efficiencies in their implementation. The app allows the central team to collect information that helps them to detect risks and prevent issues in implementation. The team in Nairobi were equally fascinated by how Impact Network is using student and teacher tablets to provide a well-rounded curriculum and interactive learning for children. It was a wonderful experience to share examples of good practice and discuss how challenges might be tackled. Despite our different contexts and areas of focus, it became clear to me how important an investment in collaborative learning is, in order to prevent re-inventing the wheel and slowing down the search for innovative and impactful solutions.

I am humbled by the reminder that as a teacher, educator or manager of an education initiative we are most certainly not better on our own. I will carry on reflecting over how we at Impact Network can continue to foster a culture of collaboration, creativity and learning among our teachers and colleagues as well as with other organisations.  It is through honest conversations, partnerships and cooperation that we will be able to find even better solutions and creative alternatives for our learners as well as evidence for truly impactful change.    

Meet our Parents: Memory Phiri

This week, I thought I’d bring an old interview with one of the Impact Network parents back to life – meet Memory Phiri! Huge thanks to former intern, Nicky Lama for originally putting this together!

Memory is 25 years old and has 5 daughters, 2 of which are currently studying at Impact Network schools. She is a very lively person who has a good stance on why she needs to educate her daughters. Here is what she had to say:

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How important do you think educating children is, in your case especially daughters?

I think the more education they get , the better it is. Both sons and daughters should get educated but especially in my case since I have 5 daughters, I think education will help them be economically strong when they grow up. They can become doctors and leaders.

Why did you choose to send your children to Impact schools? Do you see any difference when compared to other schools?

Yes! Thereis a lot of difference. Here at impact the teachers are very good and serious with their teaching. The children also get to use machines (tablets) which makes them smarter. It is also easy as it is very close to the village.

Who helps the children with homework at home?

I try to help as much as I can as I have studied till grade 4. Most times they complete it themselves.

Do you think using the tablets are helping the children?

The children love the tablets! Even when they are at home they talk about how they saw different flags, pictures, animals and colours on the tablet. They say the machine also speaks.

What do you think about higher education for your girls, for which they may have to leave the village?

I think my girls should pursue higher education. The only problem is once students reach higher grades we have to start paying school fees which becomes very difficult for us. Even books and uniforms are not cheap, so I fear I will not be able to help all of them.

Is there anything you want to say to the people who are helping us help your children through education?

Yes! I want to thank them for providing these opportunities to our children. I only hope that they can include higher grades so that it becomes less difficult financially for us and our children can reach higher studies.

It’s parents like Memory and students like her children that make our work worthwhile each and every day!  Memory feels very strongly about education and enthusiasm like hers is a huge contributing factor for Impact Network to continue the work we are doing - to help provide better educational opportunities to the children across our schools.

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter's Lifelong Fight for Justice and Knowledge

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This week, a song reminded me of the famed American middleweight boxer, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter*.  The Hurricane was born in May of 1937, and was at the height of his career in 1966 when he was wrongfully convicted of a triple-murder and imprisoned for almost 20 years.  He was exonerated in 1985, and became an activist for the wrongly convicted after his release.

Carter earned his nickname “The Hurricane” for his lightning-fast fists.  After previous run-ins with the law, he learned to channel his anger and frustration into his boxing and in December of 1964, he was widely regarded as the best bet to win his next title bout.  In prison, and frequently in solitary confinement, Carter survived by devouring books on all subjects -- reading law, philosophy, history, metaphysics, and religion.  During his darkest times, he was confident that he would one day be proven innocent.  After a long battle with the justice system, he was released in 1985. Carter moved to Toronto, Canada (my homeland!) where he worked on a book documenting his life, founded an advocacy group called Innocence International, and often lectured about seeking justice for the wrongly convicted.  Up until the months before his death three years ago, he was found campaigning and writing about the release of those people in prison whom he believed to be wrongly convicted.

“They can incarcerate my body but never my mind,” the Hurricane told The New York Times in 1977.  It’s one of humanity’s greatest truths – that what we learn, and know, is protected from imprisonment.  Every day that our scholars are in our classroom, every lesson that they absorb, every single word they read, is a tool – a tool that equips them to change their community, their country, and the world.  Each day, in very small steps, we are making big strides in the long and never-ending process of preparing our scholars for what’s to come in their lives.  Every single one of us plays a role in that journey – whether you are on the ground in Zambia, working with our teachers and student every day, or whether you are here in the US helping to raise funds to support our schools.  

Let's Celebrate World Teachers' Day

World Teachers’ Day took place on October 6th and we want to thank all of the Impact Network teachers that make our work possible!  There’s an old saying that I’m sure you know – “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” In fact, I recently read the following:

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“The depth of the teachers’ influence is in the basic fact that doctors, engineers, journalists, lawyers, economists, architects, accountants, and human resource experts, to name but a few, have all gone through the able hands of a teacher.”

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 https://www.daily-mail.co.zm/we-salute-teachers/

But I would take that a step further.  If you have accomplished anything over the last year, over the last month, even the last week – if you’ve accomplished anything, you have a teacher to thank.  Teachers are not always those in front of the classroom.  They are also the friend who came over in middle school to help you with a math project. They are a parent that stayed up late with you to explain an English assignment. They are the mentor at work who is patient with your failures, and celebrates your successes.  All of our skills come from somewhere and someone who invested their time and energy into helping us succeed.  And they should all be revered.

In Celebration of International Democracy Day

Friday, September, 15th was the International Day of Democracy.  We came across a fascinating article posted by UN Women in celebration of the International Day of Democracy:  https://medium.com/we-the-peoples/five-ways-women-are-changing-politics-for-the-better-around-the-world-efd33b0475a4

Today is meant to commemorate and uphold the principals of democracy that are shared across the globe: That citizens of a country or place exercise their power directly by electing representatives among them. And the article by UN Women speaks to just five of the many women across the globe who are improving the politics in their region of the globe.  They aren’t the heroes you usually hear of in this context – but I found their stories interesting to read:

Photo: UN Women/Corinne Roberts

Photo: UN Women/Corinne Roberts

1.      Barbara Garma Soares, and the other 20 women elected Xefe Suku or Village Chief in Timor-Leste, a country in Southeast Asia. The country saw double the number of women elected to this office in 2016. Most of the population lives in rural areas, often quite isolated, and many (like Soares) had never elected a woman to lead their community. Indeed, her election was preceded by an amendment in electoral law that required a female candidate on the ballot for the first time.

2.    Mehrezia Maiza Labidi, who helped draft the Constitution in Tunisia. Labidi chaired most of the sessions on Tunisia’s new constitution, established after the Arab Spring, and pushed for a clause guaranteeing women’s rights. She also was the most senior elected woman in the Middle East.

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Photo: UN Women/Winston Daryoue

Photo: UN Women/Winston Daryoue

3.    Coumba Diaw, who decided to join politics after leaving school at 14 to marry and become a housewife. Diaw started as a health care worker, working on reproductive health and helping with income-generating activities in her community. She began to grow close with the community and became the Mayor of Sagatta Djoloff – and is the only mayor in Louga, Senegal who is female.

These are just a couple of the remarkable stories, and I encourage you to read the article (and the “From Where I Stand” series by UN Women: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/editorial-series/from-where-i-stand).  For me, they serve as a reminder that across the globe, democracy and the drive to improve our communities is propelling unlikely candidates into the world of politics. And those candidates are stepping up to the plate, filling in gaps, and leading their citizens towards positive change.  Who among our Impact Network students will become the next hero for Joel village?

**Photos from UN article. Picture credit is referenced in article