Maybe old learning isn’t so bad, after all?

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

When I first saw Professor Cope’s photos of a 1983 elementary school classroom, I scoffed. It was so obvious that the “communications and knowledge architecture” was one-way, focused on rote learning and rewarding good behavior which involved staying safely “inside the box”. How easy to critique, deconstructing all of the ways in which this particular “banking” form of education was unlikely to intentionally “deposit” anything that might actually be useful to the future lives of these school children. How awful, I thought, and how at odds with everything I try to put into practice with respect to my own professional role. Today’s MOOCs and flipped classrooms, with their objectives of making active knowledge-making ubiquitous, make 1983 look like the Dark Ages of education.

And yet. And yet this classroom very closely resembles the ones in which I grew up, with 5th grade in 1980 as a reference point. And I was one of the kids for whom it was an enjoyable experience. I thrived in that environment. I wanted to sponge up the facts and figures, and was proud to raise my hand, hoping the teacher would pick me. Group work simply wasn’t as much fun or rewarding as the individual recognition and praise from the teacher. It’s only when I jog my 42-year-old brain to recall what made me enjoy school so much that I realize it was the interaction, the creativity, and the serendipity. But the scaffolding was sturdy and reassuring precisely because it was so rigid and didactic.

The same with university. In my professional life, I proclaim my belief that the time for “post-campus education” has arrived. Speaking to a group of young interns, I explained recently that they could expect that their life-long learning had only just begun, and that by abandoning the oh-so-twentieth-century sequence in which you complete your degree and then go to work, they could more actively shape their future careers.

And yet. I was a first-generation college student, going to a university in the U.S. when both my parents never made it past elementary school. My father was put into an orphanage. My mother was denied the education she strived for when her school was closed by the French colonial forces when the Algerian Revolution started. The university campus was for me the site of life-changing experiences.

Today I am also the father of three boys. Nassim, my six-year-old, learned reading, writing and arithmetic this year. When it comes to his education, my approach is far-removed from cutting-edge education. I make him read and re-read texts, do and redo addition and subtraction exercises, drilling it in and checking constantly to see if it’s sunk in yet. Rewards are limited or non-existent with me. Sometimes he resists, complaining about the repetition or that it’s “too hard”. But he also seems to genuinely enjoy completing the exercises. I do this because I’m concerned that his public school teacher is going to be too “slack”, because he goes to school in a poor neighborhood in Paris where many of the kids face tough life circumstances, have parents who do not know how to read and write, and are considered by many (including teachers) to be destined for vocational training leading straight to unemployment. Especially if they are of Arab or African descent.

So, what to do with such blatant contradictions between my professed interest in “new learning” and my personal experience? I believe this contradiction can be productive, meaning that I try to mobilize it to understand why colleagues and other interlocutors express skepticism about innovation in learning, whether explicitly or implicitly. And, yes, I’m also trying to rethink how I work with my sons after school. The world is changing. If we want learning to be supportive, participatory, inspiring, motivating, flexible… it’s not (only) because that will make learning a more pleasurable experience. It is because this is how our children (or those of others, for those to whom parents have delegated mass public education) will get the chance to develop the knowledge and skills they will need to not only survive but thrive — in the online classrooms before they learn the hard way, IRL.

Maybe old learning isn’t so bad, after all?

Reda Sadki Writing

When I first saw Professor Cope’s photos of a 1983 elementary school classroom, I scoffed. It was so obvious that the “communications and knowledge architecture” was one-way, focused on rote learning and rewarding good behavior which involved staying safely “inside the box”. How easy to critique, deconstructing all of the ways in which this particular “banking” form of education was unlikely to intentionally “deposit” anything that might actually be useful to the future lives of these school children. How awful, I thought, and how at odds with everything I try to put into practice with respect to my own professional role. Today’s MOOCs and flipped classrooms, with their objectives of making active knowledge-making ubiquitous, make 1983 look like the Dark Ages of education.

And yet. And yet this classroom very closely resembles the ones in which I grew up, with 5th grade in 1980 as a reference point. And I was one of the kids for whom it was an enjoyable experience. I thrived in that environment. I wanted to sponge up the facts and figures, and was proud to raise my hand, hoping the teacher would pick me. Group work simply wasn’t as much fun or rewarding as the individual recognition and praise from the teacher. It’s only when I jog my 42-year-old brain to recall what made me enjoy school so much that I realize it was the interaction, the creativity, and the serendipity. But the scaffolding was sturdy and reassuring precisely because it was so rigid and didactic.

The same with university. In my professional life, I proclaim my belief that the time for “post-campus education” has arrived. Speaking to a group of young interns, I explained recently that they could expect that their life-long learning had only just begun, and that by abandoning the oh-so-twentieth-century sequence in which you complete your degree and then go to work, they could more actively shape their future careers.

And yet. I was a first-generation college student, going to a university in the U.S. when both my parents never made it past elementary school. My father was put into an orphanage. My mother was denied the education she strived for when her school was closed by the French colonial forces when the Algerian Revolution started. The university campus was for me the site of life-changing experiences.

Today I am also the father of three boys. Nassim, my six-year-old, learned reading, writing and arithmetic this year. When it comes to his education, my approach is far-removed from cutting-edge education. I make him read and re-read texts, do and redo addition and subtraction exercises, drilling it in and checking constantly to see if it’s sunk in yet. Rewards are limited or non-existent with me. Sometimes he resists, complaining about the repetition or that it’s “too hard”. But he also seems to genuinely enjoy completing the exercises. I do this because I’m concerned that his public school teacher is going to be too “slack”, because he goes to school in a poor neighborhood in Paris where many of the kids face tough life circumstances, have parents who do not know how to read and write, and are considered by many (including teachers) to be destined for vocational training leading straight to unemployment. Especially if they are of Arab or African descent.

So, what to do with such blatant contradictions between my professed interest in “new learning” and my personal experience? I believe this contradiction can be productive, meaning that I try to mobilize it to understand why colleagues and other interlocutors express skepticism about innovation in learning, whether explicitly or implicitly. And, yes, I’m also trying to rethink how I work with my sons after school. The world is changing. If we want learning to be supportive, participatory, inspiring, motivating, flexible… it’s not (only) because that will make learning a more pleasurable experience. It is because this is how our children (or those of others, for those to whom parents have delegated mass public education) will get the chance to develop the knowledge and skills they will need to not only survive but thrive — in the online classrooms before they learn the hard way, IRL.

Audio source missing

The End of Paper: Interview with Richard Padley of Semantico

Reda Sadki Writing

At the 2010 Tools of Change for Publishing conference in Frankfurt, we met Richard Padley of Semantico. He spoke at the conference about mobile platforms from the perspective of publishers faced with multiple delivery models including apps and the web.

We started off our interview with Richard Padley by asking:

What does the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement mean to you?

So, is it the end of paper?

Even if I tell you that 30% of IFRC’s membership don’t have e-mail?

Many people seem to think that PDF is a usable digital format for publications. So, what’s wrong with PDF?

Even though EPUB is the basis for eBooks, in 2010 few people are familiar with this format. What’s right with EPUB?

The Kindle is a single-purpose device. It does one thing, and is meant to it well enough to convince people who love printed books to cross the digital divide. The iPad is a multi-purpose tablet. So, Kindle or iPad?

We hear about mobile platforms. What’s that about?

Audio source missing

Katja Mruck on starting a peer-reviewed open access journal

Reda Sadki Writing

In 2001, Katja Mruck started a peer-reviewed multilingual open access journal FQS – Forum on qualitative social research. In this interview, recorded at the Third Conference on Scholarly Publishing in Berlin, Germany (28 September 2011), she explains what ingredients were needed to make the journal’s launch a success. Mruck is the Coordinator open access and e-publishing, Center for Digital Systems CeDis), Freie Universität Berlin.

Audio source missing

Stanford’s Juan Pablo Alperin on the Open Journal System (OJS)

Reda Sadki Writing

Red Cross learning and research online: Stanford’s Juan Pablo Alperin on the Open Journal System (OJS) 
* If I tell you that the International Red Cross is considering starting an electronic journal, does it make sense to you? 
* In starting up a journal, would you consider including a print edition for people in developing countries who don’t have access to online? 
* Where should we put resources: into helping people get access or into delivering printed materials to them? 
* How is a scholarly journal fit into a learning system, how does it contribute specifically to a learning system as opposed to other tools to learn about, in our context, development and humanitarian issues? 
* How can Open Journal System (OJS) contribute to the emergence of quality research and learning in developing countries? 
* What might be the incentive for scholars to publish in a Red Cross journal, if they already have access to established academic journals?

Juan Pablo Alderin, Stanford University (5:25)

Masooda Bano: the impact of international aid on volunteering and development

Reda Sadki Events, Interviews, Learning design, Video

The negative impact of aid on development has been a recurring and controversial subject in recent years. Drawing on her extensive research in this field, Masooda Bano asserts that there is a strong negative correlation between foreign aid, and voluntary organisations’ ability to mobilise communities.

Masooda Bano is a Research Fellow at the Oxford Department of International Development & Wolfson College, University of Oxford, with a DPhil from Oxford and MPhil from Cambridge. Her work focuses on real life development puzzles with a focus on mapping the micro-level behaviour and incentive structures drawing on rich empirical data especially ethnographic studies.

Dangerous Correlations: Aid’s Impact on NGOs’ Performance and Ability to Mobilize Members in Pakistan

Opening access to Red Cross knowledge: an interview with John Willinsky, Public Knowledge Project, Stanford University

Reda Sadki Writing

Why are scholarly journals not obsolete? How does a journal contribute to learning? Why would the Red Cross need a scholarly journal? A lively conversation with John Willinsky from the Public Knowledge Project, recorded at the Third Conference on Scholarly Publishing in Berlin, Germany, on 28 September 2011.

Chronology of a new transit camp on the Tunisian border (Part 2 of 2): Going live

Reda Sadki Published articles

Part 1: Like clockwork | Part 2: Going Live

10:45 – The distribution of relief items starts

At the far end of the camp, four volunteers led by Arturo, a logistics specialist from the French Red Cross, get basic relief items ready for distribution. The items are NFIs, as we call them, or non-food items.

11:00 – A clean bill of health for the camp’s youngest baby
Omar is just 20 days old. If the International Organization for Migration (IOM) can find the funds, he should be out of the transit camp and back in his home country before he turns one month old. His sister, four-year-old Khadija, cries as Boutheïna talks to their parents, Aïcha and Mohammed. “She’s scared,” they explain. It turns out her lip is cut and hurting.

Aïcha will also sit down with Marwa Ben Saïd, 22, a fourth-year psychology student from Bizerte, who meets them in the psychosocial support tent. The camp’s children will also be called back to be checked for vaccinations and overall health. The camp’s emergency tents are now up and running 24/7, with an impeccably clean and well-organized pharmacy and space to receive up to four people at a time.

11:25 – Families under the tents
Khaltouma and Admadaoud are part of an extended family of 24 people. They have settled into six tents and next to each other so that they’re not separated. They lived in Libya for nearly two decades, raising children and building their lives. Khaltouma’s husband had a steady job as a driver. “We left because of war,” she explains. Last night they managed to
make it to the border. “When will we be able to go home?” is her first question.

13:30 – A news agency visits the camp
The national press agency Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) arrives at the transit camp. Journalist Boutar Raouda stops at several tents to listen to people’s stories. She also meets the
volunteers.

14:55 – A new era for the Tunisian Red Crescent
The transit camp waits for more arrivals. Moaz, the tent builder, has been a volunteer for almost half his life. He is here to help, but also because he hopes that the dramatic events of 2011 will lead to a new era for his National Society.

15:00 Another bus arrives
The next bus arrives with 19 young men. There are no hiccups.

15:30 – Water, please
Inside the kitchens, Selhouah, 50, and Imane, 25, women from the local community, have joined Livia, Mulass and Layna. Outside, Marco, a water and sanitation engineer, gets the water purification system ready.

15h40 The first house call (or tent call)
An anxious young man walks into the health tent. His cousin is sick and has trouble walking. So Dr Chem Chem Abdelnour visits their tent, and finds an older man, who is obviously exhausted. “His head hurts,” they say. The doctor invites him over to be examined. There are already two more people waiting for care back at the tent. Boutheïna welcomes them and keeps track of patient intake.

15:52 – “Camp is now live”
“Camp is now live. Tx to all for all the hard preparation.” The text message arrives via SMS. It’s from Roger Bracke, the IFRC’s head of operations. If everyone had not been so focused on their work, a loud cheer might have been heard rising above the hubbub of life in the transit camp.

18:30 – Last bus of the night
One more bus arrives before nightfall, bringing 27 new arrivals to the transit camp.

19:30 – Dinner is served
The kitchens serve their first meal, as the camp starts to wind down for the night. There are now 123 people at the camp with 13 families and a total of 28 children under the age of 13, and 4 elderly people over the age of 60. Almost everyone is from Chad (106), with 16 people from Mali and 1 Ghanean.

 

Chronology of a new transit camp on the Tunisian border (Part 1 of 2)

Reda Sadki Published articles

Part 1: Like clockwork | Part 2: Going Live

06:00 – Base camp wakes up
Base camp wakes up. A cool breeze has risen along with the bright sun, whipping up sand and dust. The first crews of volunteers move out to the transit camp at Ras Jedir. Some of the volunteers, like 32-year-old Moaz, have spent the last four weeks installing tents that are now ready to provide shelter.

“We learnt on the job,” he explains. Together with a group from the Finnish Red Cross, he carried out his work by referring to guidance manuals. But all the hard work has paid off and today, Moaz is proud that the tents are ready and safe. In total, 20 National Societies – from Algeria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Iraq, Iran, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Luxemburg, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Palestine, Qatar, Syria, the UK and US, and, last but certainly not least, Tunisia – have contributed to building the transit camp.

Six and a half kilometres away, people have gathered at the Tunisian border crossing. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) will be shuttling them to the transit camps at Shousha and, for the first time, here. How many will arrive? Will there be many families? And, most importantly, how long they will have to wait before they can go home? Money is drying up both for the transit camp and for the repatriation efforts. Just as the camp is opening its doors, funding is desperately needed to meet the needs of those arriving.

08:00 – The volunteers are ready to go
Small groups of Tunisian Red Crescent volunteers leave base camp for the transit camp. Boutheïna is a 25-year-old prosthetist, the eldest of three sisters who all volunteer for the Tunisian Red Crescent. In fact, Boutheïna declares that her family, her job and the Red Crescent are the three most important things in her life. She is looking forward to working with the medical team today to welcome families and anyone needing health care. Her only regret? That she won’t be able to stay longer.

08:20 The Red Cross Red Crescent kitchen crew gets cooking
The Italian Red Cross kitchen crew arrive. Livia is a 23-year-old Italian psychology student who joined the Red Cross after the earthquake in Italy last year. She joins Mulass and Layna, both nurses, to start preparing the first meal to be served tonight at 19:30. They will work alongside fellow volunteers from the Algerian Red Crescent and with women from the local community.

09:10 – The registration crew is ready and waiting
The convoy of new arrivals is now leaving the border. At the registration centre, the volunteers wearing fluorescent yellow and orange jackets get ready. They have undergone intense training to be ready for today.
Atef mans one of the desks that will welcome newcomers. He is a 26-year-old first aider from Ben Ghardane, the town closest to the border on the Tunisian side that lives from trade with Libya. Until 22 February, he had been working across the border, but his company immediately brought him home. Six weeks later, he decided to come to the transit camp. “I’ve been there,” he says. He wants to help.

09:28 – The first bus arrives
The first bus arrives safely. The IOM delegates introduce themselves to the Red Crescent volunteers. People trickle out of the bus. They retrieve their luggage from a separate pick-up truck. There are huge suitcases, bags and boxes in all sizes, shapes and colours. Marhababikou”m” (welcome) is heard over and over, and quickly the new arrivals understand that they may soon be able to, at last, get some rest.

The first children clamber off the bus. They are on their guard, like their parents, but there are no tears. Mohamed and Imane queue with their daughter Zina, age 3, and Tahar, a strong-built 17-year-old boy. Then come Hassen and Hossein, six-year-old twins dressed in matching red outfits.

“They are real twins,” their father, Ousmane, explains proudly. A young man just turned 30, he has come with his wife, the twins, and Radhia, their two-year-old daughter. There is no more time to talk, as everyone lines up for registration.

09:33 – Registration starts
Working in two separate tents, over a dozen volunteers sit down with each family one at a time. Questions are asked and answered, mostly in Arabic, but also in French and English. Tickets are handed out to each person or head of household.

A family from Mali explains that they lived in Libya for ten years. Their eight children – ranging from the eldest Awa, age 10, to Fatma, who is just 2 months old – were all born in Libya. But now this family wants and needs to go home. They want to know when they’ll be able to leave. And that is a question that keeps being asked.

10:15 Registration ends
All 80 people are now registered, and many have already made it to their tents. The children settle in, playing in the family quarters. Today marks a new chapter, not only for the new arrivals, but also for this new camp and all those who have worked hard to make it happen.

NextPart 2: Going Live

Ras Jedir: feverish early days and freezing nights

Reda Sadki Writing

ZERZES, 4 April 2011 — “We stopped everything we were doing”, exclaims Mahfoud Bessah, the 39-year-old community-based programme coordinator at IFRC’s regional delegation in Tunis. On 21  February, he headed over to the eastern border immediately upon hearing the first reports of people crossing over. The Tunisian Red Crescent and UNHCR were already discussing how to respond. Together with Fadhel Goudil, a first aid doctor, Bessah arrived in Ras Jedir, fearing the worst.

What they found was staggering. Up to 15000 people were crossing the border from Lybia into Tunisia every day. Equally impresive was the response: spontaneous solidarity and generosity, with the local population organizing “khafila” (caravans) to carry food and other goods to those arriving at the border, whatever their origin. It is this spirit of solidarity and volunteerism that saved the day, Bessah believes, as the international community had just begun to understand the significance, scale and scope of what was being set in motion.

Two immediate challenges had to be faced. First, the near-freezing weather for border crossers with little or no shelter. Second, the very spontaneity that got things moving resulted in some logistical challenges. A gentle euphemism for what Bessah says was “n’importe quoi” (nonsense). Storage for donated goods was in short supply. People were everwhere, with nowhere to go, some carrying ridiculously large suitcases or anything else they managed to escape with.

Shelter had to be improvised. Bessah had to travel to Mednine to find a factory that could provide enough blankets. The first tents were 12 by 12 meters, intended for use during weddings or other festivities — not exactly SPHERE standards. But at least people gained some protection against the cold.

Once again, it was the spirit of volunteerism that got the tents up. Tunisian Red Crescent members did much of the heavy lifting, propelled by a sense of great urgency.

Unfortunately but somewhat predictably, these rollercoaster and sometimes haphazard early days — combined with the fact that no one in the region had ever had to deal with such a situation — have had lasting consequences.

In his initial recommandations, Bessah insisted on the fact that there was no life-threatening emergencies, no dead or dying among the “walkers” arriving: “We have to be calm, but act quickly” is how he summed it up.

Six weeks later, the flow of people crossing the border has slowed, and international media attention is now focused on the Lybian conflict itself. But the work continues as thousands more arrive. Most worrying is the fact that fewer and fewer are able to repatriate, adding pressure even when conditions are slowly improving. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is running out of money to fund repatriation, and donor fatigue appears to be setting in. “Uncertainty characterizes the situation”, sums up Gérard Lautredou, Head of the Regional delegation. “Right now, we’ve got around 2500 people arriving each day, but what will happen if events provoke a sudden upsurge?” he asks.

IFRC is slated to open its own transit camp on 6 April, to relieve some of the pressure on the main camp, Shousha, and to allow for that camp to be reorganized to address some of the underlying causes for tension and difficulties. Nevertheless, uncertainty looms. For those ready and willing to return home, the uncertainty most difficult to bear is probably not knowing when they might be called to Djerba airport. And the fate of those convinced that going home is not an option due to fear of persecution will not resolved in the short term. All of this makes the daily work — now out of the limelight — of improving living conditions and organization even more important, whatever the numbers may be, today or tomorrow.

Reda Sadki