Monday, February 10, 2014

A delayed description of Week 2

 I first attempted to post this blog entry a week ago and now a week later, I have found time to catch up on my second week, even though we just completed our third week here.  I am busy, find lots to keep me busy and this long entry will give you some insight into my first week of being at University of Namibia (UNAM).  A preview of Week 3 highlights include a school visit, and the weeks' focus of interacting with people from the Embassy and the inaugural First Friday: Tastes from the US event.
Taco Assembling
Taco feast

At work

Summary of Week 2 January 27 – February 2, 2014
 I realize a week has gone by since I last posted on the blog.  It is interesting that my time does get taken up with different things.  On Tuesday and Thursday I had meetings with the faculty at UNAM—start of the school year type meetings, and I came home feeling exhausted.  I wanted to write, just as a way of processing and managed to write out bullets and thoughts just so I wouldn’t forget, but didn’t have time to pull everything into cohesive writing. I am going to try a new strategy this week—bullet the highlights of the week, provide a bit of reflective thinking to give you deeper insight into part of my life here in Windhoek. 

Week Highlights:
Monday Night Dinner and Wine Bar with terrific rain storm that forced everyone to move inside. We discovered the traditional South African dessert of Malva Pudding and custard—our new favorite.

Sounds of the rain if the video posts.

Tuesday: Opening Tea and Faculty Meetings for the Khomasdal Campus, evening meal with Paula, Steve, Emmy and Edwin at Stellenbosch Brewery. 
The Khomasdal campus has a faculty between 30 and 35.  Emma is director of the campus and Donovan is the Associate Dean who is part of the Physical Education faculty.  The two of them were in charge of the meeting that lasted for about an hour.  I was surprised to learn that what we consider to be normal for the starting of the year, like a set schedule (known here as a timetable) teaching responsibilities, and number of students, doesn’t have the same sense in Namibia.  A committee was finalizing the timetable and wanted input from the faculty, and because of some staffing issues at a new campus, some of the faculty were being pulled away from the Khomasdal campus throughout the semester to teach on the new southern campus.  With two weeks left before the start of the school year, students were still registering for college.  This happens in part because of later results for Grade 12.  There is a set passing score required for college entrance, and those tests are “written” as late as the first week in December, so some students don’t learn until late January if they will be accepted to UNAM.   So while there were pieces that felt so different from the beginning of our school year, I also realized the Namibian school system of finishing up just before an extended summer/Christmas break and many people going out of the city to farms in various parts of the country impacts the details that are unattended until after the holidays. 

Stellenbosch Brewery will be the place to go when we are craving hamburger and fries (Lindsey and Paula ordered that). I had an incredibly tasty and tender lamb shank.  I also learned that lamb shank was the meat option for women in the Herero culture.  It was considered a lower cut of meat, and really wasn’t one fit for a male adult, so it was like a left over cut, and woman got the “leftovers.”  This led to an interesting discussion of family lines in the Herero culture—don’t know if I have it totally correct, but with family matters, the matriarchal line is followed.  The patriarchal line deals with land, livestock and other family matters on the side of men.  It was a bit hard to follow, but if I as a female, am having problems with a child or husband, any uncle on the mother’s side would intervene and support me.  All of the land that is owned follows lines from the father’s side, so that affects inheritance.  I think I will learn and understand more as time goes on.  For example, I was talking with the administrative assistant for the American Cultural Center.  She is from Buffalo and is married to a Herero man.  She was talking to me about her husband’s nephew, and then added but in the Herero culture he is really considered my son, because his dad and my husband are brothers.  This explains part of the extended family structure that is prevalent in Namibia.

Wednesday: Dinner with PLU group and Education Dean and Faculty
I did a practice run for my First Friday gathering.  We had the students from PLU and 5 faculty from UNAM here.  There was lots of energy in the room and for a while the adults sat around the table talking and then there was more mixing and one of the younger faculty members who had studied in the US, taught at Pioneers Boys’ School (where we have 2 student teachers) became engaged in a great school conversation.  My colleague Juanita’s son Dave, also talked to the students about different activities in Namibia.  I believe the conversation started around skydiving and the fact that four from Paula’s group had gone skydiving while in the coastal town of Swakopmund on their first weekend excursion.
Lindsey, Paula and 2 UNAM Faculty

PLU group

Thursday: Faculty of Education meeting
Thursday’s all day meeting was held at Arebusch, a pleasant conference center near the university that comfortably accommodated the 70 members who attended.  All of the education faculty from the main campus and Khomasdal were required to attend, and representatives also came from the other three campuses. Donovan Zealand, who has been Tony’s contact with issues related to Exercise Science, is the Deputy Dean and was the “Master of Ceremonies.”  When he initiated a go around introduction of the large group, he was voted down.  Many from the group said it would take too long, so he abandoned that idea.  However he asked Juanita to introduce me to the group and explain my role.  Although I don’t really like drawing attention to myself that way, I was pleased to have the opportunity to talk with different people at the break. I talked with Charlotte who has a curriculum policy role in the university.  It seems her role at UNAM is similar to my role on the Educational Policy Committee last year at PLU. I also talked with Pam and Caroline who are passionate about strengthening “school based studies” so that students are well supervised and their classroom experiences in the schools reflect what they are learning in the university classroom.  This sounded so familiar to discussions related to the practicum and student teaching part of our program at PLU.
At the meeting, the Dean talked about the responsibilities of faculty regarding teaching and mentoring students.  The theme of her introduction highlighted the importance of being a faculty member and supporting the development of teachers.  After her introduction, the Heads of Departments (HOD) for the different divisions gave reports from outside moderators.  This is an interesting practice— the university hires an outside expert to evaluate final exam papers for 2nd and 4th year students.  These experts read the exam questions and student responses and then provide feedback about the quality of the questions and the student responses.  It was interesting to hear these issues reported in an open and public manner.   At PLU, faculty may talk among themselves about easy or difficult final exams, and they may also talk more privately with others about the type of feedback given to students, but it isn’t openly discussed at faculty meetings--these types of discussions would be viewed as infringing on the autonomy of teachers.  It is an interesting difference.  In trying to figure out the nature of this difference because a “cultural difference” didn’t quite seem right, I have talked to my HOD and believe part of the reason rationale for outside moderators and public sharing of information is to help the faculty develop a mindset of continuous improvement.  Many of the education faculty taught before there were country wide standards for education and so there are many opportunities that support professional development.  The start of the school year meetings at the School level seem to have a specific content focus, and the small group discussions are related to responding to the feedback with a plan for the upcoming year.  So everyone acquired a sense of what is happening in the seven different departments in the “Faculty (School) of Education.”  The broad morning discussions of shared feedback, philosophy of teaching and learning, assessment strategies and curriculum redesign seemed to supports the focus of creating a more connected Faculty (School) of Education.  In the afternoon, department groups were able to discuss specific plans for the new year.  And for those of you interested, these departments include:. Educational Psychology and Inclusive Education, Early Childhood and Lower Primary, Math, Science and Sport Education, Language, Humanities and Commerce, Education Foundations and Management, Life-Long Learning and Community Education, Curriculum Instruction and Assessment Studies and School Based Studies

No comments:

Post a Comment