Sunday, May 25, 2014

What Counts in Education?

NZ is four months out from an election.  Vote Education is a big ticket item, and currently, we spend mega bucks on it.  We waste mega bucks on it as well - but thats another post for another day.

Getting the best 'bang for our education bucks' is critical.

Education, like Health, is one of the biggest 'sink holes' when it comes to funding.  Key questions about how we achieve this 21st Century System that should lead the way, needs to be discussed and debated. Election time is a good reminder that we need to discuss whats important in education, because at the end of the day, it is education that paves the future of our society.  Its critical we get it right.

Those who work at the 'chalkface' need more input, and because all public stakeholders have experienced the system for themselves at some stage of their lives, the thinking that they are 'experts at the system' because of this experience, can often times hinder progress - not advance it.

What would be helpful is if we had a wider public discourse on what are our key non negotiable’s are when it relates to public education and which areas need better support.  Even better would be if we could have some bipartisan agreement on what the non negotiable items are.

The quality of our education system - from the preschoolers to the university leavers - is such a critical element to ensure the success of our country.  Not just for now, but for the future.  Each and every one of us has a vested interest in ensuring that our children has the highest quality education that the country can afford to provide.

The emphasis we place on education sets the scene.  It tells our people that we value them and their input into our society and that the future of our country is important.  It tells the world that in NZ, education is the key to success.

This begs the question, how do we make this happen?

Pouring unlimited amounts of money into the gaping mouth is one solution.  Experience would suggest this may not be terribly smart - education has an insatiable appetite - and spending more money, while essential, needs to be spent appropriately.

So, how do we get more 'bang for our bucks'?

What are the priorities?

What does our education system need to achieve?

What skills, attributes, values and understandings do our children need when they leave school, in order to be successful and confident, in order to lead and inherit our country?

Let’s not forget that many good things already exist in our current system - centres, schools, teachers, principals and stakeholders are already doing some fantastic things.  Our world class curriculum gives a solid direction, the emphasis on leadership has been a positive step, and overall, our results, from an international perspective, have in the past been encouraging.  What do we need to learn from our past successes in order to cement success in our future?

I am sceptical (of which I have posted previously here and here) that IES is the answer.  National Standards has not proven to be the panacea it was touted to be, and sadly, our beautiful curriculum has taken a second place while we have been distracted by NS.

However, we must not become complacent either.  While we need to share best practice and celebrate the good, there are gaps, issues and an ever increasing 'tail' of underachievement.  Some areas, such as special needs funding, needs a major overhaul.  Property is problematic (the leaky buildings issue is so big it would take the mother of all lotteries to fund just a small percentage of it) and the policies that schools and providers must adhere to are shaky at best.  Behaviour management is a real issue for some providers, and the lack of continuity between Social Services and Education remains a big concern.  Why all schools do not have timely access to mental health services in todays world is just at odds with the needs we deal with on a daily basis.

Innovation is not always rewarded, and key decisions are more often than not made without any input from the major stakeholders.  Policy is instead being thrust upon the sector with no consultation or apparent informed decision making. One might suggest that the success of some innovations rest solely on the discretion of a few - and not always appropriately.

The education system is plagued by policy makers and analysts - not all of whom can claim experience in the system.  Latterly, those who are leading have come from sectors that are in complete contrast from Education.

The most important wondering I have is, who is best served to make decisions for the direction of our education system - policy makers with no experience or people on the front line, whose interest is seeped in what is best practice and right for students?

The system is further hampered by a multitude of organisations and community members who see the education system as the great panacea - the solver of all the ills of the world.  

Need to solve an obesity issue? Impose restrictions and policy onto schools and then change government and take it all away again.   Name an issue and someone will have suggested that schools should address it.  This sounds fine in theory but not all the issues inherent in our society should be the responsibility of schools.   Sometimes it is just not appropriate to continue to impose things on an already over burdened system.

The issue here is that although well meaning, each and everyone of us considers ourselves an expert because we have all been to school.  Unfortunately, while we may have an opinion, it is not necessarily an informed and educated one.  Sometimes our 'experts' (the people employed to educate our children) actually know what they are doing, and we should support them in this - not further hamper their work.

So, what do we need to do in order to ensure we do have a world class system? 

We are all stakeholders and we all have a vested interest in ensuring our talent remains in NZ.  After all, I for one want to ensure that the person that changes my bedpan when I am old, is the best educated person for the job.

As a community we need to start discussing what is important, supporting our educators, and ensuring our voices are heard.

This election, use it as an opportunity to ask yourself, what is important?

Is it important to keep our children in education, engaged and experiencing success?

Is inclusiveness important? If so, we need to make sure it is funded properly.

If safe classrooms are important, then we need to make sure schools have the funding to support the students, engage the staff and provide the programmes that make a difference.

What about equity?  Is this important?  All of our children, irrespective of socio economic advantage or disadvantage, deserve a world class system – and it can be created – we just need to think outside the beehive!    What do you think is important and non negotiable for our future?

This election, find out what the parties believe, ask a teacher what they think and why, and try to think beyond your own experience in school.

The world we live in is so different to the one we grew up in, and the the world our young people will inherit will be different again.  We need to ensure they are prepared for this, and I would ask you take that responsibility seriously.  It is simply NOT enough to just be literate and numerate.

I would finally ask you to do one thing - be a little sceptical of the manufactured crises you hear in the media.  Ask an educator - someone at the chalk face.  Don't believe we moan just for the sake of it - that old mythological chestnut is designed to garner votes.  Teachers stand up for children and they stand up for children because that is their lives work.

This election, ask yourself, what counts in education?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What Teacher Trainees Should Know...15 Things You Don't Always Hear

What should teacher trainees know?

Every time we get a new batch of trainee teachers in, I let them to know I want to have a chat with the and give them my 'state of the nation' talk.  I warn them that what they will hear from me is not what they will necessarily hear elsewhere - but its important information they will need to survive the crazy that is the first few years of teaching.

Its similar to that old, but sage advice that every new teacher gets given - "don't upset the secretary, make friends with the caretaker and be nice to the cleaners, they are the real power around here…" or the more tongue in cheek "Don't be nice to your class until at least Easter".

These are examples of the old school standard set, but there is an awful lot of important, practical things budding young (and not so young) teachers in waiting need to know or be advised about.   I am pretty confident the training providers are not sharing the realities of what teaching in the first few years is all about - and as far as I am concerned, its critical they understand and prepare for it.  Not to scare them off but to prepare them for the realities.

This is not a definitive list of things.  We would be here for a long time if I was to highlight everything, but this is a list of some of the big important things that our new teachers are not always told but should know.  There are miles of lists out there that outline what new teachers need to do or know in the classroom - this list focuses on some of the obvious but not always talked about things.

1. Family and Loved Ones

This is in two parts.  Part one is the first two years out of training where you are getting registered.  These are hard work years.  Sometimes you will be coming home and working late into the night, sometimes you will get up at the crack of a sparrow, and most times in the weekend you will be mucking around in your classroom.  Your family/friends/significant others will not be impressed.  Even they will be surprised at  how many hours 'school' consumes from you.   The advice here is to pre warn them, and let them know what they are in for.  Most importantly, tell them it will settle down and try to make time each weekend for yourself and them.

Once they understand this, the second part, which is post full registration, applies.  Let your loved ones know that in education we have busy periods, and that during those busy periods it would really help if they let you get on with it.  In particular, the biggest of these is around report writing.  They take hours and hours.  During that time family just have to understand you are going to be stressed and a little frantic to met the deadline.  Just one small tear in the fabric of outside school life at this time can be the onset of anxiety.  So, pre warn them.  You can always make up for it during the holidays, oh sorry, I mean the 'non contact time'!

I, at this point in my discussion, advise the trainees to warn families that during the busy time, expecting you to come home and cook dinner and clean the house when thats what you have done in the past, is just going to cause friction.  If you don't have an equitable family life prior to embarking on teaching, I would advise readdressing this.  One of the things I have noticed is that there are more and more trainees entering the teaching profession after time either at home with children, or in a different career. Teaching is not a soft option.  The more high stakes our profession becomes the less flexible it gets.  Some weeks are very full on with long hours and early starts.  Juggling a family can be hard work.  So, an equitable home life will make things easier to manage.

2. Making the most of practicum visits

When you are training, the time you spend in schools observing teachers and teaching students is critical.  No amount of 'book learning' will prepare you for the first day on the job when you are facing your first class.   Take every opportunity to be a part of the school you are in.  Visit other classes if you can, ask your associate (the teacher you are attached to while you are training) for advice - how did they set up their reading/writing/math groups?  What do they do if someone is off task, how do they get them from one part of the school to another without it being a chaotic experience?  Listen, observe, take notes and ask questions.  Ask them if you can take more opportunities to teach.  They are there to advise you - so ask them what they did on the first day.  Ask them what 5 things should you know before you start teaching.  They are experienced teachers and what they tell you - even if it doesn't make sense to you at the time - may just be a gem of gold on your first day on the job.

3. When you are training - be prepared 

There is nothing worse than having a teacher trainee in your school who does not listen and is not prepared for the lessons they are expected to teach.  You may not realise this - but Principals take note of when a teacher tells them someone is doing a great job.  We are always on the look out for a potentially good trainee who fits well into our school.  Sometimes, growing our own teachers is better than getting an experienced teacher in.  Do a good job, go to the meetings, take part in the life of the school.  You will grow from the experience and it gives you a good understanding of what you are going to experience.

4. Look after your health 

Expect to get sick.  Not just a little sick but a lot sick.  The first year is the hardest.  Usually, every bug that comes through the school is going to end up crossing your path.  Be prepared for this while you teach your immune system to ignore the majority of the bugs that come through a school.  This might sound a bit trite, but wash your hands before morning tea, lunch and at the end of the day.  Teach your students what to do so they sneeze correctly and how important it is to cover their coughs.  Teach them how to wash their hands and remember that door handles, pencils, desks - pretty much anything in a classroom - has the potential to have bugs on it.  In saying this, I don't want you to get paranoid but it is important to be aware.  Most parents do not keep their kids home long enough (and those of us who are parents understand some of why they don't) but as a result, we are likely to meet new strains and get sick ourselves.  I have always found eating well (it is amazing what ginger does to boost the immune system and kill bugs), keeping fit and getting enough sleep helps.

5. Look after your stress levels

I can not understate this.  Stress is a huge factor in teaching and it is important to find ways to combat it.  If things are becoming overwhelming - tell someone.  In NZ you will have a mentor teacher - let them know when things are getting too much and they will work with you to find some balance.

Being organised, prepared and on top of the work load will help.  Once again, getting some sleep is critical and try not to live at school.  Go home early at least once during the week - and by early I mean prior to 5pm.  Each week, find time for yourself to recharge.  It is tempting to be at school all weekend, but all work and no play makes for one very stressed teacher.  That is of no use to the school or to your class.

Be realistic and try to start your day in a positive frame of mind.  Finally - practice mindfulness and breathe.  Sometimes, taking a few minutes to breathe in and out will make a huge difference.  I used to do this with my class after lunch time - it settled everyone down and got us all in the right frame of mind.  (google mindfulness in classrooms for more information)

Keeping fit helps so find a way to stay fit and healthy - either by playing a sport, going for walks or joining a gym.

6. Take some time out

I have already mentioned this above but its worth mentioning it again.  If you live, breathe and consume only school with no time for yourself, not only will you begin to resent school, you will burn out.  A stressed out teacher who has had enough of the job is an ineffective one.  It may seem counterintuitive to say this - but you need to take some time out for yourself and have some life experiences so you can share this with your class.  A teacher who has a life is far more interesting than one who does not.

In saying that - don't fall into that trap some young teachers fall into of thinking you are still a student who can keep on partying.  Teaching and partying all night DO NOT mix.  You should never have a hang over in the classroom - but if you do, you will only have one once.  Children (and might I add principals/senior leaders if they find out) are not very forgiving.

When out and about socialising just remember to keep yourself professional.  A good rule of thumb is to think to yourself, would I want this on a headline?  There is nothing more juicy for the media than a teacher that has fallen from grace.  I would caution you to be careful about what you say on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as well.

What you do is one of huge responsibility and as such - you need to treat it that way.  Too many late nights will make you ineffective in the classroom.  This goes for if you are having a major life crises at home.  Please tell someone - we notice when things are not going well and it is better to tell us.  Teaching is hard work and students are demanding.  Its one of those jobs where you need to be on form emotionally and psychologically.

7. Break times 

Find time to eat your lunch.  This may seem silly but there are days where you find its suddenly 6pm and you missed lunch - again.  I encourage my staff to take some time out in the staffroom and to take a bit of a break.  Its a good place to talk to other adults and have a quick breather.  One caveat here is to avoid 'that group' of teachers who are always scouting for new members, particularly the new ones.  They do not exist in every staffroom, but they do exist and are to be avoided.  Too much time with them and you will find yourself bogged down in negatives.  Remember to keep professional and avoid gossiping.

8. Keep advice garnering to a minimum 

When you first start out - everything is new, everything is a bit overwhelming and everyone seems to be more on top of things than you.  It is very tempting to ask the same question of 20 people.  Don't.  Stick to your team leader, your mentor and anyone THEY suggest.  Refrain from asking all the teachers you come across.

Why?  Because you will become confused and lost.  Irrespective of how well meaning the teacher next door seems, if they give you advice it will be from their experience and their perspective, not necessarily what your mentor or leader needs you to do.   I don't doubt it will be good, but it is unlikely to be what you need right then.   It can cause friction and I have lost count of how many conversations I have had with my team around how their BT (beginning teacher) asked the same question of all the teachers when really, they just needed to listen and implement it once.  More importantly for you, it will save you time.

9. Read, read and read 

Sharpen up your pedagogy by reading about teaching and learning.  Google is your best friend.  The caveat here is to be a critical thinker and to not believe everything you read.  Use your common sense and read up on what best practice is.

One of the amazing things about technological advancements into days teaching world is the wealth of resources we have at our fingertips.  Need to find the latest research on shifting priority learners in Math, or ideas for an Inquiry on global issues facing children - then let your fingers do the walking to find the information.

Another caveat here would be to watch how much time you spend surfing the net as this potentially could suck up more time than it should.   Your first few years are a speeding train of busyness and the internet is one of the worlds best time wasters!  The more time you spend teaching the more likely you will understand the research and realise that all the time you spent 'pontificating' about best educational practice from the research whilst you were at University means practically nothing on the first day of teaching.

10. Develop a 'toolbox' of behaviour management ideas and strategies 

This can not be understated.  Nearly every new teachers wants their class to love them and for it all to be one big happy rosy family picture.  They want to be like 'that' teacher - the one whose class is on task, who students take and show responsibility without any apparent effort, all the while engaging in meaningful curriculum discussions and whom appear to be model students.

I don't want to burst that bubble but the only way those teachers have such well oiled classrooms is from hard work.  They understand how students learn, how to engage them, and they have good strategies for when things go pear shape.  In addition, they have high expectations, shared understandings about what is expected and what consequences will be put in place if there are blips in a students behaviour.  These teachers also know their students - they are firm, fair and they are well versed in the art of negotiation.  When a student has a bad day, they know that tomorrow is a fresh start and they wipe the slate clean.

So, if you want to be like these teachers, then you need to make the most of observing good teachers, making notes on what strategies they use, and learn about how students brains work.  Understanding how students behave - especially those who are most at risk - will help you understand what your role as their teacher is.  Hone your skills.  They are the most important in your repertoire as a teacher.   I can not oversell how important good (not power trip) behaviour management is.  It is irrelevant how good your curriculum knowledge or lesson planning is if your class is out of control.  I could spend this entire blog on just behaviour management - more on this another time.

11. Be educationally aware of the big picture 

It is full on being a student and it only gets more so when you are starting out on your teaching career.  It can seem a bit overwhelming to try and take on board what is happening on the world stage regarding education.  But, it is important that you read what is happening, that you find out what is going on and that you understand the context from which our education system takes its shape from.

For example, find out why teachers are concerned about neo liberal policies, find out why they are concerned about Charter Schools, find out what this IES policy is and why there are educationalists who are calling for PISA to be scrapped.

Please don't bury your head in the sand on these issues and pretend they don't impact on you.  Each policy that is implemented in the worlds educational systems have implications that may just eventually impact on what you do in your classroom,  It is naive and I would go one step further to say professionally neglectful, to not take an interest.  If you don't take an interest, you will not know what rights and awards you will lose, or more importantly, what impact this will have on your students.  It behoves you to find out.  It is, after all, your career and your profession.

12.  Know what you are entitled to

Whilst I can not speak for systems other than here in NZ, as a Beginning Teacher you are entitled to a certain amount of support and guidance.  I rarely hear of stories of schools not meeting these obligations these days, but it is important to find out who your mentor teacher is and what the expectations are on you.  At our school, we take the role of mentoring seriously and we put a lot of time and resources into supporting our BTs.

Think carefully about how to maximise your release time.  Some schools are particular about how you use it and others are more flexible.  Whatever structure you find yourself with, do your best to fit in observations of other teachers in your school (or neighbouring schools if you are in a small one) to observe them teaching.  Although you will be observed many times in your career, to be the observer and then to discuss with whom you observed what you saw is incredible professional development.

13.  Your first day, week of teaching 

Firstly, breathe.  Secondly, this could be a series of blog entries on its own.  Invest time in plenty of activities that set the scene for how you wish to go on.  Set up your expectations, co construct how things work in your classroom and take the time to implement plenty of 'getting to know each other' activities.  This is the time to really ensure you set your class up the way you want it.  Here is where you lay the foundations; from how you expect your students to line up, set out books and how they treat each other.  Be planned, be over prepared and most importantly - have some fun.  Teaching, whilst hard work, is also the one job you can go to where you can actually have some fun.  Students appreciate seeing the real you and who doesn't like a bit of a laugh?

14.  Avoid making friends with parents and the community 

I know this one is tricky, but you will thank me for it one day.  It is professionally difficult to be friends with parents of the students you teach.  It is so much easier to keep a professional distance.  Sometimes, you meet people with whom you really click with - my advice there is to wait until either they or you, leave the school.  It is not ok to be professionally compromised and despite your best efforts, it can be hard to keep school matters out of the conversation.  The old adage 'what happens on camp stays on camp' is applicable here.

15.  Time management is critical

A successful teacher is a prepared and organised teacher.  The workload of a teacher is never ending.  Your inbox will never be empty and your list of things to do will never be finite.  Now that we have that clear, there are some secrets that will assist you with your time management.  Again, this is a separate number of blog entries on its own.  Firstly, find a system that works for you.  If you know a teacher who always seems to have their stuff together, ask them what they do.  A key here is to prioritise.  As a young teacher, I quickly realised that there was always going to be something to do and that my list was never-ending.  Thats when I would ask myself - will the world end if I do not get this done today?  In most cases, it will not.

The big thing to remember - if it is all you remember - is this.  If your principal, your leader or your mentor asks you for something, then you need to go all out and get it done.  If you want to be known as organised, prepared and look like you are onto it - then do what is asked of you by the important people when they ask.  If your principal or senior leader has asked you for data or information, I can guarantee to you that it is important.  If we ask - we need it.  We do try to give a decent timeframe but sometimes we can't and that makes it urgent.

There is nothing more frustrating than a teacher who does not give leadership what it needs in a timely matter.  If you do not meet your deadlines then it has an adverse effect on all the team.  For example, school reports.  If your deadline is to have them to your team leader by Friday and you don't get it to them, then it sets the whole agenda behind.  When we work out deadlines we work them out based on what is the very latest we can work with in order to get them to the principal and out to parents.  There is a science to it and we need all our teams to be on time.


I hope this non definitive list is a good start.

Next time, what you need to show on your CV, why the Covering Letter is so important, what to think about at an Interview and some thoughts on what to do if your first job goes pear shape.

In the meantime, teaching is an amazing career and one where you get to shape the face of the future.  Is it hard work?  Yes.  Is it rewarding?  More than I can ever express in words.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Confessions Of A Procrastinator!

Confessions of a procrastinator 

"Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time, sometimes to the "last minute" before the deadline."

I have just been on 'holiday'.  When I have not been busy working (yes, thats a contradiction of terms - just roll with it) I have been practising my ability to procrastinate.  By that, I mean take things a little easier and do 'nothing'.  Sometimes, when our lives are busy and stressful, it is ok to take some time out and fluff around doing very little - to find ways to procrastinate.  It may seem counter intuitive, but go with me on this - to procrastinate can sometimes actually increase productivity.  Yes, thats right - I said to sometimes procrastinate a little, can aid in productivity.  

Let me elaborate. 

Sometimes, your procrastination is 'active procrastination', whereby you avoid doing what you are meant to be doing and thereby do something more pressing or important.  This is better than 'passive procrastination' whereby you are doing nothing.  I would argue however, that the odd occasion of passive procrastination where you lie around on your couch doing very little but chilling out, is good for your soul and to help recharge.  But, like eating too many chocolates, over indulgence is not advised.

Actually - there is method to the above memes madness.  It all comes down to problem solving.  If you know how long you have to get something achieved then you know how long you have to procrastinate until you need to do something and get it completed.  By understanding your deadlines better by a  bit of proactive procrastination, then you actually manage your time better.  

Finally, a little bit of procrastination can be a powerful tool to assist you in unwinding, recharging, giving yourself a creative boost, sorting your priorities and managing your deadlines.  Like everything moderation is the key.

I would elaborate further but that couch of mine is calling….

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Affirmations for Educators - Who You Are Makes a Difference!!


This is for all the amazing educators out there!  Who you are makes a difference - Thank you!

We live in uncertain times.  Each day we get up and there is something being portrayed in the media about teachers or education.  On the rare occasion, it is an upbeat and positive story that reminds us of the importance of our job.  Sadly, this is all too rare.  SO, each day, wake up, smile and remember that despite what comes your way, you have got this!  Teachers are well prepared, resilient human beings that have the ability to ride the storm.  Remember, you are a teacher - you are prepared!

If only the rest of the world understood just how important that statement is.  As a teacher, you know that there will be days where our most vulnerable and at risk students are going to come to school after having had an horrific evening or start to their day.   As a teacher, when their behaviour is displaying the least loveable of elements of their character, you will remember why you got into teaching, and you will know this is when they need you to love them the most.  To set the clear and firm boundaries; to care and to realise that there won't be any point forcing an academic outcome onto these students until their social and emotional wellbeing is taken care of.  I want to gently remind you, that all the stressing in the world over data and learning outcomes pales into comparison when you remember that these vulnerable students need you to love them first - and to teach them second.  It is all too easy to forget we are working with little human beings with real feelings and real emotions.  They are not numbers or statistics - they are people. 

This can be hard somedays.  It is hard to step up and stand up for what is best for our students and our communities and for public education when the media and the bureaucrats focus on the negatives.  You are a teacher - you came into education to make a difference and to shape the future of our society.  Stay true to what is researched based, what is right and what is morally and ethically best for students.   Please do not get me wrong - I am not advocating that you do not embrace change - change can be a wonderful thing.  But embrace the right changes for the right reasons.  

Such an important remembering in the current age of the G.E.R.M. .  Our Students are growing and developing into adults, learning the competencies, skills and values they need to be a productive and happy member of society.  It can be hard to measure that in a Math or English test.  In all the years I have asked parents what they want for their children, not one has said only to be numerate and literate.  That, they expect, will be a given.  No, they all talk about how they want them to have the skills, aptitude, confidence, values and competencies they will need to be successful now and in the future.   

Every day!
Every day you make a difference in the lives of the students you teach.  You make the choice as to if that difference is a positive or negative one.  How you respond to your students, the experiences you provide for them and how well they are engaged in the learning process are all things that you have control over.   

This is a critical message for you and all educators.  In the worlds current obsession with manufacturing various neo-liberal crises around the state of public education, it can be all to easy to become disheartened and disillusioned.  Try not to let it break your spirit and always remember that what you do is important and be proud of being an educator.  

What an amazing privilege it is to be an educator and to be at the ground level of shaping society.  Every day, parents drop their most precious of bundles off to us.  To teach is to inspire, to shape and to create the future.   You are the person who can make a positive difference in the lives of all the students you work with.  

Can you remember why you got into education?  Can you remember what it was that inspired you to want to teach?  I remember the moment where I had something akin to an epiphany.  I knew that I needed to go into education and for me it was about paying it forward.  Whist our stories are often quite unique, educators share one commonality and that is to make a difference!  

Education is an important cornerstone of our world.  Everyday you work with students, you are helping to shape this and your contribution is critical.  On behalf of all those amazing students you work with, and on behalf of all the parents, and especially on behalf of those people who have no idea how important you are - THANK YOU.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Stolen - The Lost Girls of Nigeria - The Worlds Shame

I have been stewing for a few weeks.  Not the kind of stewing that involves cooking, but the kind of mental stewing whereby ones growing indignation and frustration with a situation grows and festers like a suppurating wound.  It has left me wondering - let me explain.

Something horrific happened in the world several weeks ago, and for the most part, the appalling atrocity that was committed has flown under the radar whilst the media has focussed on more important issues.  Issues like which Pope will be made a Saint, Easter, Royal tours Down Under, an NBA scandal, political resignations and of course the celebrity bachelor engagement.

What could possibly be more news worthy than these things you ask?

Around April the 14th, 234 (although reports vary as to the exact number) young girls from between the ages of 16 and 18 were stolen from their school, as they settled down to sit their physics exams.   Insurgents from Nigeria's Boko Haram Militant group, reportedly dressed up in Nigerian Military uniforms, stormed the school, herding the girls into trucks under the guise of 'taking them to safety'.  Once they were in the truck, they burnt the school to the ground.  Unofficial reports have suggested some 40 of the girls escaped, either by jumping from the moving trucks or by running away from the village they were taken to.  Latest understandings around what has happened to these girls in the weeks since they were stolen include suggesting that some of these girls have been forced into marrying their abductors and sold for as little as $12.  

Boko Haram, roughly and usually translated as 'western education is forbidden', has been responsible for numerous brutal attacks on the people of Nigeria, including a horrific attack in late Febuary where they murdered 59 male pupils at a boarding school in the north east of Nigeria by either shooting them or burning them to death.  Yet another atrocity that the worlds media has left largely unreported on.

The attacks on these children - Boko Haram tend to seek out children as its main victims - are horrific.  Their parents must be beside themselves with grief, and the way the world has forgotten them leaves me reeling in shame, and wondering.

The Wonderings:

It raises some really disturbing wonderings for me.

1. I wonder, why did/does the media largely leave this atrocity to go unreported?

There were some reports - and in the last few weeks there has been a brief mention of it here in NZ on the news.  I first saw it on a news feed on my Facebook wall where someone had made a link to a report out of the UK.  As it relates to education, it had popped up under something I subscribe to.  At the time, I wondered at its validity, surely if it was as significant as that, the worlds media would be shouting it from the rooftops.  The public outcry would be loud and significant and all would be done to find these girls.  Not that dissimilar to the worlds concern over the Ferry sinking with all those school children on it, and the missing Malaysian plane.

But no - the issue remained largely unnoticed.  As the social media networks like Twitter ramp up public debate on this atrocity, more seems to be coming out about what happened, but that is not so much by the big news media corps but by bloggers and those who are are motivated by human rights.

2. Why did the Nigerian Government not act faster, and why would the Military mislead?

Reports out of Nigeria in the first few days of this atrocity are conflicting.  Initially it is reported that the military claimed they had rescued the girls and only a little over 100 were involved.  This was retracted some days later.  I am left wondering why the Military did not follow after these young woman and rescue them?  Are they not important?  Do they not rate as worthy of rescue?  Is the military not very good?  Are they now embarrassed that they did not rescue them as they initially claimed and were 'outed' by the parents and schools principal?  Is the Government embarrassed and now hiding their head in the sand like an ostrich?

Whilst the population is seeped in poverty, the Government, with its oil rich resources, must have some resources at its disposal to rescue these girls - assuming the girls are 'important' enough for them to rescue.

3. I wonder about what it says about humanity...

If the world, and the power of our media outlets, fail to highlight these kinds of atrocities in such a way that both the Nigerian Government is forced to be held accountable, and the peoples of the world are united to stand up and say this is not ok - then what does that say about humanity?  Does it suggest that if it is not on our western shores, in our western schools, or our western daughters, sisters, or western girls - then it is of no value or importance?  Is this one of our worlds shames?

4. I wonder, if the world had been mobilised via the media reporting in the first days, if the girls would have been rescued and safe with their families right now.

This is perhaps, my most concerning and hopeless of all the wonderings.  Imagine if the worlds media had given this atrocity the attention it deserved, when it happened.  Imagine the outcome that would arise from a frenzied public outcry - the pressure this would have placed on the Nigerian Government to act.

It concerns me, and it breaks my heart, that these girls could have been saved, safe and given the message that they are important, and their lives are valued.  Instead, the message they have been given by their Government - a Government that should be about protecting its people from harm - is that young people are not worthy, that girls are commodities and unvalued, and that it is acceptable for them to be abducted, raped, sold and teated like slaves as if this was something out of the pages of the distant past.

It is shameful that we, the world, have sat back and idly let it happen.  It is shameful that the media focussed on other things and as a result, these girls have have been lost.

5. I wonder if the Media understand their power and the responsibility that comes with that?

I understand that the big media giants of this world are ruled by the almighty dollar and it is about what sells papers.  But, I ask you, does the media not have a responsibility to ensure the world understands what is happening, and that they highlight the atrocities like this?

Perhaps I am being too harsh, for at the end of the day, it is the public that buys and reads what the media produces, and many seem only to be interested in what the young Royals are doing, and not at all concerned about wider global issues - especially when it is not in their backyard.

However, one only knows about what one is told - so that brings me back to the responsibility that the media of the world holds.  Considering the hold they have over what is reported and how it is reported, perhaps some of the worlds apathy rests in this direction.  Food for thought.

6.  I wonder, what would happen if over 200 girls were stolen from a western school near you?

Lets address the elephant in the room shall we?  Not an easy topic to broach, and one that leaves us all feeling a little uneasy.  I do wonder how quickly the world would have acted if this had happened at any of our schools - if it had been any of our children that had been abducted and sold into slavery.  Is it because it is from an African nation that the world looks away?

Does the fact that so many atrocities occur in nations like Nigeria (and many go unreported) that the western world becomes immune to yet another story that seems so far removed from our busy western lives?   Does this mean we place a higher value on the civil rights of our western children than we do of those who are not from our understanding of the world?  Serious questions that require serious navel gazing that more often than not leave us squirming uncomfortably.

7. I wonder if the western world is aware of how rife human trafficking is?

Human trafficking is one of our worlds greatest shames, and nearly every country in the world is involved in one way or shape.  To think that something as atrocious as over 200 girls being abducted in Nigeria is a non western problem, is shortsighted at best.  Human trafficking is rife and well established throughout the world.  1 in 5 victims are children and 2/3rds are women.

Whilst a majority of the victims come from areas in Africa, it does leave me to wonder - if the majority of the children and woman were western and were adducted from neighbourhoods like the ones we live in, would the world take more notice?   Or, is it because the world places less value on woman, children and girls, and even less value for those who are not from the western world?

8.  I wonder what will happen next?

Will the world know what has happened and will they stand up and demand action and justice for these young women?  Will their Government take responsibility for the safety of these young women and step up to do what is right?  Will the media use their power for the good of these young women and set an example of leadership?

I am aware that 'what ifs' and 'wonderings' are not always helpful but they are useful in terms of not being doomed to repeat the same mistakes, and if all they do is make us stop and reflect - then that is a positive move forward.

Finally, I am hopeful that there is a positive outcome for these beautiful young women who deserve to have the world behind them, and who deserve to be educated and safe in their own country.  It is what I would expect for my daughter, your daughter and all the daughters of the world.  It must be a human right to be safe, educated, housed, fed and free.  If it is what we would demand for our children then we all must demand it for all the worlds children - to not do so is a crime against humanity.

Further Reading;

Excellent expose on this situation and Boko Haram.

News Report on the 59 Boys murdered by Boko Haram, yet largely unreported.

More about the girls abducted and reportedly forced to marry.

Excellent opinion piece from CNN on why we need to act.

Report from the Tico Times