Category Archives: Uncategorized

Here, there and everywhere

This is where I’ve taken this blog so far: it is a crude rendering, but a good visual nonetheless. Where else should I research?


The Bangladesh Interviews Part Two

Another friend of mine, Sarah Kelley, grew up in Bangladesh as well, though she had a very different experience from Sadman. Kelley, a pre-med biology junior, moved to Gainesville from Bangladesh with her older brother Shane in August.

Kelley grew up a 40-acre campus of a Christian hospital in Bangladesh’s rural southeastern region. Her family served as missionaries at the base.

There was a Bengali medium school on the base, but Kelley attended a small English medium school for missionary children. A group from kindergarten through grade 3 may have consisted of around 15 to 20 students, the numbers dwindling with age.

Sometimes Kelley’s mother taught the group of students, sometimes other mothers taught. By high school, Kelley was taking classes mostly online through an independent study program.

Kelley had many friends who attended the Bengali medium school on the base. She often got a feel for the methods of the school when she passed by. From her observation, much of the teachings were based on oral instruction. The teachers would say something and have the students repeat it back to them.

The schools in her area are working on changing that, Kelley said. They have seen that the learning-by-rote method is not very efficient, and they are working toward more exercises in critical thinking.

The school goes up to grade 10, after which students are tested for two years of “college” (the American equivalent of 11th and 12th grades) and then can apply to attend a university.

Some of Kelley’s female friends would attend the school through 10th grade then get a job or marry. Other students were encouraged by their families to continue in their education.

“Bengali students are very studious,” Kelley said. “There’s a lot of family honor associated with grades and school.”

She described it as thought to be a “gateway” to a better life for many Bengali families.

In an article by the Khaleej Times, an English newspaper based in Dubai, the writer points out how empowered women in Bangladesh have been and are becoming. The article lists women’s development projects such as microlending as a positive endeavor to life widows and single mothers out of poverty.

The Khaleej Times says men still outnumber women in Bangladeshi universities, but the number of women enrolling is steadily increasing.

It is a hopeful prospect in a nation that ranks 146th out of 187 countries on an index that measures human development. (The list is compiled by the United Nations Development Programme, according to the Khaleej Times).

And according to UNICEF, 77 percent of females ages 15-24 can read (2005-2010). The number is 74 percent for males the same age. From 2007 to 2010 primary school enrollment rates are very high (in the 80s and 90s percentages) but secondary school enrollment rates are considerably less (hovering between 40 and 43 percent for males and females respectively).

But enough statistics. There are improvements that can be made, like in any education system, but I think Bangladesh is heading in the right direction, especially in terms of empowering women in an atmosphere surrounded by gender hardships.

A big thank-you to Sarah Kelley for letting me interview her!

The Bangladesh Interviews Part One

Kazi Sadman, a materials science and engineering sophomore, lived most of his life in Bangladesh, until moving here to the United States in high school.

Sadman attended a private school in Dhaka from playgroup through ninth grade. He spent his younger education years in what is known as playgroup, nursery, Kindergarten 1, then Kindergarten 2. The rest of his schooling was labeled by grade up to 12, much like U.S. schools.

There are two kinds of schools where he is from, English medium schools and Bengali medium schools. The English medium schools are private, whereas the Bengali medium schools are public.

Sadman attended an English medium school, which meant having seven or eight periods a day, only one taught in Bengali. School days ran from Sunday to Thursday. There were two five-month semesters in a year, with a one-month summer break and one-month winter break.

Sadman’s school was very academically challenging. There were letter grades assigned, report cards sent out twice a semester, and parent-teacher conferences twice a semester. There were finals every year that were worth 75 percent of their grade.

“There were no curves, never!” Sadman said.

If students passed their A level tests in the 12th grade, they could go on to apply for a university.

The heavy-weight finals and A level tests added a lot of pressure to students academically, Sadman said, something he was spared of in his final years of high school when he moved to the United States.

Students at Sadman’s school were not only held to a high standard of academics. There were many rules put in place to keep students’ behavior in line. Boys were to wear a uniform of brown pants paired with a white shirt. The teachers and administrators of the school were very respected, and they were given the ultimate authority. It was not uncommon for a student to get slapped or spanked by an administrator as a punishment for behavior.

But they also had fun with school too, Sadman said. A close-knit community, students grow up knowing basically everyone in their grade level, as they progress from playgroup through grade twelve at the same school. Sadman said when he left there were about 90 students in his grade, students whom he had grown up going to school with.

Sadman remembers some extracurricular programs his school offered. The debate club was big. Table tennis and basketball were popular as well. The school put on several functions, one called “race day” which is similar to an American field day. Other functions celebrating holidays like the Bengali New Year (Pohela Boishakh) gave students an excuse to dress up and enjoy food and music together.

I want to thank Kazi Sadman for sharing his school experiences with me!

To know more about the education system in Bangladesh, visit their ministry of education website. It is packed with statistics and official-looking documents, although the documents themselves are written in Bengali.

Other links:

Pass the Turkey?

Heated protests in Turkey last week have added more contention to a debate that spans the nation’s history. Intentionally founded on secularism yet still a nation with a very religious population, there is bound to be a good amount of rubbing shoulders between these two ideals that apparently don’t coincide.

And last week, the tensions between these ideals surfaced with the protests in Turkey’s capital, Ankara. Demonstrators gathered to challenge the Parliament’s nearly-completed overturning of a 1997 law that stipulated that only children ages 15 and above could attend religious “imam hatip” schools, according to Al Jazeera.

The “imam hatip” schools, said Reuters UK, specialize in religious education combined with a modern curriculum. If the bill is overturned, students as young as 11 would be able to attend these schools.

Parliament accepted a proposal last Thursday from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party to offer optional courses on the Quran or the life of the Prophet Mohammad in public middle and secondary schools, says Al Jazeera.

But the debate is more than just a feud over the place of conservative Islam in the Turkish education system, a blogger for the Daily Activist argues. It is more like an issue of the “steady erosion of secularism” in Turkey, the blogger writes.

Turkey has long been known for its secular tradition, an Eastern nation founded on such principles. Excerpts of the Turkish Constitution, found on Turkey’s Ministry of National Education’s website, emphasize this concerted effort to remain secular in educational and political realms in a largely Islamic nation. Article 1.3 states that the general purpose of education in Turkey is to raise citizens who:

“…are aware of their duties and responsibilities towards the Turkish Republic, a democratic, secular and social state of law based on human rights and the basic principles defined at the beginning of the Constitution and for whom these duties have become a habit…”


“…have a balanced and healthy personality and character, who are developed in terms of body, mind, moral, spirit and emotions, free and with scientific thinking abilities and a wide worldview, who respect human rights, who value personality and enterprise, who are responsible towards society, who are constructive, creative and productive.”

According to the Associated Press, Prime Minister Erdogan championed the move towards overturning the 1997 bill as a step towards greater democracy. Erdogan, who graduated from an Islamic school, has spoken of government support for raising a “pious generation.”

Al Jazeera states that the 1997 law led to the decline in attendance at “imam hatip” schools, when the age standard was placed at 15. According to statistics by UNICEF, enrollment in Turkish primary schools decreased since 1997. However, enrollment rates increased in secondary schools post-1997.

The bill, which has passed through a majority AK party Parliament, just needs to be approved by President Abdullah Gul before it comes into effect, according to the AP.

AK Party leaders hail this as a reform that will decrease illiteracy and raise school standards. Turkish secularists worry that this will set the nation back in the wrong direction. It could be an interesting wave into a new era for Turkey.

South of the Border

In light of a recent explosion of social media and its groundbreaking effects, it comes as no surprise that a new documentary has precipitated considerable outrage and at the very least, awareness. And no, I’m not talking about the KONY 2012 film campaign, not this time.

The documentary, known as “¡De Panzazo!”, brought in $870,000 in February on its opening weekend, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film, reminiscent of the U.S. ‘Waiting for “Superman” ’ has sparked more discussions since.

De Panzazo is slang for “barely passing”, according to an article by USA Today. Scripps News says it is Spanish for “belly flop.”

Either way, that seems to be a correct reflection of how the filmmakers view the education system of Mexico. According to a Foundry blog, an offshoot of The Heritage Foundation, the documentary exposes the Mexican education system as one characterized by “ little accountability, careless spending, little competition, and a powerful teachers union that is more concerned with protecting teachers than student educational achievement.”

And, says the USA Today article, Mexicans are largely unaware of these apparent shortcomings in the system—the surprisingly high statistics on teacher absenteeism and the failing government oversight of the education system.

And these problems are further exacerbated in the rural, most poor areas of the country.

According to USA Today, the documentary revealed that the average Mexican is educated for eight years, as opposed to an average of thirteen years in the U.S. and Canada.

It is not merely a problem of poverty, although the article cites incidents of holding classes outdoors because of the lack of rooms. Actually, a rise in private education has been evident in the last 30 years in Mexico. Yet USA Today recognizes this not as a solution, but adding to the problem: students in these private schools are achieving generally similar scores on standardized tests as public schools, because they are taught to memorize and spit out information rather than problem-solve.

USA Today says the documentary places the blame for these issues largely on the shoulders of the National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE), a powerful union that controls the education system in Mexico.

Yet the mother of a Mexican teen prodigy told the Los Angeles Times that the concern should be placed on personal responsibility, and a focus shifted from depending on authorities or other higher-ups and finding support in the household.

That is, after all, how 17-year-old Andrew Almazan earned his psychology degree and is now working toward a degree in medicine. He is the director of child psychology at the Center for Attention to Talent.

Though it is encouraging to see a bright student achieving such success, I am left to wonder how easily this can be accomplished for other Mexican students. The Los Angeles Times article says Andrew was raised in a middle-class section of Mexico City, so class may also be a large contributing factor to his success.

Article 3 of Mexico’s 1917 Constitution mandates compulsory elementary education and free education. The Constitution has laid out the opportunities, but they seem stifled by the union in charge. I encourage you to learn more through the documentary, “¡De Panzazo!”. I could only find the trailer in Spanish, but here it is:


Kenya and Somalia

Source: Al Jazeera

From a distance at least, it is difficult to make any conclusions about
the state of Kenya’s education system. This international report by Radio France Internationale says that Kenya is right on track to achieve the United Nations’ second Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015.

Citing phenomenal growth in Kenya’s primary school system (93 percent enrollment rates) the article extols the progress being made in the areas of information communication and technology as fuel for the country’s growth in both primary and secondary education.

An article published in late February by Voice of America explained some roadblocks to Kenya’s primary school success. The article states that the Kenya Education Support Sector Program was started in 2005, with $5.8 billion earmarked for improving the quality of education and making more educational opportunities available.

Here is the appraisal document for the program.

Yet according to Voice of America, rumors of fraud within the ministry of education and the education system of Kenya as a whole started to surface in 2009. By the next year, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission listed dozens of education officials suspected of theft, with some already appearing in court.

Al Jazeera reported in June that around $50 million was missing from the ministry of education.

Somalia, a neighbor to Kenya, may be considered to be in a worse state of education than Kenya. A Washington Post article says: “Only about a third of children of primary-school age are enrolled in school, according to UNICEF.”

As Somalia continues to face round after round of militia violence, there is a generation of children being raising in such violent conditions. The main conflict started in 1991—to give some perspective, I was born in 1992. The generation being raised in this violence is full of 20-somethings like myself.

And apparently as a result of this, Somali children like to play war. According to the article, children are less interested in education and more interested in fighting.

Washington Post: “We need to make sure that this generation receives quality basic education, access to social services and protection from violence and abuse,” Sikander Khan, the top official for the U.N. children’s agency in Somalia said. “This will stop them being sucked into the continuing violence and they will then be able to make a positive and lasting contribution to the future of Somalia.”

Though the situation appears to be very hopeless, school enrollment rates are increasing in Somalia. The article states that Somalia had 285,000 children in school in 2003-2004, and now there are 760,000 in the 2011-2012 school year.

An article by Oxfam highlights the need and demand for a higher-quality education system and access for children in Somalia. It is a chief concern for parents amid the conflicts and violence dominating the country.

My hope is that Somalia can get at least a foothold in peace. That they can build up their education system and encourage participation by providing better opportunities and incentives.

The Philippines, Tim Tebow and more

Tim Tebow in the Philippines

In the U.S and especially at my university, there is an awful lot of buzz going on about Tim Tebow. Most of the talk around here is praise for the young NFL quarterback, although he’s withstood some harsh criticism and mocking as well.

Because we have become so fascinated with Tebow’s life and upbringing, most of us know that Tebow grew up in a missionary family serving in the Philippines. Perhaps that is even the first thing some of us think of when we hear about the Philippines.

I wanted to know more about the country, particularly the living conditions and educational opportunities there.  The Tebow family has helped and continues to help maintain an orphanage there. The rest of their work falls under evangelistic categories.

But what about the rest of the country? Since it has undoubtedly gotten at least some amount of press coverage, has this helped?

I looked up some statistics. In the State of the World’s Children 2012 report by UNICEF, I found that the Philippines ranked number 80 in under-5 mortality rates in 2010. To put that in perspective, the U.S placed at 145th.

This is an OK indication of the country’s economic status, but not the only data to be looked at. It seems that most of the poverty experienced in the Philippines is focused in the cities. Manila, the capital, is densely populated and devastatingly mired in slum poverty.

So educating children in large cities like Metro Manila should be a high priority. On January 20, the President of the Philippines signed into law the Republic Act No. 10157, or the Kindergarten Education Law, according to the Philstar.

The Kindergarten Education Law provides for free and compulsory kindergarten education starting in the 2012-2013 school year. Children must pass kindergarten under this act. The article states that through the new law, the Department of Education hopes to improve student performance and curb early dropout rates.

Otherwise, UNICEF’s statistics on primary school are hopeful: the primary school net enrollment rate in the Philippines was at 92 percent from 2007-2009.

Another promising stat: literacy rates among young adults (ages 15 to 24) remained at a high 97 percent for males and 98 percent for females between the years of 2005 and 2010.

Secondary school enrollment rates don’t look as good. They hovered between 55 and 66 percent from 2007-2010. And there is still a lot of room for improvement, many would argue, especially in the realm of higher education. According to an article by Bernama, a Malaysian news agency, World Bank leaders are calling for an improved higher education system in order to boost the Philippine economy. Employers are finding a significant gap in creativity, leadership and problem-solving skills in several Philippine industries, presumable because of this lack of higher education.

The article states that this can be helped by improving the university system in the Philippines, as well as with better allocation of funds to the schools. This is an issue I have researched before, in countries I’ve covered on this blog such as South Africa. There seems to be a widespread call for an improved higher education system.

For more info on the Kindergarten Education Law: