Sunday, May 15, 2016

Motivation Works!

As motivation gets humans going, arouses interests and creates the wants to achieve a goal this is considered a crucial tool not only in teaching but also in our daily life. Personally, I have been struggling with this phenomenon in my life and frankly speaking I felt jealous so many times of those who are internally energetic and motivated and this made me more curious to figure out how this works.

As part of my teaching job, I always tried to motivate my students and as well as set myself personal goals. Motivation has long been a global challenge for teachers and education practitioners. Throughout my seven years of teaching experience in different contexts motivation has been a key tool and has had direct effects on students’ productivity and knowledge creation. I have been struggling a lot with this topic at almost every context in my teaching experience and also witnessed the challenge amongst all my colleagues. 

Teaching in a military context has never been an easy job for me, I found my classes very challenging dealing with cadets motivation and having this in mind I decided to conduct an action research. Beginning with the research, I went through many blogs, books and articles to go a bit deeper to find out what strategies will work out coping with demotivation challenge of students in a military context. Besides experiencing new things and some weird reactions doing the data collection I found out different factors that make students demotivated in learning process which depends on different situations and environments and students backgrounds.

To understand what factors demotivate my students at Officers Academy, I prepared questionnaires and discussed with 200 hundred cadets. According to respondents, factors such as physical tiredness, family problem, sleeplessness, Commanders punishments, busy daily schedule of school, unhealthy food, breaks among English sessions (one week in a month), large classrooms, were among the top factors respectively.

There are different ways to motivate students. As Ferlazzo & Sypnieski quotes in The ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide” Positive teacher-student relationships, a supportive classroom atmosphere , enhancing student’s sense of autonomy through, providing choices and praising effort , setting goals and many other are the strategies can boost up intrinsic motivation in students. Also, Mark Bain says in one of his action research that  strategies such as to promote the learner awareness of the topics values, to make learning more enjoyable by varying the learning tasks, and to make the curriculum more relevant to the leaner by relating the subject matter and the teaching materials to the learners’ experiences and interests make students motivated in the learning process.

I tried to apply some strategies and see how they work in my classroom context. Using visual/colour charts, allowing students to have a “work free” speech session, providing choice/options and using technology.  Besides applying these ideas, I chose technology and wanted to apply by making some activities and see the result. I focused on using technology and the result was surprising in my own three classes. Due to less time and other limitations I had in my teaching schedules I created two activities to see the reaction of students and also observe them and what exactly the students do and why they are motivated.

One of the activities I applied was on reading skills in the context of famous people; the activity focuses on reading for gist and details followed by a freer speaking task. Following that students were given a questionnaire about their student reactions. Based on my observation, students were very active, energetic and happy.  Based on responses of the questionnaire findings all the students said yes that the lesson was interesting due to the use of technology. The projector, internet and use of the pictures and a video were all factors that made the lesson alive, interesting and fruitful.
Key Findings
·  Physical tiredness, family problem , having busy schedules ,sleeplessness , punishments and abuses from their commanders , busy scheduling of the their school, large classes,  unhealthy food ,  breaks among English sessions ( one week in a month) were among the top factors that demotivate students at Officers Academy.

·         Giving choices, using technology, rewarding, making the task varied, encouraging students, being friendly and creating a friendly environment classroom, competition, allowing students to earn a “work free” speech session, using more visual materials, making relevant materials considering students interest and needs, giving specific feedback, giving autonomy, increase awareness of the lessons for the students and its values, more fun activities such as games and refreshers were the strategies that are applicable at Officers Academy English classes. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Press Freedom Day

On May 15th, I was invited to United States Embassy in Kabul to talk about my personal experiences of press freedom and its values for a group of students, teachers, and journalists from different provinces connected via Internet from their provincial Lincoln Centers.
Free speech is the basis of a free press that has changed life in Afghanistan as they practiced citizenship and civic participation in a society. My focus was how press freedom can contribute to Afghans who participate in the peaceful transition of power and social changes that were widely reflected in 7 million Afghan citizens turned out to vote in April this year and posted their feelings and images of purple fingers as a symbol of national pride of their choice of democracy. Afghanistan experiences still struggle with good governance, peace-building among divided ethnic groups and classes and most importantly development in the daily life of rural communities stuck among armed conflict and weak economic growth. As a blogger and freelance writer, I shared my personal experiences of how blogging and use of Facebook helped me raise my voice coming from an ethnic minority - the Hazaras and speak out my mind loudly not only with my fellow Afghans ,but with the world.
US Embassy in Kabul, Press Freedom Day Event 
 At the end, I had an opportunity to answer the audiences’ questions and listened to their interesting comments and experiences of a free environment for speech and media too. The questions were surprising because the audiences had fears and concerns of Post-2014 Afghanistan. The concerns were if the international community withdraw completely and stop economic and political support of Afghanistan as the year ends, the current free speech environment and the sustainability of private media we all fought for since 2001 will be at the risk of more pressure and even loss from Taliban and other extremist circles. The financial stability of independent media and our economy itself is a challenge ahead of us since more warlord are involved in the power that ultimately  journalists  may be be tortured, kidnapped and killed for reporting corruption and conflict. It is hard to write about facts and uncover the bitter realities of Afghanistan, but I choose to write for the growth of victory of freedom and democracy over fundamentalism as the only working option for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Spending One Day with Orphans

 “Those who help a child, help humanity with immediateness which no other help given to human creature in any other stage of human life can possibly give again.”

I am feeling honored being part of Kabul Leadership Team of the Afghanistan University Students Exchange Program (AUSEP) in organizing a program (Spending One Day with Orphans) on May 29th, 2014 in one of the orphanages in Kabul.

The idea behind this program was to acculturate volunteerism, advocate care for orphans, and seek supports for the orphaned children and orphanages in Afghanistan.

The program activities included storytelling, paintings, drawings, playing games, group works, sharing experiences, conversation with orphans and donating some charity.

Each individual of the group did make every effort in any possible way to help the orphaned children with the slogan of CARE FOR ORPHANS.

Friday, March 7, 2014

How Teachers are Ignored in Afghanistan ?

Teaching is usually called the most respected profession in the world, but teachers and the teaching profession have usually been neglected through history and this has multiplied in my country, Afghanistan. In fact, teachers have never been given what they deserved. On paper, in speeches, in plans and in strategies worldwide, everything is good about teachers, but when it comes to action and reality, it is different or even vice versa. There are many different indicators that show how teachers are being neglected in Afghanistan. Being forced to live from hand to mouth, low salaries, no encouragement, no job security, not having a good social reputation, and being considered as second hand citizens in the society are the obvious examples of how teachers are ignored here. Why this is so?
In my country when people cannot go to a profession they come to teaching. In other words, they do not come by choice but they come by force. This is why teachers apply teacher centered methodologies that make students to be trained as citizens to say "yes" all the time which can lead to no creativity at all. Students cram the books, but don't understand them. They are taught for exams instead of understanding or practical life. It's all because of unqualified or non-professional teachers and it will result a crisis in the society.

A Classroom in Afghanistan
Teachers are not financially independent and are paid the least salary. They are paid 100 USD in a month which is very hard to run a life and be in teaching career. This makes teachers to leave teaching forever or search for other jobs. Some leave immediately and some stay in teaching but besides they usually work part-time jobs just to fulfill the primary needs of their families and survive. For instance, one of teachers cleans the house of a warlord as a part-time job because she makes more money than her teaching salary. This is unbearable for a teacher. Delayed and unpaid salaries, and being targets of anti-government parties in some insecure provinces are also add to the teachers problems. As a result, it might be impossible with consideration of all these challenges for a teacher to teach well and effectively. Or how it could be possible to expect teachers to contribute to nation building, peace building, economic development, and a stabilized and democratic society with all these challenges? This disaster must be taken seriously or the society will be the same, stuck in one place and will never develop.
Good teachers leave soon or quit teaching. There are many talented and well-educated people in teaching but they do not enter this career for a number of reasons. One reason is the controlled curriculum of the government for the universities and schools or teacher training colleges which is forced and there is almost no chance that one could implement whatever works well in the class or can use own materials for creating an effective and result-based learning environment . They want to have their own choice in curriculum that could be more effective and result-based not the traditional and old textbooks. The other reason is the low salaries for the teachers .There are well paid jobs available in the non-teaching careers which they prefer than teaching. Furthermore, they come with innovation, commitment, motivation and passion for positive changes but while they face with the reality (the controlled and old system) they leave teaching career because there are no ways to apply change. For example, my university literature teacher, an employee of United Nations, was dropped by the department because he wanted changes in the system.
There are also many other reasons that why teachers leave this profession which I always hear from almost every teacher. My relatives, friends, classmates and the teachers I have worked and been with them, I realized how they suffered from unbearable condition of teaching and teaching system. For example, my mother worked more than 20 years in teaching but finally she switched her job because she couldn’t stand. In fact, she was not able any more to see how teachers are being ignored and tagged as a second hand category of people in the society.
Many of my friends and classmates hated teaching when we were studying it at the university. They started to study something else besides working somewhere or having part-time job just to run away from teaching. In fact, they were saying that we will work on the streets but we will not become teachers. The reason behind this was that they had seen teachers struggling for life and having no good standing in the society. Although, our major at the university was to become English teachers in Afghanistan schools but except a few among us no one dared to start what they came for and studied. Honestly speaking, students did not come by choice but they were brought by chance or force.
What makes me as one of those who feels ignored and to concern are that; First, intelligent and skilled people do not choose teaching as a field because of its low status. Secondly, when unskilled people come to teaching intentionally or unintentionally they bring their negative effects with themselves into the field .They do not teach well, just come to make money and to make a living and that is all they are doing teaching. Furthermore, there is no motivation or commitment and it definitely has negative effects on students, families, society and finally the whole world. As a result, considering all these, the university system is not contributing to the education system and teaching but rather is playing with the future of the students.
Once I have studied in a book said that God has given everyone a talent and the fool is the one who does not know in what he is good at until he dies. I found that in my teaching. I felt comfortable in it so far being with people, touching their lives, and learning from them. This is what kept me in teaching. I have tried many times to convince myself that I should be a teacher that everyone should be able to count on me. I should be someone supportive, helpful and an agent of change in my society. But there are things that make me question why I should be a teacher like this or is it really worth it to be a teacher in my country? I feel neglected because of all those reasons and still I struggle to find an answer.
There are no short cuts to quality and development. Teachers are the keys to quality improvements in every section in country. Personally thinking, there is no better job than teaching to contribute the feeling that you are making a difference. And as a teacher I totally agree that we all make great differences to people lives in a variety of ways. So this is why teachers should be paid more attention for a better tomorrow. Government should give priority to teachers and education, respect teachers, help teachers in any possible way, create a quality and workable hiring system for teachers, provide capacity building programs for teachers to professionalize them and to lobby any where possible for the betterment. Educating people, especially the young generation is a critical issue .More than 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s population is the young generation who can bring peace, justice, decrease poverty, and contribute to economic growth in the country. Especially in post conflict war contexts, teachers have the potential to make an immense contribution to development and that is why the neglect of teaching profession must be seriously taken into consideration.

If the government focuses on education and teachers’ professional development which is also identified as one of the critical part of reestablishing human capital and economy in Afghanistan, it will definitely help to the foundation and future of Afghanistan. The new generation, though they find their lives a challenge, still has a hunger for education; they are ready to seize and very enthusiastic about what they can do for their country and what they can change about their future. I am sure investing on education, working hard and with a futuristic vision in this field will bring up Afghanistan from the current situation and this is a solution for this country. Finally, I have to say that any society that does not respect their teachers will stuck like my country, Afghanistan, so this why I would go with a saying from Nelson Mandela “If you want change the world give people the weapon of education.”

This article has been published by Oxus Post and The Daily Afghanistan Express.  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Afghanistan's First Social Media Summit

On 22nd and 23rd of September 2013 in Kabul, Afghanistan experienced its first social media summit, Paiwand. Over 200 participants including politicians, bloggers, journalists, photographers, artists, and social activists nearly from all over Afghanistan were attended in the program. The aim was that social media users share experiences and discus effects of social media in their daily lives. A particular focus was the role of social media in empowering people, increasing civic engagement and encouraging participation in the political process for the coming election in April next year. The program was cooperated by UNDP, US embassy of Kabul, UK embassy in Kabul, Channel 1, and some more organizations.

Different topics such as citizen journalism, social media role in civic engagements, digital media, entrepreneurship, media power, gender, visual storytelling and some more social issues discussed among the participants. Current situation of social media in the country, and its effectiveness and role in development, economy and Afghan society were the other parts topics which were also discussed.
Photo : BBC 
Mentioned in the summit, at the moment, Afghanistan has more than two millions of Internet users comparing one decade back it was zero which is a big achievement for the country. Also Facebook users  has reached more than 750,000 as well. Theses social media users can give a through picture of Afghanistan into the world and tell realities of Afghanistan which will be definitely an effective tool to contribute development in the country. Social Media has also contributed and boosted up freedom of speech in the country which is a great tool that can help the government and people to use it as a tool for the betterment of society.

Moreover, Lack of electricity mostly in the provinces, lack of Internet connection and high price of Internet in Afghanistan, disturbing female in Facebook were some problems mentioned by the participants and speakers. Personally, having such programs and gatherings will increase understanding citizens from each other in one hand and it is also an opportunity to speak our minds with each other besides its positive effects in the society.    

Friday, May 31, 2013

A success; the Students Hunger Strike and A Hope!

Eighty two students of Social Science faculty of Kabul University went on a hunger strike for 8 days in front of parliament of Afghanistan to raise their voice against nepotism, injustice, mismanagement, and corruption at Kabul University. Removal of the faculty’s dean and one of the professors of their positions was the immediate action that the students wanted. These problems have been part of the Afghanistan education system for the past decades, and it is the first time in Afghanistan history, that students have gone for a hunger strike to make the change happen.

Students have been intentionally failed or dropped for different purposes, sexually abused and harassed especially the female students. They couldn’t see their graded papers and mostly discriminated because of their races, beliefs, and especially of their secular thoughts. Moreover students have been warned to be dropped because the students want updated curriculum not the syllabus that the professors themselves have studied at their schools. As a result, it seems that the professors who think themselves of owners of Kabul University fear from an open society. 

Social Science students of Kabul University first started the strike, and then gradually the other university students attended the demonstration to show their support. During the students eight-day strike more than forty of them were hospitalized but not one broke their fast. The students were strict on their decision this time. There have been many demonstrations and complaints in the past for a better system at Kabul University which were all ignored. But they made it this time.

Students no longer have the tolerance to accept the prejudiced, corrupt and old system of the universities. On one hand, most of the professors don’t want the students to challenge them, to reject their ideas, to think critically ,or even to ask them questions Students don’t want favorism, injustice, and closed minded and extremist teachers but they want a sound education system where the students benefit from their equal rights, a peaceful learning environment and a place where they can compete and learn in the best way possible .In fact, they want an academic setting which can guarantee that the students are no longer be discriminated for any reason like ideas, beliefs ,ethnicity, gender, race, language ,etc and in which they are not blackmailed, abused, accused, sexually harassed and even raped at universities in Afghanistan by the professors or by the authorities.

This become a big scene of civil society’s activists and was largely broadcasted through social media like Face book and Twitter. Many organizations, intellectuals, poets, writers, MPs, politicians, and social activists which were not vocal before in the country’s history also announced their support for the strikers and this movement. This movement has been appreciated because of its civic values by different local organizations inside and outside Afghanistan.

On the last day of the strike, the Minister of Higher Education Obiadullah Obaid, National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta, and senior presidential advisor Nematullah Shahrani showed up at the scene to promise that all the demands of the students will be accepted and implemented .Finally, the presidential spokesperson announced the decision to remove the two university teachers. This was the first time that government accepted the change that students want for the betterment of education system. But I hope this time the government does not play its political games again with the students.  

Tears of Happiness , one of the hunger strikers
What I see among these students is a hope for the future of Afghanistan. This is a new start to reform the system and contribute their responsibilities for a better future and a stable country. It is an example of what a democratic society would look like. As humans who are equal, every citizen has the right to speak out their minds and try to be the change that is needed. This was just a beginning of major conflict which is, in fact, between two generations and I see a peaceful and a sound education system and a better Afghanistan where at least people value humanity.