Tag Archives: Education


  • HOME
  • タグ : Education

Early Compensatory Basic Concepts Intervention Needed for All Grade R Learners

January 27, 2023
By 25517

Louis Benjamin (University of the Western Cape, 2001) received a Sylff Project Grant (SPG) to disseminate the Basic Concepts Program in Northern Cape Province, one of the poorest regions of South Africa. The program he developed is designed as a cognitive intervention for preschool children to enhance their preparedness for early school education and beyond. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the SPG program, implemented from 2019 to 2022, has succeeded in promoting learning and thinking in young children. The following article is reprinted from the website of Basic Concept Unlimited, an NGO led by Benjamin to promote the Basic Concepts Program in South Africa.   

* * *

The Basic Concepts Programme (BCP) is considered the first compensatory cognitive intervention programme for young learners (5-9yr olds) that has been implemented extensively in South Africa. The BCP is currently being scaled throughout the Northern Cape and has been implemented extensively in the Western Cape as well. It is our contention that a compensatory cognitive intervention programme like the BCP needs to be implemented on a national scale in South Africa.

But why should there be a need for such an intervention programme in the first place? Should we not rely on the national curriculum (CAPS) or other validated and established general education programmes to address the educational needs of young learners?

We incorrectly assume that merely attending a pre-school or school would adequately address the educational needs of most children. However, through our research at the Basic Concepts Foundation over the past 18 years, we have consistently found that 70% of school starters are not school prepared. In addition, researchers have found that 78% of Grade 4 children in South Africa were not able to read for meaning. Why is school attendance not a good predictor of learning? It might be a good start but it certainly is no guarantee that children will learn. What then would guarantee that all children learn?  

We incorrectly assume that children would automatically ‘hook into’ the curriculum as if the curriculum would mould itself towards the needs of every child. The curriculum provides only the content to be taught to all children and does not concern itself with pedagogy. Many children have never even experienced the inside of a classroom or encountered a formal instructional situation, yet inside the classroom we expect them to respond in vastly different and ‘schooled’ ways that emphasize logic and scientific reason over trial and error guessing. Thus lack of exposure to this school reasoning is an important cause of failing to learn.

And so starts the tragic mismatch between the teacher, curriculum, and learner. These are the critical aspects that define the dynamics of learning and often they never align.  We know that learners who are not engaged in learning find it difficult to thrive at school, and yet faulty assumptions about the automaticity of learning abound. Teachers are required to follow the curriculum, and often very rigidly, as this forms a central part of how they are monitored and evaluated. Yet, there is a need for a developmental and humanistic approach to connect learners to the curriculum content through a caring adult inside the classroom.

Another aspect is that learners often start school with enormous foundational deficiencies which if not addressed in the curriculum, might be exacerbated and even stymie learning. The problem is that merely trying to plaster the gaps with content does not help, particularly if that content is not presented at the right time in the right way. Furthermore, some concepts are developmentally more important than others. Through our work at the Basic Concepts Foundation, we have become increasingly aware of the importance of establishing the fundamental conceptual systems of colour, shape, size, position, number, and letter to support future learning.  

Teaching the core conceptual content, however, is a delicate process that requires an enormous amount of sensitivity from the teacher. One might compare the level of knowledge and skill needed to delicately guide the child to that of a gardener who needs to know exactly how much sun or water to give to his/her plants for them to thrive. The BCP attunes teachers to this complex human process by providing them with the tools (methods and approaches) to get a better understanding of the learning needs of their children so that they can thrive.

Finally, we find that children who become positively connected to their teachers will also start to trust them. Such children find that being schooled (which includes learning how to reason, think, develop ideas and communicate) helps them to make sense of the world and in fact, enlarges their world as they start to develop the confidence to expand their actions and thinking. Children who are self-initiating and become more self-regulating are driven to learn for the sake of learning. The opposite is true for dependent and passive children who wait for their teachers to teach them the curriculum and who will most likely not flourish or thrive.   

Thus we have uncovered some surprising truths about learning:

  1. Going to school does not equate to learning.
  2. School reasoning differs significantly from everyday reasoning.
  3. Learning involves much more than a curriculum.
  4. Learning is based on the primacy of ideas, basic concepts and language.
  5. Teaching is more than science; it is part art, compassion, and interaction.
  6. Confident and self-assured children are better suited to learning.

The Basic Concepts Programme (BCP) incorporates all  6 of these areas. We cannot assume that all children are hard-wired for school learning; nor are all educational settings prepared for the challenges that we find in the South African context. We should also not expect the education system (schools, curriculums, or teachers) to automatically accommodate the complexity of difficulties that children experience. We, therefore, propose that programmes like the BCP be extended across the country into more pre-schools and primary schools alongside the curriculum, not only to jump-start learning but to enrich teaching and learning, helping children to thrive and learn. We need to be sure that the intervention programmes used to produce change are based on valid theoretical models of learning and cognitive development. The BCP has been particularly thorough in establishing its scientific validity through an extensive doctoral study and action-based fieldwork over the past 18 years. It is urgent that we start to address the actual reasons that so many of our children continue to fail to learn through the universal introduction of an early years cognitive intervention programme that has been shown to promote learning, thinking and language in young children.


Reprinted from the website of Basic Concepts Unlimited.


  • HOME
  • タグ : Education

Teaching Myself to Be a Teacher, Learning How to Be a Student, Educating Others to Educate Themselves

January 23, 2023
By 24051

Rui Caria, a PhD candidate and teacher at the University of Coimbra, describes his personal journey to becoming the teacher that he wished he had had. The journey has led him to create a YouTube channel as well as a new course at the university that addresses the questions of why study and how to study. He draws on literature as a means of bringing to life the concepts that he teaches.

* * *


In 2019 I became a teacher and a PhD candidate at the same time. Becoming a teacher didn’t make me jump to the other side of the classroom, it only put me on both sides.

I thought of myself as someone familiar with the side of the student. Not because, at that point, I had six years of university education behind me, but because of the challenges I faced during those years as a student.

Law school had been challenging for me. I entered one of the most demanding faculties in Portugal very unprepared. As a high school student who only studied on the evening before his exams, I suddenly found myself faced with thousands of pages of reading material, hours of lectures by people who didn’t captivate me, and studying things that, as it turned out, I didn’t find that interesting. On top of that, there was no certainty that I could afford the next tuition.

These challenges made me pose many questions regarding education. What is the value of education? What does it mean to be a student? How would this education aid myself and others around me? How could I truly educate myself?

Talking with many of my fellow students throughout, I quickly learned that I wasn’t the only one posing those questions. Many students didn’t know why they were studying. They had to make a choice at 18 years old, did it as best they could, and now found themselves asking if they had made the right one.

These questions never left me. Not after I graduated, not after I did my master’s degree, and not when I became a teacher and PhD candidate. On the contrary, now more than ever, I felt the weight of their importance. I was on the receiving end of the questions and felt the need to be able to give answers. If I didn’t, I felt that I didn’t deserve to be a teacher and couldn’t keep being a student.

From early on, I saw being a teacher as an opportunity to do good; to have a positive influence on the lives of young people. Perhaps it was because, as a young student, I wished someone had done that for me. I wanted to be a teacher capable of offering young students a “why” that would drive them to keep chasing their education to its fullest potential.

Whatever the outcome of my journey might be, I had to better myself and take action: become an agent, rather than a subject, of education.



I decided that I should be able to teach my students beyond the subjects of my lectures. This meant finding ways in which these subjects related to the world and to individuals themselves. I needed a connection between these realities that was appealing, accessible, and enriching.

Thinking about this, I realized how I had come into contact with a variety of subjects through literature. Stories had made me more interested in philosophy, psychology, history, sociology, and even physics. They did it either by allowing myself to suffer like a character whom chance would never allow me to be or by plunging me into an immersive world that the currents of time would never allow me to swim to.

Why simply write a concept on a blackboard and point at a textbook when you can bring it to life through the words of some of the most eloquent, imaginative, and wise people in the history of the world?

I saw the potential of stories to enrich the way I taught law and the way my students learned. But I also knew it would be difficult to tell students, “Read the subject’s textbook, your notes. . . . Oh! And also, this 400-page novel.” People have smartphones with high-speed Internet and infinite scroll; one must know what he is competing against. Innovation was the answer.

I created a YouTube channel where I read small portions of classical works of literature that touched on topics of law. The videos were small and gave a short explanation of how the specific portion related to a specific concept. Videos were uploaded monthly during the semester and, at the end of each month, students who participated in the project were invited to discuss the ideas of the book and relate them to what was taught in class.

It gave a new depth and life to what we talked about in class. Suddenly, the concept of justice wasn’t just something you read on a textbook but a difficult problem that Aeschylus, the father of tragedy in Ancient Greek theater, posed against the judgment of Athena herself in one of his plays. The death penalty wasn’t just a remote idea, it came to be seen through the eyes of Albert Camus’s character Meursault as he ponders the meaning of truth waiting for the guillotine.

For this project, I was awarded the 2021 Prize for Pedagogical Innovation by the University of Coimbra.

The author holds the plaque of the Prize for Pedagogical Innovation that he received in 2021.


I wasn’t completely satisfied after receiving the prize. I had thought carefully about the project and decided it was worthy of pursuit, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it; and it proved to be useful and innovative, otherwise it wouldn’t have been awarded. Still, I came to find its scope limited. I was teaching my students beyond law and pointing them to literature and its ocean of ideas, but there were many more things that I wanted to teach them and couldn’t inside the confines of my lectures on law.

I still saw many of them struggling with their role as university students. I saw lack of motivation born from a sense of uncertainty about the future. I understood that many wanted to learn more and efficiently but didn’t know how to study. For many, as was the case for myself during my graduate years, everything was a question.

I took it upon myself to provide answers as best as I could. I decided to create a full course, for free, open to all the students at the university, designed to answer two big questions: Why study? How to study? I pitched the idea to the vice dean responsible for the development of undergraduate students and got the approval to create and teach the course.

For months, apart from everything else I was doing, I devoted myself to research and thinking, as honestly and as well as I could, about the answers I would give.

I went after the “why.” My approach to the importance of education had always been grounded in the literature that helped me through tough times. Existentialist philosophy had come to frame much of my world view, especially the work of Albert Camus.[1] The idea of gathering strength within yourself in the face of a world that was indifferent to your existence was dear to me. The intuition in me came to be that, in some way, education should serve to make you stronger. On the other hand, the works of Dostoyevsky had made me believe that there was tremendous value in the good acts one can do for people and that the memory of good could sustain you for a lifetime. Education wasn’t only about making you stronger but about making you stronger so you can be good and help other people.

As I read beyond my literary interests and started to look at how models of development relate to education, I came across the notion of the human capabilities approach in the work of Martha Nussbaum, which resonated with my intuition. Education could in fact be conceptualized as a means of developing capacities in individuals that, in turn, would help them raise other individuals and eventually their own society.

The new challenges posed by the demands of writing a PhD thesis had already put me into contact with the “how” of studying. As I read more about it, it became clearer that studying should be done in a way that was both effective and efficient. The tools necessary to study in this way overlapped with the methods of peak performance that were applicable in several other fields. They lead to the best results. But to perform at your peak, changes in your environment and in yourself were required. Habits must be changed, attention must be sharpened, mindsets must be reinforced. And a vision of the future must be kept vivid and clear: that you can forever learn, forever grow stronger, forever be better, for yourself and for others.

I learned about all of these things and taught them all, for the first time, to the several students that attended the first edition of the “Why Study, How to Study” course at the University of Coimbra.




Creating and teaching a course to students at the university where I studied and now teach was, without a doubt, something I never thought I would be able to do. But it’s one of the most meaningful things I have ever had the honor of doing. Now, I’m glad I had all those doubts as a young man arriving at university. I’m thankful for the suffering that brought them. With time, they transformed from ghosts to guides. I stopped running away from them to start running toward them, and in doing so, I found myself having a journey that I deem worthy of dedicating these words to. One where I had to teach myself to be a teacher, because I wanted to be the one I never had and the one my students deserved. One where I learned how to be a student by never ceasing to ask questions, by not giving up on the hard journey to find the answers. One where I educated others to educate themselves, because I believed there are few greater gifts.


[1] I previously wrote about him in another article for Sylff Voices (https://www.sylff.org/news_voices/28458/).

A video of the author talking about the project can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d54F2XdZC4w&ab_channel=UniversidadedeCoimbra

  • HOME
  • タグ : Education

Online Mindfulness Training for South African Teachers: Reflections on a Shared Journey

October 21, 2022
By 27087

Liza Hamman, a 2012 Sylff fellow, became a qualified mindfulness facilitator after finding a personal need for mindfulness as a means of ensuring her mental health. With the help of an SLI award, in 2021 Hamman developed an online course on mindfulness for South African teachers, who could then share what they learned with their students. Here she recounts the journey, from her initial encounter with mindfulness to some of the feedback she has received from teachers who have participated in the course.

* * *

When the Sylff Leadership Initiative (SLI) award was granted to me in 2020, it enabled me to put an idea into action—an idea that has been at the back of my mind for many years but I was unable to execute. It was an idea that was formulated based on my own journey with mindfulness, which stared in 2008.

At the time, I was working full-time as a lecturer and studying toward my master’s degree in adult education. It was a particularly challenging period for me, as I constantly felt overwhelmed and exhausted, struggling to cope with my workload and other responsibilities.

I had to find a way to balance work, studies, and my family responsibilities or face burnout. As I started exploring the practice of mindfulness by enrolling in courses and reading extensively on the subject, the benefits and healing qualities of mindfulness were revealed to me. It became apparent to me that to survive the fast pace and demands of modern-day life, I had to integrate a mindfulness practice into my routine—a mindfulness practice to promote mental health, very similar to an exercise regime to ensure physical health.


The website that was developed for online mindfulness training for educators in South Africa.


As I continued my journey with mindfulness, later becoming a qualified mindfulness facilitator, I realized that sharing the practice of mindfulness with others can contribute to relieving some of the suffering in our frantic society. As an educator, and as a mindfulness facilitator, it seemed vital to me that I find innovative ways to introduce as many teachers and their students as possible to the practice. That is when I started formulating the idea of offering a free online mindfulness course for South African teachers. The goal was to introduce them to mindfulness and hopefully initiate their own personal journey with mindfulness. Furthermore, I wanted to empower them to lead their students in simple mindfulness practices in the classroom.


Sharing the Journey with Others Online

In 2021, as a result of receiving the SLI award, I was finally able to offer the first online mindfulness training course developed especially for South African teachers. In the past I had facilitated mindfulness courses for educators in face-to-face settings, and it was always a humbling experience. I was constantly amazed when people shared how the practice influenced their lives for the better or they revealed their own insights during course discussions. It reminded me that a mindfulness practice has the potential to unlock a deep-seated wisdom within all of us. All we needed to do to access this wisdom was engage with ourselves in the present moment, through mindfulness. New knowledge is available to us, if we are willing to simply pay attention to our own experience, whether physically or emotionally, in a kind and mindful manner.


A screenshot from a video included in the online mindfulness training course for educators.


This new knowledge and wisdom were apparent in the feedback from the participants, related below in their own words. Sharon, one of the first participants, remarked on a journey of “healing and self-discovery,” stating that it enabled her to focus on the positive aspects of her life. She said the following about her journey of personal growth:

“Before doing this course, I often felt uncomfortable, like I was being lazy, realizing that I seem to have my own idea of what doing enough is and what being enough is, which isn’t even true. I know that I am doing this course for me, my growth, and to find healing and self-discovery. Perhaps love me more, flaws, disappointments, guilt and all, and thus contribute in a more positive way to people and things around me. Previously, I could not see the value in spending time with myself, but during the course I realized the value of spending time with me. It also opened my eyes to the positive aspects in my life; I could find at least one thing a day that left me feeling good, no matter how small. I discovered that I can be quite judgmental and negative, especially when it comes to me, because I tend to skirt over the positives. Now I focus more on the positive aspects.”

George also related his journey of personal growth and noticed how his ability to listen and connect with others had improved.

“It became very apparent to me that we need to listen more often. We need to take the time to listen to each other, the people we love: children, students, colleagues. So often I am too busy to really listen, to take the time to give my full attention to that person, thinking about tasks that I still need to complete today instead of listening. I often feel the pull of my cell phone. The course reminded me that true wisdom and insight comes when we listen, not when we are the ones speaking. And creating a pause before responding—so often in my life I have been burnt because I am too quick to respond, I go with my first instinct, and this is often not the correct response. Listening, taking time to consider and contemplate, that is what stood out for me.

“The practice of mindfulness forced me into stillness; it forced me to do ‘nothing,’ for a while. At first it seemed very strange to me, almost impossible. And then I convinced my mind that it is not doing nothing, I am still doing something. And that seemed to make it easier to create the moments of stillness and reflection. The calm of these moments supported me throughout my day, and I hope that I will have the discipline to continue including the formal practices in my life.

“The way forward with mindfulness for me means that I would like to continue with the formal practices, and I have invited my wife to join me. Somehow, it is a special time for us, even though we are not speaking to each other, just sitting together—both focusing on our own practice, but it brought a certain connection to each other, a closeness. And in my opinion, we were more in harmony with each other on the days that we did practice together. It is an interesting combination: you are spending time focusing on yourself and working on your own thoughts, yet you are also together. You can feel the presence of the other person.”

Like George, Thandeka and Maposa related the need to share their experience with others. This, as stated previously, was one of the goals of the course. Thandeka, in particular, remarked that she had found a sense of “stillness and peace” that she would like to share with others.

“During the last eight weeks, I have found a sense of peace that I was not able to connect to previously. When I sat down to meditate, I found moments of peace. Not all—of course my mind is still busy, and it drifts and wanders, but one of the greatest gifts for me during the past eight weeks was this sense of stillness and peace. I want to hang on to this. I want to continue experiencing these moments of rest, peace, and stillness, and I would like to share it with others.”

Maposa commented that he learned how precious his health is, that his sleep patterns have improved, and that he finds it easier to manage his anxiety and emotions.

“I have learned how to focus on my health instead of on the pain. This is a huge change from how I used to treat pain. It has made me realize how precious my health is. Through this journey, I have learned about the benefits of meditation, and I am beginning to make it happen for myself, and I do breathing with my students. My sleep has also improved after a session. I have also experienced a reduction in my anxiety and have learned how to manage my emotions better. I am starting to find a way to stay in that rhythm, so that I can keep myself motivated to continue doing it. This is a journey that I will never forget.”

These are just four examples of the type of feedback that I receive after the conclusion of the courses. It is these words, the insights and new knowledge shared by course participants, that motivate me. It underlines that this type of work, although not often prioritized in educational settings, is important and worthwhile. It highlights that if we can allow ourselves to discover our own wisdom, and be willing to share it with others, we have the potential to create meaningful and lasting change.


Final Reflections

As I reflect on my time offering the mindfulness training for South African teachers online, and I read the feedback received from participants, I realize that not everybody had the same experience. For some participants, the experience of mindfulness was more profound than for others. Some participants were willing to commit to the practice and do the hard work, while others wanted a quick fix and was disappointed when they realized that it takes time and effort. For some, just being able to share their experience was already healing, while others remained unwilling to explore too deeply. I accept that some will continue with the journey, while others may decide that the practice of mindfulness is not for them. That is their choice, and I know that each individual must choose the path that is right for them.

  • HOME
  • タグ : Education

The Role of Education on the Labor Market and Unequal Educational Opportunities: An Empirical Analysis for the CEE Countries

October 12, 2022
By 29630

Nemanja Vuksanovic, who received a Sylff Research Award grant in 2021, conducted an empirical analysis of the economic role of education in the labor market and unequal opportunities in education in the Central and Eastern European countries. While policy makers in these countries need to increase the availability of higher education, financial resources must be primarily directed to the poorer segments of society, notes Vuksanovic; over-subsidizing post-primary education could increase income inequality rather than reduce it.

*  *  *

Subject, Aim, and Motivation

The subject of my research was the analysis of the economic role of education in the labor market, observed from the aspects of human capital theory and signaling theory, as well as the analysis of unequal opportunities in education in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. The aim was to empirically determine the extent to which, in the CEE countries, education improves productivity or represents a characteristic that signals productive capabilities, as well as to empirically examine the degree to which selected countries are characterized by unequal educational opportunities.

There are several basic motivating factors for choosing the research topic.

Firstly, this research contributes to the development of scientific and professional literature related to the economics of education in the CEE region. It is pioneering research that addresses the economic role of education in the labor market and unequal educational opportunities among the CEE countries. No attempts have been made thus far to evaluate the premium on education, the effects of diplomas, and the influence of factors limiting the achievement of a certain educational level in this region by means of the proposed theoretical and methodological framework. I chose this topic because this research can contribute to a better understanding of the transition paths of Serbia and selected CEE countries in the segment related to the educational process.

Secondly, the research conducts a detailed and systematic overview of theoretical models developed to explain the economic role of education and unequal educational opportunities, by looking at the historical development of these models and the most significant results of previous research. Special emphasis is given to describing the problems that researchers encounter in empirical studies when assessing the rate of return on investment in education and the effects of diplomas. In a broader context, the significance of the research lies in general contribution to the development of scientific and professional literature in the field of economics of education. My intention was to present through the research an appropriate theoretical and methodological framework for future research on topics in the domain of this economic field.

Another scientific contribution of the research lies in the empirical results, which could help policy makers in the CEE region to create a more complete picture of the education system and, based on that, to develop guidelines for improving the education process. The findings of the research should make more visible the problem of inequality in income distribution, which arises from circumstances beyond the control of the individual. The study of unequal opportunities in education has gained in importance in recent years as a result of the increasing attention that researchers are paying to the problem of income inequality. The study of factors limiting equitable access to education is important because it can clarify the effects of education as a mechanism for reducing inequalities in income distribution. So my main motivating factor is that the research results can provide a better understanding of the segment of demand for education and distribution of education and be helpful to education policy makers among the CEE countries.

Figure 1. Relationship between ratio of share of high-educated and share of low-educated population (x axis) and GDP per capita (y axis) among CEE countries

Education boosts the living standard of a country.


Basic Findings and Public Policy Implications

Seen from the social aspect the significance of the research results is manifold, since it can provide several guidelines for policy makers.

The results of my empirical study assessing the rate of return on investment in education indicate that in all CEE countries the positive return on investment in tertiary education is higher than the negative return on investment in primary education. That is, the link between education and earnings is convex, suggesting that in the CEE countries the highest rate of return is tied to the highest level of education. This tendency of the rate of return on investment in education—whereby the premium on education does not decrease with educational levels, so that it is highest in primary and lowest in tertiary education—has already been noted in a number of other studies.

In all CEE countries apart from Hungary, the positive premium on higher education is six to nine percentage points higher than the negative premium on primary education. points out that the relatively high rate of return for tertiary education may be because rates of return on investment in tertiary education are higher in those countries where the supply of more educated individuals grows at a slower pace than the demand for such individuals. Acemoglu (2008) argues that the gap in supply and demand for highly educated individuals may reflect the specificity of the country’s institutional framework or differences in changes in the openness of the economy and changes in the field of technological progress. Consequently, the present gap may have negative implications for the country’s economic development, as it leads to underutilized human resources. This implies that a country like Serbia, where the rate of return on investment in tertiary education is among the highest in the CEE region, is characterized by a significant gap in supply of and demand for highly educated individuals. This situation indicates the need for policy makers in Serbia to take appropriate measures to increase the supply of highly educated people.

Figure 2. Returns to high education in CEE countries

An investment in high education pays the best interest.


For policy makers, the observed pattern of returns on investment in education in CEE countries may also mean that a significant rise in the percentage of the population with lower levels of education will not greatly increase the earnings of individuals with these levels of education. The convex link between education and earnings suggests the possibility that over-subsidizing post-primary education may increase rather than reduce income inequality. Many international agendas, such as the Millennium Development Goals, have focused on increasing the share of the population with primary education. But when the link between education and earnings is convex, public investment aimed at increasing the coverage of the population with lower levels of education will not significantly increase the earnings of low-educated individuals. Moreover, Schulz (2003) points out that in countries where public subsidies in tertiary education are high—as is the case in many African countries—the convex link between education and earnings means that large amounts of public transfers to individuals in higher education, if not targeted, benefit most those whose families are of better socioeconomic status. In this case, such a public policy will not be very effective in reducing inequalities in income distribution. Both facts indicate that a successful public policy in Serbia must be directed toward more efficient allocation of educational investments; in other words, that special attention must be paid to distributing these investments by levels of education and targeting appropriate socioeconomic groups.

The results of the second empirical study show that every additional year of schooling over the years necessary for obtaining a university degree has a negative effect on earnings. This finding has significant implications for education policy. If some individuals benefit more from gaining a certain level of education, then policy makers need to recognize such different influences. This is especially important in the case of less developed countries of the CEE region, such as Serbia, where children from families of lower socioeconomic status face greater financial constraints. Namely, when education plays the role of a signal, it is important that highly gifted individuals be able to reach the highest levels of education to prevent the quality of the signaling role of education in the labor market from collapsing. Caplan (2018) points out that excessive public investments in education that are not directed toward appropriate groups devalue the importance of the role of education as a signal. Generous and untargeted public investment in the education system may jeopardize the importance of education as a means of overcoming the problem of information asymmetry between workers and employers. A nonselective policy of over-subsidizing higher education could lead to inflation of diplomas, which would greatly weaken the role of education as a signal. This is especially true in Serbia and Romania, where the signaling role of education is relatively weak among the CEE countries. Public policy makers in Serbia and Romania must therefore take care that financial resources are primarily directed to children from poorer families, with a focus on the talented ones, so that those children can reach the highest levels of education.

Improving the availability of higher levels of education through increased and well-targeted public investment is particularly important given the results of the third empirical study, which indicate the existence of unequal opportunities in education among the CEE countries. Increasing the proportion of the population with higher education may represent an appropriate public policy aimed at reducing income inequality, in line with the demonstrated link between education distribution and wage distribution. Pikkety et al. (2020) point out that this is important because the significance of implementing appropriate predistribution measures has recently been emphasized in the international agenda. Predistribution, which can influence the distribution of income before redistributive measures—taxes and social transfers—take effect, is based on the view that a country’s institutional framework through the legal and social system can contribute to reducing income inequality. Appropriate public policy in the CEE countries should be aimed at increasing the availability of higher education, while care must be taken to ensure that this coverage primarily affects individuals of lower socioeconomic status. A well-targeted predistribution policy oriented toward creating a fairer education system and a society characterized by equal opportunities can contribute to the country’s economic development and to the reduction of poverty and income inequality.


Acemoglu, D. 2002. “Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market.” Journal of Economic Literature 40, no. 1 (March 2002): 7–72.

Caplan, B. 2018. The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Piketty, T., A. Bozio, B. Garbinti, J. Goupille-Lebret, and M. Guillot. 2020. “Predistribution vs. Redistribution: Evidence from France and the U.S.” WID.world Working Paper, 10.

Schultz, T. P. 2003. “Higher Education in Africa: Monitoring Efficiency and Improving Equity.” In African Higher Education: Implications for Development, 93. New Haven, CT: The Yale Center for International and Area Studies.

  • HOME
  • タグ : Education

What the Global North Owes Refugee Youth in Protracted Displacement

July 8, 2022
By 27526

Opened in 1991, the Dadaab refugee camps in northeastern Kenya have seen two generations of Somali refugees born or grow up within their confines. According to 2016–19 Sylff fellow Mohamed Duale, who conducted his PhD research there, protracted refugee situations like this have become increasingly common. But the West’s recent response to Ukrainian refugees suggests that there is more to the story than the Global North’s professed inadequate capacity to resettle refugees, says Duale.

* * *

In by-gone times, forced displacement was considered a short-term emergency. In recent decades, displacement has taken an increasingly protracted nature as contemporary wars have lingered for many years, sometimes decades. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, explains that “protracted refugee situations are those in which at least 25,000 refugees from the same country have been living in exile for more than five consecutive years.”[1] It estimated in 2018 that “78% of all refugees are in protracted refugee situations.”[2] About 85% of the 20.8 million refugees registered with the UNHCR in 2021 lived near their countries of origin in the Global South.[3] UNHCR policy recognizes three durable solutions to forced migration: resettlement to a third country, local integration in the host country, and voluntary repatriation to the country of origin.[4]

I did my PhD research on Somali refugee youth in the Dadaab refugee camps of northeastern Kenya, one of the world’s largest and longest sites of protracted displacement. Since opening in 1991, two generations of Somali refugees were born or grew up in the Dadaab camps under harsh social, economic, and political conditions. Somali refugees have historically been seen as a thorn in the side of the Kenyan state, especially as it battled the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab extremist group in recent years. The Dadaab camps were unfairly blamed as harbouring terrorists, and in 2013 Kenya concluded a tripartite agreement with Somalia and the UNHCR to close them.[5] As Somali refugees are predominantly Muslim, the global war on terror has stigmatized and deleteriously impacted their resettlement in the Global North. Today, most Somali refugees in Kenya find themselves confined to refugee camps and deprived of relocation to a third country with an indeterminable return to their conflict-affected homeland. Refugees in other parts of Africa and much of the Global South find themselves in similar situations of being stuck in displacement and facing an uncertain future.

A refugee camp in Dadaab. (Photo by Nichole Sobecki/GroundTruth, source: The GroundTruth Project https://thegroundtruthproject.org/somalia-conflict-climate-change/reportage_sobecki073/)

Young people living in the difficult social milieu of refugee camps are particularly interesting to me considering their simultaneous vulnerability and resilience. Though categories of youth vary among agencies and governments, figures suggest that young people constitute most refugees in the world. For example, 51% of refugees are thought to be under 18 years of age, 33% between 10 and 24 years old, and 35% between 15 and 24 years old.[6] Despite their demographic majority, refugee youth have sometimes been called an “invisible population.”[7] Nevertheless, there is no shortage of ambition among refugee youth living in protracted displacement. Sagaro, a young Somali refugee man in the Dadaab camps, recalled: “I was born in this camp nineteen years ago. At the age of twelve, I had to leave school to start my own business to feed my family. . . . I must succeed and become rich. I want to become a big businessman. But for now, I don’t have a lot of money, so I will continue to work hard until I do.”[8] 

As I previously argued elsewhere, global refugee policies discuss refugee youth based on the neoliberal precepts of self-reliance.[9] Global refugee policies also seek to contain refugees to their regions of origin in the Global South, mostly in neighboring countries where 73% of the world’s refugees reside.[10] For Somali refugees in Kenya, host state and international refugee policies have narrowed access to local integration and resettlement whilst encouraging voluntary repatriation to their home country. Given ongoing instability in Somalia, young Somali refugees in the Dadaab refugee camps find themselves without the usual rights of civilian life. Jamale, a young Somali refugee man in Dadaab, explained a few years ago that “[Not] many countries are welcoming refugees and migrants because they don’t see refugees as normal human beings. They may see you as a terrorist or as a beggar. What can I do to change that narrative? What can I do [for] people to allow me to realize my dreams?”[11]

Global North states, as powerful actors in the international refugee regime, increasingly prefer to keep African and other racialized refugees in refugee camps in Global South countries, possibly condemning them to decades, even a lifetime, of displacement and obscurity.[12] The West’s positive response to the recent refugee movement from Ukraine has for critical observers upended Global North self-narratives of inadequate capacity to resettle refugees and donor fatigue regarding so-called refugee crises. These supposed lacks and lethargies may have been smoke screens for more nefarious shortcomings: the undesirability and disposability of racialized refugees in Global North politics. Most refugees are from the Global South and are thus mainly people of color. Sequestering them in refugee camps is neither just nor politically tenable if humanity is to forge a shared future in the aftermath of centuries of colonialism. For the most part, young Somali refugees must largely rely on themselves to find their own durable solutions, learning for and building a better future that is yet unknown. But surviving the social stagnation of protracted displacement is not a struggle that individual refugee youth should have to wage alone; the odds are stacked against them. If states in the Global North are abandoning their obligations to African and other racialized refugees, civil society in these countries must—if they desire a common future with the rest of the world—show refugee youth, and all refugees, living in protracted displacement in Kenya and elsewhere in the Global South the concern and solidarity they have so rightly given Ukrainian refugees.    


[1] “Protracted Refugee Situations Explained,” USA for UNHCR, January 28, 2020, https://www.unrefugees.org/news/protracted-refugee-situations-explained/.

[2] “Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2018,” UNHCR, June 20, 2019, https://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends2018/.

[3] “Refugee Data Finder,” UNHCR, updated June 16, 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/.

[4] UNHCR. (2003, May 1). Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Persons of Concern. UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency. https://www.unhcr.org/partners/partners/3f1408764/framework-durable-solutions-refugees-persons-concern.html

[5] S. Allison, “World’s Largest Refugee Camp Scapegoated in Wake of Garissa Attack,” The Guardian, April 14, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/14/kenya-garissa-dadaab-scapegoat-al-shabaab.

[6] E. A. Marshall, T. Roche, E. Comeau, J. Taknint, K. Butler, E. Pringle, J. Cumming, E. Hagestedt, L. Deringer, and V. Skrzypczynski, Refugee Youth: Good Practices in Urban Resettlement Contexts (Victoria, BC: Centre for Youth and Society, University of Victoria, 2016).

[7] Marshall et al., Refugee Youth.

[8] “Dadaab: Growing up in the world’s largest refugee camp,” report by M. Guiheux, France 24 English, January 7, 2017, https://youtu.be/LE6H0GGWrq8.

[9] M. Duale, “‘To Be a Refugee, It’s Like to Be without Your Arms, Legs’: A Narrative Inquiry into Refugee Participation in Kakuma Refugee Camp and Nairobi, Kenya,” Local Engagement Refugee Research Network, May 5, 2020, https://carleton.ca/lerrn/2020/to-be-a-refugee-its-like-to-be-without-your-arms-legs-a-narrative-inquiry-into-refugee-participation-in-kakuma-refugee-camp-and-nairobi-kenya/.

[10] “Refugee Data Finder,” UNHCR.

[11] AJ Plus, “Finding Hope in Africa’s Largest Refugee Camp,” December 10, 2019, https://youtu.be/61VLuz5e0co.

[12] M. Dathan, “Home Office Anger over ‘Racist’ Rwanda Policy,” The Sunday Times April 22, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/home-office-anger-over-racist-rwanda-policy-vp8gzbw2q; and O. M. Osman, “The Somali Refugees Whose Lives Were Halted by Trump’s Travel Ban,” Al-Jazeera, July 2, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2019/7/2/the-somali-refugees-whose-lives-were-halted-by-trumps-travel-ban.

  • HOME
  • タグ : Education

COVID-19: Highlighting the Need to Address Stress, Anxiety, and Trauma in the South African Education Landscape

May 31, 2021
By 27087

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the learning environment in South Africa includes challenges in adjusting to online teaching and the impact of trauma, 2012 Sylff fellow Liza Hamman says. To address stress and anxiety among learners and educators and help create a positive learning environment, Hamman developed an online mindful training course for South African educators using a Sylff Leadership Initiatives grant.

* * *

The countrywide lockdown imposed by the South African government in March 2020 changed the South African education landscape rapidly and radically. Educators and learners, who were accustomed to teaching and learning in a face-to-face classroom environment, had to adjust to online teaching methods suddenly and without warning. The learning curve was steep for both educators and learners, but those learners who at least had access to online resources were the lucky ones.  Unfortunately, many learners in South Africa do not have access to the resources needed to engage in online learning.

As an educator, I witnessed the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the learning environment firsthand. In my experience, a handful of students engaged with the online content and continued learning, while most trailed behind because they were unable to afford the devices, or the data, needed for this engagement. On the other hand, educators struggled to cope with this new approach to teaching. In South Africa, even before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators faced many challenges including classroom size, an increasing administrative workload, language barriers, and increasing incidents of violence in schools. Already overwhelmed educators now had to face even more challenges that they were not prepared for and received very little support in dealing with.

Furthermore, the learners they teach often face social challenges such as lack of adequate income, housing, and healthcare. South Africa is among the most unequal societies in the world, and many students come from communities where unemployment is endemic, gang and domestic violence is commonplace, and drug and alcohol misuse is widespread. These circumstances are frequently an everyday occurrence in unequal societies and result in “chronic trauma” for those living in these communities (Ebersöhn 2019, S2).

It can be safely assumed that as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, poverty and unemployment have increased in South Africa, as well as the associated trauma. Wartenweiler (2017) states that “acknowledging the impact of trauma on learning is of great importance if we want to create a more socially just education system and not disadvantage traumatised learners.”


The Impact of Trauma on the South African Education System

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, McGowan and Kagee (2013, 336) noted that South Africa is “a society characterized by high rates of violence and trauma.” Similarly, John (2016) found that trauma and fear are often a reality in the South African learning environment, which can impede the learning process. Traumatized learners display such symptoms as depression, guilt, shame, lack of confidence, disturbed sleep, inability to concentrate, chronic stress conditions, and panic attacks, among others.  For learners who are traumatized, learning is obstructed by anxiety, fear, and poor concentration (Kerka 2002). As a result of the aforementioned challenges that both educators and learners face, educators are struggling to deliver a level of education that will lay a strong foundation for much-needed economic growth and social change in South Africa.

Due to the consequences of trauma and other challenges faced by educators, stress, anxiety, and burnout are a prominent problem among educators in a South African context. Peltzer et al. (2009) found that stress levels are high among South African educators, with many educators reporting lack of job satisfaction associated with stress-related illnesses such as stomach ulcers, hypertension, mental distress, and alcohol misuse. Peltzer et al. (2009) report that lack of support for educators in South Africa is one of the leading reasons for high stress levels and educators leaving the profession. Furthermore, high stress levels have a negative impact on the quality of education delivered.

In support of the above-mentioned view, Jennings and Greenburg (2009) found that burnout and emotional exhaustion among educators have a negative impact on learner performance. Additionally, the classroom environment created by burned-out educators can have a negative effect on the social and emotional health of students. The student’s learning environment is mainly created by the educator, and it was found that socially and emotionally competent educators create a classroom environment that is more conductive to learning and fosters positive development.


Finding Ways to Address Trauma in the South African Education System

It is clear from the academic literature, as well as my own experience, the experience of my colleagues, and the learners that we teach, that there is a need to address trauma and emotional issues in educational settings. Authors such as Jennings and Greenburg (2009) recommend mindfulness as a way to deal with these challenges.

On a personal level, I have been interested for many years in mindfulness and methods that cultivate mindfulness. I was introduced to mindfulness and the practices that cultivate mindfulness for the first time in 2009. Since then, my interest in mindfulness, and how it can support education and learning, grew out of my own need to find improved ways to deal with my own stress, as well as my students’. My own experience, of introducing mindfulness in my own life and eventually to my learners, mirrored the views expressed in the academic literature—that mindfulness has the potential to address both educators’ and learners’ stress and anxiety.

Many authors assert that teaching people mindfulness will reduce stress, decrease burnout, promote self-esteem and a sense of well-being, enhance awareness of multiple perspectives, and induce the ability to reframe contexts and engage in the present moment. Furthermore, it will promote equanimity and wakefulness and enhance the ability to focus one’s attention (Kabat-Zinn 1994; Newman 2008; Shapiro, Brown, and Astin 2011). It is thus probable that mindfulness training will improve educators’ and learners’ emotional competence, resulting in a positive and innovative learning environment that promotes creative learning and development.


Introducing Mindfulness to South African Educators

Mindfulness training for educators is a novel concept in South Africa. The number of qualified mindfulness facilitators is limited, and very few are focused on mindfulness training in the education sector. At present, mindfulness training in South Africa is expensive and not readily available and therefore not accessible to all members of society. In pilot studies educators have reported positive results such as decreased stress and anxiety, increased focus, improved ability to handle conflict, and improved communication with students as a result of mindfulness training (Napoli 2004). Yet the lack of availability and cost of mindfulness training in South Africa will prevent educator participation in such courses.

As an educator and a certified mindfulness facilitator, I realized that there was a need to develop a course that is accessible to all South African educators. I believe that one of the most effective routes to provide mindfulness training to more people will be through the education system. Introducing educators to mindfulness and providing them with mindfulness techniques to pass on to their students will ensure that more members of South African society will have access to mindfulness training.

Responding to this need, and with a Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI) award from the Sylff Association, I developed an online mindfulness training course adapted to the needs of South African educators. The course is offered online not only to reduce the cost of facilitation, but also to make it accessible to educators across South Africa. In this way, it can reach educators and learners from underprivileged educational institutions as well as educators who live in rural areas. Additionally, although the concept of this course was developed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis further supported the appropriateness of an online solution.

The duration of the course will be eight weeks, during which educators will learn to manage and reduce their own stress and anxiety. They will also be introduced to simple techniques that they can pass on to their learners. The course is in its infant stages at the time of this writing, and the first pilot course is about to be launched. I will only be able to measure the impact of the training once the first participants have completed the course.



It is my hope that this online mindfulness training course for South African educators will provide them with much-needed support. I believe that if we take care of our teachers, we can improve the quality of education in South Africa, because educators will have the mental capacity to create a positive learning environment that is conducive to learning. The quality of education is vital to enabling students to become economically productive and sustain their own livelihood, supports individual well-being, and contributes to peaceful and democratic societies. Education can provide the foundation for economic growth, social change, and transformation that is much needed in South African society.

Lastly, online mindfulness training for South African educators has the potential to make a contribution toward addressing the social dilemma of chronic trauma, stress, and anxiety in South African society.



Ebersöhn, Liesel. 2019. “Training Educational Psychology Professionals for Work Engagement in a Context of Inequality and Trauma in South Africa.” Supplement, South African Journal of Education 39, no. S2: S1–S25.

Jennings, Patricia A., and Mark T. Greenburg. 2009. “The Prosocial Classroom: Teacher Social and Emotional Competence in Relation to Student and Classroom Outcomes.” Review of Educational Research 79, no. 1: 491–525.

John, Vaughn M. 2016. “Transformative Learning Challenges in a Context of Trauma and Fear: An Educator’s Story.” Australian Journal of Adult Learning 56, no. 2: 268–89.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. 1994. Catalyzing Movement Towards a More Contemplative/Sacred-Appreciating/Non-Dualistic Society. Pocantico, NY: The Nathan Cummings Foundation & Fetzer Institute.

Kerka, Sandra. 2002. “Trauma and Adult Learning.” ERIC Digest no. 239: 1–8.

McGowan, Taryn C., and Ashraf Kagee. 2013. “Exposure to Traumatic Events and Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress among South African University Students.” South African Journal of Psychology 43, no. 3: 327–39..

Napoli, Maria. 2004. “Mindfulness Training for Teachers: A Pilot Program.” Complementary Health Practice Review 9, no. 1: 31–42.

Newman, Michael. 2008. “The ‘Self’ in Self-Development: A Rationalist Meditates.” Adult Education Quarterly 58, no. 4: 284–98.

Peltzer, Karl, Olive Shisana, Khangelani Zuma, Brian Van Wyk, and Nompumelelo Zungu-Dirwayi. 2009. “Job Stress, Job Satisfaction and Stress-Related Illnesses among South African Educators.” Stress and Health 25, no. 3: 247–57.

Shapiro, Shauna L., Kirk Warren Brown, and John A. Astin. 2011. “Toward the Integration of Meditation into Higher Education: A Review of Research Evidence.” Teachers College Record 113, no. 3: 493–528.

Wartenweiler, Thomas. 2017. “Trauma-Informed Adult Education: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.” The Online Journal of New Horizons in Education 7, no. 2: 96–106.


  • HOME
  • タグ : Education

Teaching Literature in Times of Pandemic

March 3, 2021
By 28851

A scholar of Italian literature, 2020 Sylff fellow Nataša Gavrilović compares today’s situation with that of Renaissance-era Italy to contemplate the role of literature—and, more broadly, of the arts and humanities—as well as of teaching it, particularly at times of crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

* * *

During the period of the flourishing of culture and the arts on the Apennine Peninsula—at the same time that the voice of humanism was becoming louder and clearer with each new day, via epistles or treatises, or among the members of informal circles later known as accademie, but always in the form of dialogue—Italy (or what would actually become Italy only three centuries later) was struggling amid continuous warfare.

Today, the traces of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century art and philosophy are far more visible than the scars left by the innumerable battles that at some point even became a “new normality,” just as the plague and other disasters did. Eugenio Garin, one of the twentieth century’s greatest scholars of European humanism and the Renaissance, sees this particular moment of crisis as one of the crucial factors that informed that period’s most important thought, oeuvres, and philosophy with a universal message, but always formed in one’s own microcosm, in a dialectical relationship between the contextualized temporary and the eternal.[1]

There is no need to expound on the greatness and value that the works and names from this period continue to hold for humankind, beginning from the very concept of freedom and unlimited possibilities innate to each and every individual, through the novel approach to and importance assigned to education, to the myriad discoveries in the fields of science and art.

Time will show whether the crisis we are coping with now will yield this kind of fruit to the generations to come, in the form of new ideas and thought-provoking works and discoveries. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: the very concept of crisis means rethinking the values we cultivate, the system(s) we have created, and the steps we have taken in order to understand, adjust, and improve, so as to give meaning to our existence and make life on Earth if not better, then at least more bearable. Obviously, the humanities cannot face the pandemic from a medical standpoint, nor can they find a cure or create a vaccine. Are the humanities therefore redundant at this very moment, and, moreover, is teaching literature a false utopia when almost everything appears to be falling apart and when bare survival looms large in everyone’s mind? Is it an escape or a long journey toward the Promised Land?

Niccolò Machiavelli

Staying in the field of my research interests as an Italian literature scholar, I must call on what another Italian thinker wrote. I am referring to Niccolò Machiavelli, who has universally influenced political and historical thought and whose life and works are an evident product of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-wecentury crisis. In Chapter 25 (“What Fortune Can Effect In Human Affairs, And How To Withstand Her”) of his most famous treatise, The Prince (Il Principe), the Florentine author explains that one can and should fight against the unpredictable force of Fortuna, and not only that, but one even stands a chance to win (“Nevertheless, not to extinguish our free will, I hold it to be true that Fortune is the arbiter of one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to direct the other half, or perhaps a little less”). A memorable picture follows: Fortuna is compared to a raging river. If we survive its first strike, it is wise and necessary to think about what happened, to think it through thoroughly, engaging all our ability, experience, and knowledge gained by reading ancient authors, and analyzing our reality in order to be prepared when another similar situation arises. Because, as he says, “though its nature be such, it does not follow therefore that men, when the weather becomes fair, shall not make provision, both with defenses and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal, and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous.”[2]

And isn’t that what teaching literature means, or at least should mean—an active and fruitful dialogue, both with people of the past and with our present times, so that one may (re)think critically and maybe even protect oneself and others from tragedies and disasters? Hence, to talk about the past, about philosophy or poetry, is to enrich your own existence, to observe the world from endless points of view. Furthermore, to convey knowledge and experience is to create future thinkers, to show them the way of honor and dignity: the dignity and virtue of curiosity. For, although a world made of words is a fragile world, words are all we have to communicate, express, create, learn, and understand. 

Due to my research activities, I happened to be at the University of Padua when the pandemic began. As I was witnessing the panic spreading along the stunning and peaceful Italian squares, my life-saving thought was the research I was (and still am) conducting; not because it made me forget the circumstances in which I had found myself—on the contrary, it was helping me to go beyond these circumstances and consider them from another, wider perspective. A few months later, in Belgrade, from the role of a doctoral student I returned to the role of a teacher. The need for reading, understanding, and sharing is a constant, and it was still there, helping me look toward the stars while rethinking the Earth. That is also what literature lessons should aspire toward: an endless “good fight” to create a context in which virtue can thrive. Our students’ questions, their curiosity, and the long discussions we have, even—or rather, especially—in these trying times, are both a strong proof of this innate human hunger for dialogue and a vital light of hope.

Literature cannot find a cure for diseases, but offers instead the benefit of the doubt, teaching us to consider everything with a pinch of salt and showing that, through the centuries, it is the doubt that has been the vital force of every kind of progress. Thus, talking about Petrarch’s existential doubts and antithetical thoughts, about Dante’s contempt for the uncommitted (ignavi), that is, those who lived their lives without making conscious moral choices and who therefore deserve neither Heaven nor Hell, or reading Pico della Mirandola’s speech about man’s freedom to be anything one decides to be—all this is not an escape, as it illuminates both the one who teaches and the one who learns (if there is any difference between those two); sometimes it is a shimmering light, as fragile as words, but it surely never goes out.

Words are delicate, fluctuating, ambiguous. To say or write is not enough, it is how something is said or written that makes the whole difference. That is what literature teaches and how literature should be taught. To translate is impossible, yet necessary, as noted by two of Trieste’s scholars, Guido Cosciani and Guido Devescovi. The same goes for teaching—teaching literature in particular, and especially teaching literature in times of a crisis.[3]


[1]     E. Garin, L’umanesimo italiano: filosofia e vita civile nel Rinascimento (1952), and E. Garin, La cultura del Rinascimento (1967).

[2]     N. Machiavelli, The Prince, translated by W. K. Marriott, downloaded from: https://www.holybooks.com.

[3]     C. Magris, Istantanee, Milano, La nave di Teseo, 2016, p. 178.

  • HOME
  • タグ : Education

The State of South African Education: Covid-19 Implosion Brings Good News and Bad News

November 24, 2020
By 25517

How much worse will things get in our education system? Teachers are familiar with the effects of extended periods of downtime, like that during the Covid-19 lockdown. The longer children are out of school, the more difficult it is to get them back into the routine and into the headspace needed for learning.


*  *  *

I have some good news and, unfortunately, some bad news too. Which would you like to hear first? Most people want the bad news first so that they can move on to the good news and end on a high. And this is the formula I will use. The bad news is, unfortunately, very bad: Take cover! Tsunami warning for the SA education system! Get ready for waves of poorly educated children exiting the education system over the next decade or longer.

But how much worse could things really get in the education sector? Have we not already reached rock bottom? No, I suspect that we still have some way to go. One of the unintended consequences of the Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa has been to push our already ailing education system to an unprecedented low.

“Children are not the face of this pandemic. But they are at risk of being among its biggest victims… in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good. The harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally; they are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.” – United Nations Policy Brief, 15 April 2020.

Covid-19 will naturally affect those who are the most disadvantaged to the greatest extent. This is also true in the field of education. The renowned psychologist Edward Thorndike’s “Law of Learning” provides further support for this. It states that the more one learns, the more learning one can achieve in the future. Learning generates further interest in learning.  

In fact, at a biological level we know that being exposed to interesting ideas and being curious triggers the human body’s narcotic-like dopamine chemicals to flood the brain, a positive stimulus that guarantees the individual would want to recreate these experiences.

Conversely, one who has not been exposed to learning opportunities would be less inclined to seek out cognitive stimulation. Thus, children who are described as educationally disadvantaged and were physically locked out of the education system and left to their own devices during the Covid-19 crisis are at much greater risk of not making adequate school progress in the future.

What do we know about the effects of extended periods of downtime on children’s learning? Teachers are very familiar with such scenarios as they often see a tailing off of children’s learning after long holidays and even long weekends. The longer children are out of school, the more difficult it seems to be to get them back into the routine and into the headspace needed for learning.

Teachers at the training working with the BCP materials.

In these situations, teachers constantly have to revert back to previously taught content. These learning setbacks might not be permanent, but they impact future learning.

Human cognitive development is a complex and individual process. How do we start to intervene in it? 

The good news is that we have accumulated a lot of knowledge about this process and that cognitive science does have a fairly good grasp of the fundamental principles that guide effective teaching and learning.

Most importantly, we know that human beings are cognitively modifiable, thanks to the pioneering and extraordinary work of the late cognitive psychologist Professor Reuven Feuerstein. The implications of this seemingly unassuming statement are profound for educators and for children not already in the learning loop. The notion of cognitive modifiability gives substance to the cliché that “all children can learn”. For too long we have been dominated by a deterministic, all-or-nothing view of human cognition; either you have the “smarts” or you don’t.

Children who are working with the BCP materials.

This recognition of cognitive modifiability has resulted in the development of cognitive intervention programmes, such as Instrumental Enrichment, Bright Start and Basic Concepts Programme. While traditional curative (remedial) programmes aim to close gaps in content learning, cognitive programmes aim to promote the growth of cognitive structures that are needed for higher order and abstract reasoning.

But is it possible to enhance the development of cognitive processes inside the classroom and can teachers do this? It is our experience that emergent cognitive structures can be enhanced and teachers can be trained to become mediators of learning. Mediated learning differs vastly from traditional “chalk-and-talk” pedagogical approaches on both a philosophical as well as humanistic level. 

Human mediators are caring, engaged, open, interactive and intensively involved with their children in the classroom. Young children happen to need these kinds of engagements to free up their involvement and participation. Children who take risks and share their thinking and are able to express their ideas are set on a path to improve their thinking, to reflect on it and consider the views of others.

So why are such cognitive educational approaches not being used more in learning institutions, particularly for young children who are not already engaged in learning and might have cognitive vulnerabilities? 

Children who are busy with an activity related to the programme

The Basic Concepts Programme is being extended across Grade R classes throughout the Northern Cape. The Northern Cape Department of Education has been forward-looking in helping to establish solid cognitive foundations needed for enhanced learning. There is an understanding that cognitive development and the school curriculum are not mutually exclusive activities, but both are integral. In a pilot study we have found almost universal improvements in school readiness of children who have been exposed to this cognitive programme during their school day.

The disruptions to teaching and learning in these very unsettled Covid-19 times might, in fact, allow those invested in education to pause, take stock and re-evaluate our understanding and approaches.

How does our practice as educators align with what we know about learning from cognitive science, and are we following the best evidence-based practices that will help children to improve their learning? It might be that the unintended outcome of the crisis also mobilises those involved in education to develop a range of special interventions to re-establish an interest in learning. 

All children can learn and make educational progress, but it might be that some children need a more thoughtful, intentional and mediational approach to successfully re-enter the educational mainstream. 

This article acknowledges the Douglas Murray Trust and Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund for their generous support of the work done by the author with the Northern Cape Department of Education.

*  *  *

Reprinted, with a lead by the author, from DAILY MAVERICK which is one of the largest and most credible online newspapers in South Africa; https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2020-11-02-the-state-of-south-african-education-covid-19-implosion-brings-good-news-and-bad-news/.

  • HOME
  • タグ : Education

Strengthening Journalists’ Election Reporting Skills as Ethiopia Transitions to a Democracy

May 18, 2020
By 24666

In November and December 2019, Mulatu Alemayehu Moges, PhD, now an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Addis Ababa University, organized a training workshop for Ethiopian journalists ahead of the country’s first general election under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, originally scheduled for May 2020. Moges sees the political transition to a democracy under the new prime minister as an opportunity for better-trained journalists to make a significant contribution to free and fair elections.

*     *     *

I was interested in training and capacitating Ethiopian journalists on various themes. While I was working as a journalist in the local media, it was very clear that the Ethiopian media faced many problems. For instance, while most journalists had attended formal journalism school, they were not ready to apply the principles they learned in practice. Most were also not able to make full use of the technological advances being made in journalism, and there was a need to make reporting more professional.

The author facilitates the training.

In 2018, I served as a resource person for the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia and facilitated two training programs for journalists and communication officers on the election, media, and democracy. Through this experience, I realized that journalists and communication officers lacked a thorough understanding of the election process, particularly, the ethical principles, legal issues, and other technicalities that were very important in election reporting.

From my discussions with experts on the electoral board, I also realized that one of the reasons for the low turnout and the disqualifying of some votes was a lack of clear understanding about the election process and voter engagement.

Last year, I was invited to train journalists and communication experts on the media, democracy, and elections, giving me an opportunity to observe the skills and knowledge of the trainees, particularly on election reporting. The experience prompted me to write a proposal to the Sylff Association.

For Free and Fair Elections in Ethiopia

Training on election reporting is important for several reasons. First, Ethiopia has been undergoing a political transition since Abiy Ahmed became prime minister. This transition has opened new opportunities for Ethiopian politics, making the upcoming general election highly anticipated and very competitive. Most opposition parties have been allowed to return to the country, and they are now freely restructuring and reorganizing themselves for the election. The government has opened up the political discourse, giving not only political groups but also individuals a chance to express their ideas freely through the media and other outlets.

The current government of Ethiopia has promised to end the kind of malpractices seen during earlier elections and to have a free and fair election. This makes it all the more important for the media to make a positive contribution to the election process, since freedom of expression and a free media are imperatives for a free and fair election. Media pluralism and the professionalization of journalists are crucial, and they should be addressed before the election campaign begins.

Among the key questions to be considered are how citizens are accessing neutral information about competing candidates, their political parties and policies, the election process, and voting guidelines; whether the political parties are freely carrying out political debates on the public media; whether the media is serving as a platform for such communication during the election period; and how well the journalists are trained in providing information about election processes to the general public in a timely and unrestricted manner. Accurately reporting on the political campaign and providing voters civic education are determining factors for ensuring both a fair election and high turnout. It is up to the media to connect the electoral commission and the candidates with the voters. This shows how the media can play an indispensable role in the election.

Training Ethiopian Journalists

All the above-mentioned points motivated me to apply for a Sylff Leadership Initiatives grant to facilitate training workshops for Ethiopian journalists who are expected to report on the upcoming election. The training program aimed to have an impact on 100 journalists on election reporting and on educating the public. In the workshops, experts were invited to make presentations on issues related to election reporting, the media, democracy, ethics of election reporting, election and media laws, access to information, and the right to information during the election. Participants were also encouraged to engage in group discussions.

Participating journalists engage in a group discussion.

The main objective of the workshops was not to train all Ethiopian journalists but, considering the budget and time, to approach editors and senior journalists in influential positions in their media organizations. Reaching out to these editors could be expected to have a trickle-down effect on junior journalists in two ways.

The first is that participating journalists may be able to arrange and facilitate similar workshops in their respective outlets. With this expectation, the organizers shared all the training materials with the participants, and some have already conveyed their insights to their colleagues. Two participants from the Amhara media agency, for example, have organized a training program at their organization. 

The second is that since they are in senior positions in their media organizations, these participants will have many opportunities to mentor and coach journalists who are working under them. From my own practical experience in the Ethiopian media, journalists learn a lot from their seniors. This is another way that the workshop can have an impact on even those journalists who did not attend the training. 

Such mutual teaching and learning were also observed during the training sessions. Some of the participants were very experienced, having worked in journalism for two decades and covered the last three general elections. There were senior editors and program producers who shared their practical experience in the Ethiopian media with other participants. In addition, having diverse training participants from community radio stations and both the public and private media across the country made the discussions lively and interactive. In some cases, journalists drew from their practical experience to substantiate the points they were making on the subject matter being discussed.

Sharing past coverage experience during a group discussion.

When the project was being designed, I expected at least 40% of the participants to be women. For unforeseen reasons, though, the number of female journalists enrolling, particularly in the first round, was very small. They were nevertheless very active during the training sessions, engaged in raising issues and questions and providing answers. They were also active in presenting ideas during the group discussion. 

A presentation by a female participant.

Expected Outcomes

The media, especially the mainstream media, plays a major role in raising awareness among the voting public. Radio, for example, still claims large audiences in Ethiopia, and a substantial share of people access information from radio programs. Some of the participating journalists worked at radio stations at the national, regional, and community levels, and they learned important lessons in educating voters and the public.

From this fact, the project can be said to have played a role in potentially increasing voter turnout around the country, and particularly the rural areas where people tend to be less educated. This can also lead to greater participation of youths and youth groups as journalists cover issues related to the electoral process, election guidelines, and ethical practices.

In the civic education section of the training, issues related to values, attitudes, and behaviors of electorates and candidates were thoroughly discussed, so these trained journalists will know how to behave during an election. Usually, youths are the ones who will take to the streets to demonstrate if they feel that an election was rigged or perceive irregularities in the electoral processes. By applying what they have learned in the workshop, journalists may be able to minimize the risks of electoral fraud and its consequence.

Last but not least, the project will play a direct role in the democratization process of the country. Free and fair elections are the foundations of a democratic system, so this project will have a multifaceted significance.

Organizing the training workshop was not an easy task, and it was not without its challenges. But we were able to hold it in a timely manner thanks to the cooperation of many parties. I would like to particularly thank the Sylff Association, UNESCO, and the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority for making my dream come true. The workshop would not have been successful without their support, encouragement, and follow-up. 

Related article on the Ethiopian Press Agency website:

  • HOME
  • タグ : Education

The Greenhouse Enterprise

March 31, 2020
By 19669

Sylff fellow Sennane Gatakaa Riungu implemented a project to empower a local community in Kenya with funding from Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI). The project seeks to provide capacity building and agribusiness training for community members in Maara constituency, Kenya Riungu’s home community—to equip them with the tools and information needed to develop agricultural business enterprises. Aside from her professional work, Riungu has been engaged in empowering her home community with others for over 10 years by utilizing her vast networks outside the community. The result of the project found both great outcomes and challenges to be addressed to fulfill a long-term goal.

*  *  *

In the words of Simon Winter, Senior Vice President of a non-profit organization for development: “If we’re serious about ending poverty and feeding a growing planet, it’s imperative that we focus on the 2 billion people who live and work on small farms in the developing world. Often, the best way to support these smallholders has less to do with things they can do to improve their farms and more to do with the systems in which they operate.

“What happens at the farm level is important, and farmers need access to knowledge that enhance productivity inputs and tools. But to create sustainable growth in agricultural industries, that can provide opportunities for increasing economic benefits for farmers now and in the future, we need to take a broader approach to development that targets the entire market system.” ( “Beyond the farm: Promoting agribusiness as a way out of poverty,” The Guardian, February 1, 2013) https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/feb/01/agribusiness-mozambique-cashew-farming

The Roots

Hailing from a community whose largest population depends on peasant farming for their livelihoods, I had a question that lingered in my mind continually: how can what is described by Winter and myriad other like-minded scholars become a reality? Maara is a constituency located in Tharaka Nithi County in the Eastern side of Kenya. Maara as a constituency has a population of approximately 78,000 per the 2009 census. Whereas the upper part of the constituency enjoys favorable climatic conditions, being on the windward side of Mount Kenya, the larger population engages in small-scale subsistence farming that yields only enough produce for household consumption. The majority of the constituents are unfamiliar with the agribusiness concept, which could make a big difference in their household income and improve their socioeconomic status if well applied.

Map of Maara constituency. It is one of the three constituencies in Tharaka-Nithi County

A view of Maara Constituency, Kenya.


Given the community’s physical location, the agrarian nature of its economy, and the educational levels of most of its population, I researched slowly and grew convinced that creating an agricultural business model that incorporates most members of the community will go a long way in assisting the community members in this area to overcome some of the major economic challenges that they currently bear—mainly poverty—and bring a new dawn of sustainable economic empowerment for them.

Prospects and Action

Together with some of the colleagues with whom I had seen the birthing of the Makuri Development Forum (MDF), a community based welfare organization based in Maara Constituency in 2013–2014 and a brainchild of a conference funded by Sylff Leadership Initiatives), we formulated the concept of providing a practical avenue through which some of the community members would gain knowledge and learn practical skills in agribusiness. The goal of the project is to provide a practical avenue for an agricultural enterprise model where community members can train and build capacity on agribusiness-related concepts with the long-term objective of establishing a sustainable agricultural enterprise hub for the younger generation in Maara constituency. Overall, the project aims at economically empowering the constituents in Maara constituency through agribusiness.

With the above focus in mind, we formulated a double-edged approach: On the one hand, members of the development forum who are connected with other community development organizations would attend an educational workshop that can provide them with relevant information on agribusiness as an economic enterprise. On the other hand, it was expected that a self-sustaining model of greenhouse farming as an example of a functional agribusiness enterprise would be set up within proximity of the community for all interested members to access and have a hands-on experience in this regard.

It has often been stated that most developing countries have a weak culture of entrepreneurship. To assist us in demystifying this myth, I contacted the proprietors at the East Africa Seed Company (EASEED), which has been successfully running agribusiness-related enterprises in Kenya for over 40 years. Fortunately the company’s director, Mr. Jitendra Shah, and co-director, Ms. Nima Shah, were willing to take on the risk of spreading their wings further to encompass the training element of local potential entrepreneurs in my community. Through the director and as part of their corporate social responsibility, EASEED has a goal of training at least 10,000 youths across the country on agribusiness-related enterprises. The Makuri Development Forum members were able to benefit greatly from this venture through a one-day training held on July 13, 2019. The agronomists from EASEED engaged gainfully with at least 60 members of the community-based forum. The company has further pledged to continue providing seeds and related farm inputs at subsidized costs to interested participating members and groups in the community. 

The training session held in July 2019.

A greenhouse set up in the project for practical training.


Following the successful training session, the gained skills were expected to be put to practical use. The community development forum engaged PHFAMS Africa, a professional horticultural farms advisory and management services organization, to conduct the construction of the greenhouse. The greenhouse was set up within weeks of the training session, and the first seedlings of tomatoes and capsicum were transplanted within 21 days after that. The first crop is in season, as can be seen from the photographs presented below, and has delivered in bounty as expected.


The crop in season, week 2.

The crop in session, week 4.

Tomatoes as of October 2019.

Tomatoes in early November.

Tomatoes on the day of harvest.

The Output

The impact of this work is already apparent in the community, with some of the community-based organizations already gearing up to set up more greenhouses in the locality. The desired outcome is that more greenhouses will bring increased economic activities in the constituency, which will lead to revitalization of the local business sector and the broader community.

The first harvest was made on a Sunday in the presence of a visiting SLI Program Coordinator, Ms. Aya Oyamada. It was expected that the harvest from the initial crop would be sold at very reasonable costs to the members of the community. Given the intricacies of storage of a bumper first harvest, however, this was transported to the capital city of Nairobi to a wholesale buyer who purchased the entire lot in one go. This included more than 200 kg of capsicum and over 100 kg of tomatoes. Subsequent harvests have been sold to the community grocers at reasonable prices.

The demand for the produce is very high, leading to quick plans of setting up a second greenhouse in the coming months by other group members. Other nonmember constituents have also shown great interest in this model of farming. At this juncture, the initial income will go toward the maintenance of the greenhouse for subsequent crops and continued demonstrations as a continuous effort to provide any additional information or required support to the members and other interested constituents. A second training session is scheduled for March–April 2020.

With the momentum gained, it can be projected not only that the presence of agriculture-based enterprises will rise in the community but also that there will be an increase in other income-generating activities, such as the setting up of agrovets and like enterprises that will in future cater to the foreseen demand of agricultural inputs and implements in the area. This in turn will translate to better incomes for the community members and significantly improved livelihoods in every other aspect.

The author with a basket filled with capsicum.

The Challenges

As expected with these kinds of projects, some challenges have also ensued. One of the major challenges that we faced in the initial construction of the greenhouse was the negative mindset held by the community members toward crops grown in a closed setup like a greenhouse. As mentioned before, the majority of constituents have been practicing small-scale farming for subsistence use for decades. This means that they have also used traditional methods of farming, in which the yields were low and a majority of the yield was affected by disease and pests. With the greenhouse setup, the output seemed too perfect for the community members. A crop that had not been attacked by pests was perceived as almost “unsafe” for human consumption. This is a myth that we are continuing to debunk through training sessions and smart farming method demonstrations.

The other challenge that we are thinking through is the development of a constant supply of produce for the market that we have now established. Our first harvest was sold in the capital city of Nairobi, which is about three hours away from the constituency. The first wholesale buyer has been asking for more produce, as he was impressed with the first produce that he bought. On the other hand, the local market has now awaken to the availability of a good produce in the neighborhood, and most of the grocery stores are also demanding more. At the moment, we provide at least a harvest every week for the local market. This means that we have been unable to supply on wholesale to our initial client in Nairobi.

With the interest generated from the produce, we are mobilizing resources to set up more greenhouses in the community with the other members from the initial founding groups of the development forum. The constant demand is a good sign that the agribusiness concept will actually pick up and become a sustainable venture for the constituents. Our five-year plan is to be able to establish not only a sustainable client base but also sustainable production of different varieties of horticultural produce for the market. Our current challenge is therefore a positive one: grappling with the high demand for the produce. We believe that with the sustained effort, we will be able to address the foregoing challenges to establish a business model that will elevate the status of the quiet community that lies in Maara constituency.

Youth in the community working in the greenhouse.

In summary, we can safely conclude that “We just need to think and act [in and] beyond the farm.”