Assessment of educational ability And Challenges

Assessment of educational ability to me should be a way to see if students are leaning. If that is the case, you move forward; if not you assist them by providing helps. This is to my view the best way to assess learning; it should not be a way of selecting best students, qualifying or disqualifying students to move at a higher level or a way of punishing them. Unfortunately, this is the most spread way assessment is done across the globe and it is more problematic in underdeveloped countries. I am even wondering if the way of assessing learning is not among the main factors that are holding some countries in Africa behind.

Is it possible to address this learning assessment approach and make it better for a better learning outcome?

To me it will be difficult because even in developed countries attribution of rewards based on good performance (weather it is about good grades or participation in class) is so rooted in education and all actors (educators, parents, students, leaders) even think that it is indispensable.

I think at younger age, when students just start school they barely know what they are there for.  But kids appreciate when they are praised. At school when we give a good answer for a question and teachers say “excellent” or “Good job”, etc we feel some joy, some pride. And the same reaction or feeling is noticed with good grade. At home parents are proud and some even show much more love and provide us with more presents than our siblings if we do well at school. These behaviors of teachers and parents motivate us as kids to work hard but which effect are those behaviors having on the students who did not do well. Never fully understood.

Growing up and being more mature our perception of grades or what motivate us to work for good grades can shift but still grades occupies a good place. For some being among the best is always a challenge while other just care about finishing their studies.

I have mentioned that assessing knowledge in the best way is more challenging for underdeveloped countries. The following are elements that one can face while willing to provide students with assistance after unsatisfactory results:

  1. Large number of students in the public schools in some places.
  2. Lack of material and human resources to provide assistance and support to the student in need.
  3. The fact of studying not because this is the field of study you want to focus on for what you want to do or become in the future but because of what can help you get a job and make money. It is not rare to hear mentor telling their mentee if you are choosing a field of study weather local studies or abroad choose a field that will allow you to get a job once back home. They do not hesitate to tell students “choose what can help you make money not what you want”. Even though this does not apply to everybody, it is a fact.

Mindful Learning, Good. How About Mindful Decision Making?

Education happens everywhere and it is an important element if not the most the most important one in an individual professional and socio-economic growth nowadays.  And it is all about learning and teaching meant to transfer knowledge and skills. Mindful learning as described in contrast to mindless learning by Ellen J. Langer in Mindful Learning is a perfect tool to overcome challenges and hurdles. I think it would be great if mindful learning was applicable everywhere in all circumstances as “being mindful leads us to greater sensitivity to context and perspective, and ultimately to greater control over our lives” as stated by the same author.  To my point of view, “standardizing” this way of learning would not only lead to good learning outcome but would as well make life easier for certain groups of people. For instance, some people mostly minorities who not only can undergo inadequate learning approaches or experience calls the seven pervasive myths in “The power of mindful learning” as anybody else, they can also be victims of stereotypes. And these in addition to being limiting factors on students’ performance at school also affect their evolution within the communities in which they evolve and society in general.

I have put standardizing in quote because I do not think that it is feasible and my thought is based on reasons such as those given by Sir Ken Robinson in the TED video “How to escape education’s Death Valley” while talking about countries (Australia Canada, etc) that did have a good education system compared to America. He said: “They individualize teaching and learning; they attribute a very high status to the teaching profession; they devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. While all is happening in those countries, according to him “One of the culture here (meaning America) has been to de-professionalized teachers.

I was surprised by this fact because even though I did not know that much about American education system. If this was said in regards to some countries which organize conferences and other evens to improve their education system or bring some changes while the situation is not evolving at all I would not have the same reaction.  But life is a continual learning we always learn from what we do.

What countries who are left behind in term of good education system can do to fix their problems I think will not only be applying or encouraging mindful learning at school level but at the upper level as well where most of the important decisions are made there is a need for “mindful decision making” if it is correct to say it that way. Maybe that will help avoid the establishment of mind-sets that lead to neglecting the main actors of a given sector while making decisions. This delays advancements.

How we learn? does it help?

How we learn? Some years earlier, many answers would be: “just from lecturers in classes, or from lab trainers”.

Such responses are not valuable anymore except in very rare cases which I believe are not involved in higher education. I think that educators and learners involved in higher education worldwide are all experiencing networked learning in both of its forms: in connection with other human beings or in relation to learning resources accessible to them or the ones they have believed are worth to be looked at.

As many would argue, that is a good because it can help learners be at the same page intellectually which to my view can result into more equal opportunities such finding jobs, economic conditions, and social live in places where there are many social, economic and cultural issues. In other places, the Net has lessened the tasks to students in non-English speaking countries. For instance, students in African French speaking countries some years earlier struggle to read and get what they want from and English text books they would find in some libraries or have a hard time have some French books that were not sold in their countries. Now they have more ways to access those resources. Though the web, they can google translate article and books, make some orders online and get them via their local postal services or services such as DHL, UPS, FedEx which are now present in some of those places.

However as there are many resources out there in the Web with different accessibility, having learners to be at the level can be challenging and worst if there is no guidance but only them interacting on their own with the materials which they have access to. In regards to this fact, one might have the following questions among many others.

How to access the best resources out there?  Are we using them in a best way and with ethic? Are the resources we have access to credible enough?

To the last question, I think the response will depend on our way of thinking which in turn is related to our culture, background social environment and experience as explained in the article what “Video Games Have to Teach Us”. t

Such questions are not raised in the case of a given course taught by an instructor even though at an individual level some preferences (face-to-face interaction, online course) can occur based on different learning styles. In such cases, thanks to the efforts of teachers who care about the impact of their teaching on their student future and who manage to do their best, each student can always find his or her path. We have the example of this wonderful and inspiring teacher in Jean Lacoste’s teaching innovation statement who has redesigned her course for the reason she has explained in these terms: “I wanted each option to support a specific learning style”. Her determination and the steps she took have resonated with her students and have led to considerable achievements which I think should be the dream of all educators.

Current understanding of pedagogy

As we all know, most of the time, the audience facing the educator in a classroom or in any other learning environment are novice to some of the subjects the educator covers. It is also obvious that learning is most effective when learners can easily digest the message that is being delivered to them. To handle the situation correctly, teachers need really good pedagogy which for me means a lot. It is a whole art, a passion, a way to deliver messages to an audience in a right way with ethic and authenticity. To me all what we do in live should be done with care, love and authenticity for a better outcome. Teaching requires an art to better satisfy the needs of learners. I love saying that my current understanding of pedagogy is still the one I had many years ago when I decided to look in a dictionary what the meaning of “Pedagogy” was because of somebody I liked the way he taught us. It was when I started secondary school and my cousin, who older than me while talking about the teaching skills of some our professors said “Oh that one has good pedagogy”. I know, I heard about the word “pedagogy” before. But what brought me to look at it that day was the fact that the professor she mentioned was so good at teaching. I wanted to learn more about him by looking at that qualifier my cousin used to describe him. who I admire and respect a lot like many other students. I still remember the passion, the art he used to put out there just to make us feel comfortable and understand everything he was covering. Today when I remember about this story it makes me have more admiration for all educators with good teaching skills who inspired me a lot and because of whom I did find out thing that was not paying attention to. For instance, the school we were in by that time my cousin and I was a private school called “Groupe Scolaire les Pédagogues”, with “pédagogue” meaning somebody who has the qualities of a good teacher, a good educator. I never wondered what the name of my school stands for but while looking for the word pedagogy, I also looked at other related words. I was later happy to tell to people who ask me that I was studying at les “Pédagogues”. That was a small story that I wanted to share as it did occur because of an educator’s talent and art of doing things, specially teaching in the right way. The question I have though is do people acquire pedagogy through learning or trough experience over time or it is just something some people born with, something natural in them? I am asking this question because of these reasons. 1.) There are many theories on good teaching strategies out there that did not exist let`s say twenty years ago and at the same time parents mainly older people are complaining that teaching is not done in a good way anymore. 2.) I used to hear people saying telling to others “you have the vocation to teach, or to be a lawyer, etc”.

What’s Up with Organic Certification or Labeling on Baobab Fruit Powder?

Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata L.) is an African tree from the Bombacaceae Family traditionally used for many different purposes. In my village of Mbadatte, Fatick Region in Senegal, Baobab trees are among the main trees found in houses and surroundings; four in our compound alone!  I remember, when I was a child, I used to stay under the youngest one with my toys or climb on top of it for fun or to get some leaves for my aunt. Sometimes, the bees would sting and I would yell, scratch myself and resume my chores or play time. Ooooh! Just some awesome childhood souvenirs.

I saw people in the village using all parts of baobab tree (leaves, bark, roots, seeds) for different purposes: food, traditional medicine, construction, etc.  My aunt would dry the leaves and store them. Each evening she will ask me to grind a portion for her to put in our favored millet couscous that we would eat with cow’s milk or other kinds of sauces in the evening and in the morning. Like the baobab fruit, the leaves are rich in nutrients. Maybe that is why I was so strong and winning long distance races at school. The fruits, or bouye as we call them in Senegal, are used to make juices, Galax (refreshing mixture of Baobab fruit powder with peanut butter, water sugar, flavors (vanilla, nutmeg…) that we drink with thiakry (steamed millet flour granules) or Moroccan couscous, but also in millet porridge, among other delicious meals and delicacies. I also used to hear old women advising young pregnant women to “drink bouye juice more frequently”. I had no idea why they were saying that, but I found out later while taking a nutrition course in Senegal. Our professor was explaining the importance for pregnant women to take calcium-rich food, milk and fruits, etc. I asked her, why pregnant women are advised to take bouye? She said because it is highly rich in calcium, vitamin C, carbohydrates, dietary fibers, iron, potassium, magnesium, etc. This is confirmed by this affirmation: “The consumption of 40 g of pulp by a pregnant woman (19–30 years old) will cover 84% to 141% of her Recommended Daily Intakes (RDI) of vitamin C”. (F. J. Chadare et al., 2009). Furthermore, “baobab fruit pulp contains six times more ascorbic acid than orange fruit” (Silvia Vertuani et al, 2002).

Unknown in the world market some decades ago, now, baobab fruits also called Super Foods raise significant interest as a nutraceutical product because of their scientifically proven high content in nutrient and polyphenols that help our body stay in good health and younger. Due to the amount of profit that people can make by selling these products, it is not rare while shopping online, to find claims such as “natural baobab fruit power”, “organic baobab powder”, “organic baobab product”, etc. All these sounds good in the ears of consumers who care about healthy products while spending their hard earned money. I think that all these is due to the fact that organic products are considered safer in regards to the way cropping and food processing is done in developed countries these days. Fertilizers, pesticides and food additives are being used very abusively to address the growing world population food supply and also for certain farmers and industrial producers to make more money.

But do we (in Africa) really need to label our baobab powder as organic to better sell them?

Who is gaining, and who is losing if we get into those claims and specifications?

Let`s first remind what organic means and how baobab powder that are being sold is obtained.

I have recently (Fall 2016), taken the course FST 5044 entitled Global Food Laws and Regulations here at Virginia Tech in the department Food Technology and we covered a chapter on organic labeling. We were told that “All agricultural products sold, labeled, or represented as organic in the United States fall under USDA jurisdiction”.

According to USDA regulations, to claim raw or processed agricultural products as “100 percent organic, all ingredients must be certified organic and any processing aids must be organic”. And for raw or processed agricultural products in the “organic” category, “all agricultural ingredients must be certified organic, except where specified on National List.  Non-organic ingredients allowed per National List may be used, up to a combined total of 5% of non-organic content (excluding salt and water).” “The product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel”. Furthermore, “organic crop production standards require that: land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop”.

Baobab fruits are not grown in agronomically. Fruits are produced when the tree reaches maturity many decades after the tree starts growing;  hundreds of years as stated by Heike Pander “Optimum conditions to appear for germination and growth of baobab offspring can take up to 100 years and more, depending on the region”, (http://baobabstories.com/en/baobab-reproduction-of-a-giant/). These means the baobab products that are being sold currently came from trees that have been around well before food processing and organic labeling. Jitin Rahul et al. said that “African baobab is a very long-lived tree. It is said that some trees are over 1000 years old.” (Jitin Rahul et al, 2015).  Even the oldest persons have found those trees in their concessions and farms inherited from their ancestors. There is no specific area (farms where are planted baobab trees) where you can say is just for baobab tree fruits production. However, presently, there are organized planting campaigns in Senegal but we can expect their fruits to be in the market in more than a hundred years later.  Regarding pesticides and other chemicals, to my knowledge, there is no specific insects that attacks baobab tree fruits that would require the use of such products. They are different for examples from mango tree fruits on which you need to spray pesticides to limit the damages that can be caused by the mango fruit flies. Insect pests may attack the tree at flowering, causing shedding and abortion of the fruit prior to maturation but I have never seen people caring about that. Furthermore, the shell which covers the fruit pulp after flowering is so hard that I believe that no insect can harm. Once the shell got dried, the fruits will fall down on its own or when being hooked while using a long bamboo or hit with a stick. Another option, the most common one, is that young people (mostly boys) will climb the tree to get them. After that, the shell will be broken by using hard tools because it is too resistant. Inside the shell, are some white rows enveloping the seeds); they represent the pulp which when separated from the seed constitute the baobab fruit powder. That is the way people get baobab powder is obtained.

I think the consumers are losing because they might spend more money while buying the Baobab powder claimed as organic or 100% organic in specialized stores, while they could get the same product at a lower price somewhere else. In addition, other businesses are losing because either they do not know the way to get authorization from certifying agencies to claim organic or because they know that their product does not need certification in order to be sold. Furthermore, maybe they do not want to abuse consumers’ trust.

By the way, certifying agencies are perfectly right by certifying Baobab fruits powder as organic because it is a 100% Organic.

I love organic products and people who know me will not tell you the contrary. My adviser loves telling people “I have a student who love to buy organic products”. Yes, I like organic produces and products because they remind the taste of freshness I used to have home. Utmost, I love my country and I appreciate everybody who is trying to make our local products to reach the world market as this can be beneficial to our local economy. However, I am also a big supporter of fair trade. I want then to make consumers understand that all baobab powders out there in the market that are not adulterated with other product (which is a possibility like in all kinds of products in the world market) are just all natural and fine and should be worth what those claimed as organic are worthy of the claim. Therefore, claimed as “100% Organic” or just “Organic” or no, baobab original powder, leaves and oil naturally pressed (cold-pressed) have the same nutritional values and health attribute because all of them are obtained through the same natural production process. For me, business people carrying out activities surrounding this super fruit, are helping the world to be healthy and should be supported. That is what I am trying to do based on what I have learned regarding organic labeling but also my own experience as a someone who has grown having fun playing around baobab and enjoying its fruit every day. Till now even though far from home, baobab fruit, (bouye) is among the products always present in my daily diet.

Are the Villagers Being Abused Regarding Moringa oleifera Production?

About six years ago, when I was working in a quality control lab in my home country, we started getting a lot of samples from on local products such as Hibiscus sabdariffa (Bissap), Baobab tree powder (Bouy), etc. But the most remarkable were samples of Moringa oleifera, locally called Nebeday in my country. We know that is was used in traditional medicine and in making the sauce for what we called “Thiere Mboum”, a well appreciated local meal. The fact that we were getting more Moringa samples such as the entire leaves, powder, seeds like never before made us to pay more attention on it. Furthermore, one day I saw my brother drying Moringa leaves under the balcony after coming back from the national park where he exercises on weekends. He started giving Moringa tea to his kids every day.  Many people begun paying more attention to Moringa after many scientific papers were published regarding health benefits and other properties of this plant. Many people would only use it when recommended by traditional doctors. But since then, I have been reading more and more about Moringa and my findings brought me to start using Moringa leaves powder daily in my consumption and advise people to use it in a regular base. I also found that people are now doing businesses and making a lot of money on activities surrounding these plants. However, I do not think that some are doing it in an ethical way. For instance, recently I was discussing with one of my brothers about doing business on our local products, Moringa included. He was not aware of the profits people can get just by the production of Moringa. And he suddenly says “Oh so that is why one guy (referring to a foreigner) is there in a village in our region producing Moringa?”. My reaction was oh my God! Yes, that was my reaction because even though some of them care and tried to help local people, these foreigners sometimes never tell the truth to people in rural areas. They just care about making profit and that`s it. And as people in my country like sharing and helping, I am sure they might host him in their house, help him in planting and harvesting his Moringa, etc. They might be doing everything for free or for just little amount of money while the guy will be making money selling his products directly online or supplying retailers in town or abroad. Since then I cannot stop thinking about that and feel a moral obligation to do something. I do not know where that will take me but what come to my mind whenever I think about this fact is inciting to action. Everything might be okay, but if you have learned about what happen to many people in similar conditions, you will always have some doubts. I have no problem with people who do business (whether they are local or foreigners) in our resources (mostly plants that have health benefits) as that can help promote those products and satisfy consumers’ needs for healthier diets. But people should be treated fairly.  What should I do? How will I proceed in case that the guy is proceeding in an unethical way? Please shoot me some ideas in case you have some.

What Makes People Stick to Their Values?

What I have blogged about last time led me to keep thinking about the way people see or value what they consider to be their values  . And many questions come to my head:

Do certain persons really care about values? How can one get rid of self-pride?

Are what some authors report just their perceptions of how individuals who experience cultural differences manage to make a path while transitioning socially, or is this the reality?

In my country, at a young age, I heard people saying “les alliènès culturels”, “les dèracines”, or les “complexès”. In these terms, they refer to all those educated persons (mostly those who studied or have stayed abroad for too long) who they consider as “people who have lost their roots”. Those individuals are singled out based on their ways of thinking and making decisions (which is sometimes different from the traditional ways), their ways of embracing political ideologies, and even earlier (some decades ago) based on their way of dressing. However, when I have grown up and listened to or read texts written by some of the individuals qualified as such, I have realized that they are not what people think they have become. It is just a misinterpretation of the elite`s logic way of understanding issues and their expectation for more rationality. Additionally, those who did not go to school or did not have higher education are sometimes frustrated and would always criticize the intellectuals based on just jealousy. In contrast to what people think, those highly educated persons are well rooted and some of them are even mad and disappointed because of how local people have exchanged their culture, their rituals, believes, and even food. I am comfortable to talk about this given the fact that I have transitioned many times from one environment to another and I can be considered as a member of “first generation to go to college” because I am the first female in my family who has gotten to this level in higher education. To me being a “first generation to go to college” is a joy, I have never found it challenging. And based on what I am aware of, the only way “first generation to go to college” used to be problematic in my country was when some family members wanted you to become the wife of X, Y or Z. That could be the end of your days at school, but fortunately such practices have largely disappeared as today many parents are educated and understand the importance of their children’s success. I am proud and so tied to my values that I have never considered to get rid of them for a better integration or adaptation to a given environment. Maybe this is specific to me, but I am not ready to give social class discomfort a room in my life; that would be destroying to me. I grew up in a small village, my parents were farmers, I did my primary school in that rural area and went straight to the biggest city of my home town. I went to secondary school and was most of the time the top of my class. Then, after that, I went to high school and university and never feel  a need or an obligation to give up my values. Maybe that was related to the fact that I early realized that others were just humans like me and I did not care about social classes. The only thing I remember caring about was respect, I would never tolerate people trying to mess around with me. I used to be tough on those who dare to try me at a point that most of them ended up fearing me. Furthermore, as most of the time I was doing far better than them in assignments and exams, which allowed me to gain more respect from my surrounding and be more free of what would be considered social burdens. I thing knowing who you are and what your values are is more important than being willing to abandon your roots that you should be proud of. Nowadays, many people, mostly those living in cities have no value reference point and behave poorly because of this void in their lives.

Future of the University

Nowadays, it looks like that people are paying more attention on the way higher education is handled than just a few years ago. Why is that? To me the main reasons are the continuing decrease in students’ performances and the lack of enthusiasm of some educators (no more dedication as seen in earlier times). These are some of the complaints that we often times hear from parents but mostly from old instructors. There is also the reliability on new technologies which drag much more attention for learners. I think these reasons in addition to many others have brought people such as scientists, philosophers, and psychiatrists to come up with too many theories in order to reform higher education. Therefore, there are many theories out there; it is almost like everybody is expert in higher education. Books and articles are being published every day, seminars, conferences and workshops are being held like never before.

I like the way teaching is being done in the US. It is different compared to the way it is most of the time (because not always) being handled in some African countries. For example, I feel in the United States, teaching and learning processes are more student-centered; there are more interactions between students and educators which is different from what students are experiencing in certain African places. And one can see that these student-centered learning processes are gaining more and more power and more ground as the younger instructors are the ones more interested in this way of teaching and they are integrating academia every day.

But is all this really helpful?

To me, I think not completely, because of the student underperformance that is being pointed out as I have mentioned earlier. Another reason, instructors can only use the material or education theories which they are aware of, or which is most accessible to them. It can be helpful or not. Some educators might even want to innovate but end up confusing their students. Finally, regarding the students, they might be used to certain activities or problem solving strategies and once they face other circumstances they become less efficient or less productive.

Wouldn`t it be better if the different actors of higher education come up with some standard that would make things work differently?

One thing that I believe should change in higher education is the huge amount of education theories that are used in this field. They may not always give good results. I think it would be great if everybody could follow the same procedure everywhere as food scientists do it in food processing. Some organizations, such as the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Codex Alimentarius have set standards that all food producers have to follow. For instance, you have the Good Manufacturing Practice regulations that are promulgated by the FDA, you can find HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) and many others.

In some African countries, I think the shift would be to try to incorporate more student-centered activities because such practices even though having some limits seem to be a better way of getting students more ready for future careers such teaching, working as engineers, lawyers, etc. I am saying this because I think, readiness for teaching in universities for example is more needed in underdeveloped countries where ineffective educational systems are the main factor that undermines economic development. Likewise, greater efficiency of engineers in place is needed because it can help limit the reliance on international expertise. Integrating graduate seminars and workshops where people interact in their program would reinforce such approaches as these are places where students gain skills and knowledge that would not be acquired in the normal lectures of their specific field of study.

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