About Me

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I have been an elementary and secondary school teacher and administrator. Currently, I am a faculty member in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My M.Ed. and Ph.D. had a focus on the educational and linguistic experiences of children who moved from other countries to Canada.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Haiti 5 years after the earthquake: Friendship and partnership across borders

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck the area around Port au Prince, Haiti.

There have been lots of stories in the media marking this occasion. Many of these stories focus on questions surrounding aid, the continued economic challenges, and the current political situation in Haiti. These are realities that need to be explored and you can read more at:

TIME magazine on aid
CBC on continued challenges
Al Jazeera on post-earthquake challenges

At the same time, the stories of individuals and their families sometimes get lost in the media coverage. Haiti is a country full of stories of resilience and I have tried to provide some of these in earlier blog posts. I have also published some case examples in research journals and these can be found on my Laurier webpage:

Steve Sider research publications

Today, I will mark the anniversary of the earthquake by thinking of my colleagues in Haiti, being thankful for the shared experiences we have had, and remaining committed to the capacity-building that we are engaged in together.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Education for the Next 4 Billion: Lessons in Resourcefulness, Relationships, and Resilience

This past fall, a team of Haitian, Canadian, and American university faculty members, on-line learning experts, and business people met in Cap-Haitien, Haiti to discuss opportunities for on-line learning. One of the big questions that came out of our meetings was, "What does on-line learning look like for those who don't have easy access to the technology that makes on-line learning accessible?"

The question was motivated by a "collision" of two seemingly polar issues: The desire of universities in Haiti to provide on-line learning opportunities BUT the limited resources of students and faculty to access and support these courses. In other words, we can build it, but will they come?

This raises a much bigger global issue. We have made huge in-roads to provide education for the "first" 4 billion. These are people who live in emerging contexts such as Brazil, India, and Indonesia who have the means to access on-line learning materials through solid Internet connections and low-cost tablets.

But what about the next 4 billion? How do we provide equitable access to quality education to those are in the poorest parts of the world?


Let's take a look at Haiti as a case example. There are certainly people in Haiti who have access to the Internet either through data plans on their phones/tablets or through wired connections. However, these tend to be a wealthy minority. 80% of Haitians live at or below the poverty line ($2/day); 54% live in extreme poverty (less than $1/day) (Source: CIA World Factbook: Haiti). Families in these contexts are challenged to come up with the money to send a child to school (never mind, more than one child) or to pay for their school uniform (yes, every child in Haiti has to have a school uniform).

In this context, how can one be reasonably expected to purchase the tools that make on-line learning possible?

However, our recent trip to Haiti illustrated that this is not the complete story. Instead, we experienced cases of resourcefulness, relationships, and resilience that provide examples of a new way forward for Haiti.

Three examples come quickly to mind:

Andre: As the director of the Center for Women and Children in Cap-Haitien, Andre operates a number of programs that help marginalized people. Laurier has provided 10 laptops to the center and BlackBerry has equipped Andre and his senior staff with phones. The laptops have allowed Andre to provide basic computer training to the women who are in a life skills program. The phones have enabled him to collaborate with his staff and to quickly communicate with supporters in North America.

Doody and Samuel: Two university students, one studying psychology and the other medicine, have used their phones to access social media in developing their English language skills and accessing resources for their university programs. We met these two originally when they completed a Laurier-led English language program while they were in high school. They represent the next era of Haitian social entrepreneurs who understand the power and opportunity of social media.

Caleb: As a young boy, Caleb left his rural community of Pignon to study in Cap-Haitien. These early experiences cemented in his mind a desire to be part of the transformation of his country. 30+ years later, Caleb is a social innovator par excellence! He has built a school and infrastructure in his community to allow others to move beyond the confines of poverty. His school has a computer lab and he is purchasing Haitian-made tablets (read more about Surtabs here: Surtab) to experiment with how they will be used by the students.

So what can we learn from this experience in Haiti? An exploratory trip to Haiti certainly reminds us of the challenges of providing on-line learning for the next 4 billion people ... but also teaches us some valuable lessons on resourcefulness, relationships, and resilience.

As companies like Desire2Learn and universities like Wilfrid Laurier consider "education for all" we need to continue to engage our partners in the poorest parts of the world. Technology can help leapfrog some of the challenges of ensuring that every child receives an education: Modern infrastructure for technology is being built in Haiti (access to 3G and 4G networks are common throughout the country), $100 tablets are being built within the county, data plans are relatively inexpensive ... these structures allow on-line courses for university students to be developed and professional development opportunities for teachers to take place.

Now, we have to figure out how to bridge the gap between the technology infrastructure that exists and the limited means people have to access it. However, Andre, Doody, Samuel, and Caleb remind us that, throughout history and across global contexts, social innovators have never allowed obstacles to deter them from their goals.

Friday, January 2, 2015

What does it mean to be an "emerging country"? And why will it take Haiti 15 years to be one?

I read an interesting report from the United Nations Development Programme today that takes a futuristic look at Haiti. The report can be found on the UNDP/PNUD website:

UNDP/PNUD

In the Introduction section, a comment is made that "...new financial resources must be mobilised to lift Haiti up to the emerging country level by 2030" (p. 3).

The statement surprised me on two fronts.

First, what exactly is an emerging country? I have seen the term in reference to countries such as Brazil and South Korea. I did a quick search to see if I could find how the term is defined. I found information on the World Bank and the United Nations Statistics Division websites, neither of which mentions "emerging". Other sources (including the IMF and Forbes) suggest that a country that is emerging no longer relies on international aid organizations to prevent starvation, disease, and political instability. If that is how we define emerging, then Haiti is clearly "emerging". One thing was clear from my limited search, the idea of "emerging" is contested.

Second, why will it take about a generation (15 years) to get Haiti to that position? Within Haiti, I see micro-ecosystems that could be considered "emerging". Social entrepreneurs and innovators are changing the landscape of communities. The social capital in these contexts is flourishing.

What is lacking in Haiti is the macro-ecosystem that represents this social capital on a national scale. So we may have schools that are effectively supporting the social development of children in communities but we don't have this consistently on a national scale. There are hospitals that are supporting the reduction of disease in communities but not on a national scale. There are businesses and agricultural cooperatives fostering significant economic development in local contexts but not on a national scale.

These micro-ecosystems are like springs in a desert. They demonstrate a way forward. And they need to be replicated. Perhaps it will take 15 or more years to do so. That's a blink in terms of human history. It's also a lifetime in terms of human misery.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Concussions in hockey: A glocal issue?

This blog has a focus on glocal issues, usually framed in the context of education.

An article I read today, and personal experience with my son's hockey team, has got me thinking about concussions. Not exactly what I had in mind when I started this blog!

But I think we could make a good case that concussions are about education.

And, they are not just a "local" issue.

Here's the article that got me thinking:

Why are Canadian universities blocking concussion research?

Now, I think there may be problems with Dr. Echlin's methodology but the core of his research is intriguing and certainly addresses a troubling issue: Are we condoning an activity that we know increases the potential for injury and long-term negative consequences for our children?

Full disclosure: I have a son who plays Minor Bantam (13 year olds) hockey. He plays on a "select" team having moved from AA last year. One of our biggest concerns, and one of the motivations for him moving to a "lower" level of play, was body checking. He has not had a concussion (yet).

Throughout this year we have seen multiple hits from behind, boarding, and head hits ... not all of which led to injury but certainly all of which had significant potential for injury. Three of the players on his team are currently on long-term leave from hockey due to body checking.

Are we worried? You bet we are.

After all, why would we sacrifice his long-term potential for this?

Will he play again next year? Not likely.

Hockey officials wonder why registration numbers are decreasing. Certainly cost is a factor but I would argue that there is a significant number of young players who get to the age of body checking and say "Enough, I don't need this anymore."

Parents around the world are sacrificing finances to send their children to school so that they might meet their potential.

Why are we sacrificing our finances to send our children into an arena (somewhat like the Roman arenas? hmmm) so that they might lose their potential?



Ethical blogging note: my son has reviewed and approved this post :)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sustainability in the midst of change: Haiti after the resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe

Change is a certainty in life.

Sustainability not so much.

This weekend, after much pressure, Haiti's Primer Minister Laurent Lamothe resigned. The opposition parties had been demanding his resignation in the midst of election delays. For more, see this Miami Herald story:

'We did all we could for...'

Over the past few years, my observation has been that Haiti has seen much positive change. In the educational sector, I have seen many new public schools. I have been in classrooms where the student:teacher ratio is clearly better than a few years earlier. A new teacher certification initiative has been started. These observations have been supported by reports such as one by the World Bank which indicates that extreme poverty has decreased.

Of course, much more needs to be done.
  • 100 students in a high school class is still far too many (five years ago, the same classroom had nearly 200 students)
  • The vast majority of students still do not graduate from high school
  • Adult literacy rates are still around 50%

However, the country is moving in the right direction. Early in my teaching career, I learned that we should "reward direction and not expect perfection." In other words, don't expect perfect student behaviour but reward it when it is moving in the desired direction.

Of course, this has me thinking about how to ensure the continued movement in the right direction in the midst of change in Haiti.

Haiti remains a fragile state. Despite significant accomplishments since the 2010 earthquake, the structures that support these accomplishments are precarious. Good governance, at both the macro level (e.g. national institutions such as the Ministry of National Education) and the micro level (e.g. local governments, NGOs, social entrepreneurs) is key now more than ever.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stoplights: How a set of stoplights in Haiti got me thinking about social innovation

Five or more years ago I was traveling through Port au Prince and came across the first set of stoplights that I had seen in Haiti.

Stoplights.

In Port au Prince.

As I approached the stoplights, I quickly realized that there was no operational green, yellow, or red light. There was no electricity.

So, of course, drivers ignored them.

A week or so later, I was returning through the same intersection and recognized that the lights were working!

But no was obeying them.

I've used this story many times in talking about how well-intended ideas may not make sense for the context (click here to watch a TEDx Talk I did that uses this story).

It has also helped me wrestle with the idea of social innovation.

Traffic can be crazy in Haiti. First-time travelers flinch as they see trucks hurtling toward them on the wrong side of the road. Yet, amazingly, there seem to be rules for the road that are not easily evident. Drivers have developed innovative means to determine who goes first, how one passes, and how one navigates the road system.

Social innovation is a funny thing. Systems (like stoplights) can help support social innovation or they can get in the way. In my experience, I have learned that it is critical is to be a keen observer of human behaviour and to look for the ways in which innovation naturally "bubbles up" from our interactions with each other and with our environment.

Let's remember to not put stoplights up too quickly in the way of innovation.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Teacher candidates in Ayotzinapa, Mexico and Waterloo, Canada: Glocal solidarity?

Two months ago, 43 teacher candidates from a teacher's college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico disappeared during a political protest. Another 6 were killed. For an overview of the situation, please click below:

Globe and Mail "Thousands protest..."

Although separated by 1000s of kilometers, teacher candidates from our own Bachelor of Education program at Wilfrid Laurier University have tried to demonstrate solidarity with their colleagues in Mexico. One way we have done this is through spreading awareness. A group of our teacher candidates met last week to take a picture that they have distributed through social media to help their friends and family become aware of the situation.

Our Bachelor of Education program at Laurier is small - approximately 125 students. If 1/3 of those students were to disappear it would be devastating. When we met for the picture above, there was no fear of reprisal or persecution. We understand that many teachers around the world go to work every day without that same sense of security. As a result, our students are supporting their colleagues in Ayotzinapa in an act of "glocal solidarity."

If you are reading this blog and want to support the family and friends of the students in Ayotzinapa, please consider taking action through Amnesty International (click on link below):

Amnesty International (Canada) petition for Ayotzinapa