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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.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Re-thinking "global south" and "global north": Hans Rosling stirs the imagination



Hans Rosling is a Swedish doctor and academic who "mobilizes" statistics! In other words, he makes meaning of statistics for broad audiences and helps data tell a story. More information on his software can be found at: http://www.gapminder.org/

Here is an amazing TED Talk he did that can really help us understand some of the ways in which the global north and the global south are changing in relationship to development. The talk also challenges how we conceive and categorize terms such as global south, global north, less developed, etc:

Click here to watch the TED Talk: Hans Rosling

After watching the TED Talk, do you think there are any significant differences between the more developed north and the less developed south? Do you think we need to abandon broad constructs such as "global south" and "global north"? Are there aspects of economic and social progress that Rosling does not address?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Education outside of the classroom: India's free lunch (another look at the educational divide)

Teachers often think of what they do in the classrooms as "education." There is certainly truth to that: instructional blocks that include activities and supports for literacy, numeracy, science, the arts, etc. are necessary to support children's knowledge and skill development.

Certainly there is valuable education that occurs outside of the classroom including what occurs in the home and community environment. The home and school partnership is key to a child's success.

As well, there are supports that occur in schools that support the education which happens in the classroom.

Take breakfast and lunch programs as an example. Many schools in Canada provide these programs to support students who may not have the benefit of complete meals provided from home. A basic premise of these programs is that we cannot meet a child's learning needs unless we meet their basic physical needs.

Similar supports have been provided globally by the World Food Progamme. The WFP is an agency of the United Nations and aims to provide food in emergency situations and following emergencies. It provides food to approximately 80 million people in 75 countries each year. As part of this work, the WFP supports meal programs for children in schools. To read more about the WFP's support of school meals, click here.

Other local and international groups also support meal programs in schools. These can include religious groups, aid agencies, community organizations, and charitable organizations.

So just what does this look like "on the ground"? How are meals provided when millions of children are involved? To provide some insight click on the link below which describes a fascinating meal support program that provides meals to millions of children in India as part of the government's policy to provide free mid-day meals to primary-aged children in India.

India's Free Lunch

It's important to realize that the various divides that exist in the world are often formed and influenced by issues that are outside of the educational system. For example, teachers don't have control over a family's financial ability to provide food for themselves. However, if  schools and governments aren't involved in addressing and rectifying these issues, then the "educational divide" can become enlarged. For example, the gap between the "haves" and "have nots" can become wider: children who can't attend schools because they have to work so as to provide meals for their families become increasingly disadvantaged.

Encouragingly, however, education can also serve as a bridge by which these divides are addressed and even closed. When children can be assured that they will receive a meal at school, they are in a position to attend school, engage in the classroom instruction, and learn.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Educational Divide: Lessons from Paulo Freire

The course that I'm designing on "the educational divide" introduces students to a number of key theorists and activists. One of these is Paulo Freire.
Freire was a Brazilian scholar and practitioner who is probably best known for his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed which has become a seminal text in the study of critical pedagogy.

In this book, and his other work, Freire argues that education needs to be part of a transformation of society. He argues that education can either perpetuate economic, political, and social systems or work to change them.

How so? Let's consider an example of two students who grow up in the same community. "Steve" leaves school at 15 because he is not engaged in learning, perhaps because he is told (literally or through the actions of his teachers) that he doesn't have the same capacity as some of his classmates. Steve's early departure likely limits his career options and earning opportunities. Meanwhile, "Karen" is encouraged by her school experience and eventually enters a post-secondary program in which she studies science. A few years later she completes the program and begins work for a large pharmaceutical as a research scientist. Although a simple example, and with very limited consideration for lots of variables, it does illustrate how education can help, or hinder, a person's access to economic means.

On a deeper level, schooling is also a place where children and young people learn the various norms of society. It can be a "place" that reinforces cultural expectations. This is not necessarily a bad thing! For example, teachers can model fair and just assessment of student work. This is a cultural expectation we have: All things being equal, if I complete my work in a satisfactory way, I will be appropriately rewarded. However, schools can also perpetuate stereotypes that are outdated and/or unjust. For example, a children's book that only has images of people who are white in positions of authority is perpetuating a cultural stereotype that those who are Caucasian have an inherent right to positions of privilege.

Paulo Freire said it well:



“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

So, education certainly has the potential to inform, illuminate, and change unjust systems. Critical pedagogy is a stance that educators can take in which they deeply question the various practices and norms that exist AND actively work to change those that are unjust.


“For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

So we have a great responsibility as teachers. We can address the divides that exist in our classrooms, schools, and communities ... or we can perpetuate them.

For  a great video, one of the last recorded, of Paulo Freire discussing some of these issues, please consider watching this: Freire talks about social justice

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Educational Divide: Lessons from Malala in Bridging the Gender Divide

I'm posting a series of activities in this blog that I hope to incorporate in my new EM202 The Educational Divide course.

One of the things I want to do is to look at large-scale efforts to address global educational issues. An example of such are the Millenium Development Goals. One of the MDGs is promoting gender equality and empowering women.You can read more by clicking here.

Although it's important to consider these large-scale efforts, I think it's hard for many of us to connect with them. In other words, what does striving for gender equality and empowering women look like "on the ground"?

I think the story of Malala Yousafzai, the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, provides a powerful example.


Here is a great background documentary from the NY Times on Malala:


After watching the video (you can also find a lot of resources on this website: http://www.malala.org; I also highly recommend her book I am Malala), reflect on how Malala is trying to support the ability of girls to attend school. What do you see as the key challenges in accomplishing this mission?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What is "The Educational Divide"?

I'm developing a new undergraduate course, a required course in Laurier's Minor in Education, that is entitled "The Educational Divide." The course will be offered completely on-line starting this coming summer.

Working on the course has really made me question what exactly is the educational divide? I originally envisioned that I would examine various global aspects of the divide from the perspective of the developing world - school enrollment, literacy, facilities, poverty, etc. As I developed the syllabus and started working on the lessons I realized that I had to address local aspects of the educational divide - e.g. full access to education for English language learners, for students with exceptionalities, for our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students, for students living in poverty, etc.

Thus, a glocal approach is developing. One in which we will look at education in the Global South AND in the Global North. One in which we will see commonalities (and differences) between and within these social constructs. Thus, the course will be comparative and international.

Over the next few days, I will address some of the issues that the course will examine and will post some of the resources and activities that I envision using. I am going to post these - 1 or 2 a day- between now and February 11 and I encourage feedback!

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.