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Catering at schools in Kazakhstan: profit vs. quality

Every fifth schoolchild suffers from digestive system diseases like stomach ulcer; every second child suffers from gastritis; the majority lack calcium and folacin (Mingazova, 2011). This is the real picture of strong educational system of Kazakhstan, as the children got bogged down in such troubles because of the poor quality of catering at schools. We talk big about the quality of education at schools, disregarding crucial issues with its integral part – catering, which might be improved taking a leaf out of Italian creative procurement policy book.

Most of the school canteens do not mind children not being overfond of the school cuisine, as they found more cost-effective solution – sideboards selling junk food and sweetmeat. They have longer expiry dates and do not have to be cooked everyday. Blaming innocent but hungry children, the school administration deny the fact that the food is not only unattractive, but also have no health benefits. Sadly, promoting the “lowest price” service as in the UK, the catering procurement in Kazakhstan is elected according to the “best value” system (Morgan & Sonnino, 2006, p.4). Holding the name “sustainable school meal service”, the system urges steady quality progression along with the competitiveness between the catering agencies, which are given plenipotentiary freedom after the allocation (Morgan & Sinnino, 2006, p. 1). Parents’ voice is neglected throughout the process, and the school administration is bribed with free meal provision. As a result, parents complain that they do not receive any information about the food their children eat at school and the personnel that provides it. There is also a big concern regarding the medical examination, which also remains unknown, of the catering staff (Mingazova, 2011).

The government of Kazakhstan, since the slight amendments on food procurement policy in 2007 did not bring remarkable reclamations, could take for a model the Italian policy (Mingazova, 2011). The advantage of this policy is that school meal, which is defined as the most important aspect in education, is controlled by various stakeholders: from Ministry of Education to Ministry of Agriculture (Morgan & Sinnino, 2006). The latter promotes the local goods utilization, which adds to the quality but decreases the cost.  Parents take active part in designing the meal plan as well. Therefore, there is a high competitiveness between high-quality, not the cheapest, catering services.

It is highly improbable to involve all local ministries in controlling the school catering. Involving parents into this process would though embroider the quality of meal at schools. Teaching the new generation the traits of appropriate nourishment is mostly possible at schools. Therefore, abandoning the sideboards might also prevent children’s health problems.

References

Mingazova, A. (2006). Osoboe vnimanie shkolnomu pitaniu [Special emphasis on school catering]. Sezon, 2011.

Morgan, K., & Sonnino, R. (2006). Empowering consumers: the creative procurement of school meals in Italy and the UK. International Journal of Consumer Studies. 1-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1470-6431.2006.00552.x

Fashion in education, or why Mr. Torrano sprouted a beard

Fashion and teaching seem to be completely incompatible notions. Well, not in GSE. Women are always on heels with manicure, men are rather on skis with beards. Frankly speaking, I was favorably impressed by the way the GSE academic staff is dressed. Recently one of the classy professors started to grow a beard, making the students wonder whether it is a new GSE trend or professional need. I subscribed to the latter, before finding two contradicting volume investigations on this topic, which correspond merely in quantitative method. Rollman (1980) affirms that teacher attire explicitly affects the student perceptions, which Gorham et al. (1999) challenge referring to greater affect of the teacher’s behavior, neglecting the close connection between the teacher behavior and attire.

Inspired by the graduate student’s curiosity about the teacher attire affect on students’ perceptions, Rollman (1980) conducted a quantitative research. It is important to highlight that he was the first to investigate this topic in educational context. Six photographs of teachers of different gender and dressing style were used as an instrument. Hundred participants completed five-point likert-scale questionnaires, which included ten personal characteristics. The results showed that regardless the gender, the teacher attire has considerable impact on student perceptions: teachers dressed formally are perceived more seriously than their casually dressed colleagues. By the same token Gorham et al. (1999) conducted as many as three studies. Using the real teachers as instruments, they considered external factors as gender and age of the teacher along with dressing, during the lessons.

As schoolchildren spend “13000 hours” staring at a teacher, the attire must be one of the essential traits that influence the students, which is emphasized in both studies (Lortie, 1975). Considering the different student perceptions according to the gender of the teacher, which is disputed by Rollman (1980), Gorham et al. (1999) urge that behavior is more important than dressing. Obviously, it is important to consider gender, age and behaviour investigating this topic. It is important to study though, the connection between the behavior and attire, which is dismissed in the study by Gorham et al. (1999). It might be difficult to ascribe negative characteristics to the person dressed formally.  On the other hand, the research by Gorham et al. (1999) seems more reliable, as they use real teachers instead of photographs, which added to the paper more data for analysis on other impacts on student perception. One of such aspects is “optimal homophily”, presented by McCroskey et al. (1974), but refuted by Gorham et al. (1999, p 285). The former study implied that the similarity of teacher attire to students’, regarding the quality and style, produces positive outcomes and perceptions.

Both long standing studies, despite complications, show the importance of appropriate teacher attire in formation of positive student perception. Mentioned by Gorham et al. (1999), there should be a balance between formal and informal dressing, considering other impacts. It might be useful to reconduct the studies for confirmation of validity in present circumstances.

References

Gorham, J., Cohen, S. & Morris, T. (1999). Fashion in the classroom III: Effects of instructor attire and immediacy in natural classroom interactions. Communication Quarterly. 47(3). 281-299.

Lortie, D. (1975) Schoolteacher: a sociological study, Chicago, IL, The University of Chicago Press.

Rollman, S. (1980). Some Effects of Teachers’ Styles of Dress. Paper presentei at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Speech Communication Association. Birmingham, AL.

The Children’s House

My younger son is 4 months old, high time to start looking for the very creche we need. The number and variety of modern pre-school organizations in Astana make people adrift and confused. Despite insufficient knowledge, my friends keep suggesting kindergartens based on Montessori Method. Therefore I took my time investigating whether it is another branding method or something we are looking for. Whether you are a parent looking for fitting education or a teacher looking for a job, you might be interested in my findings below.

How would you teach colours to your angelets-students? If you thought of demonstrating different objects first with following task to find other objects, you do not fit Montessori teaching requirements. I was also disappointed to find out that my teaching method is completely wrong! Instead of torturing the children with endless talks and confusing them showing different pictures, showing them cards with colours emerged to be enough. The maximum words needed from teacher are “This is blue. This is green.”. The res t should be left for children to explore. Adding more descriptions and questioning them are designated as “offending the principles of liberty”, which might prevent the child from “spontaneous” discoveries (Montessori, 1912, p. 74). This prima facie difficult to understand situation is the outcome of one of –ity rules the method abides: “brevity, simplicity and objectivity” (Montessori, 1912, p. 74). The latter ones might be familiar to teachers.

You must be wondering what the teacher’s role is in such simple method. The teacher is the most important and beloved actor, despite the short performance. Montessori (1912) defines the teacher as “not a passive voice, a silent presence”, which means that each lesson is a unique “experiment” where the teacher should take a chance to observe reactions and behavior of the central phenomenon, the child (p. 212; 74). In addition, there are two –ing canons the teacher should avoid: “insisting” and inducing the child’s feeling to err (Montessori, 1912, p. 75). Again, the latter is familiar, but the first rule seems essential in teaching, as it refers to reiterating instructions or topics. Surprisingly, Montessori (1912) strongly believes that the teacher can simply lead the classroom filled with about seventy children of different ages talking under his/her breath, which is really difficult to imagine.

Although The Montessori method (1912) could not ram an argument home at first, the results of the experiment by Lillar & Else-Quest (2006) gave me serious thought to look for the schools in Astana which apply such method. The most thought provoking finding of the experiment is that the children studying in Montessori schools outlined the school as the most favourite place and expressed only the positive sides of classmates. I should point out that these are the traits of my dream school, and surely other parents’ too. Furthermore, mentees of the “Children’s House” appeared as considerably more successful both academically and socially than their ordinary peers (Montessori, 1912).

Notwithstanding the simplicity and candidness, the Montessori Method seems to be one of the most difficult and demanding approaches so far. Implementing this method might change the vox populi of schools and teachers in Kazakhstan, though it is useful to study its hallmarks first. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend you to read the Montessori Method, which contains invaluable advice in bringing up an individual.

References

Lillard, A., & Else-Quest, N. (2006). Evaluating Montessori education. Science, 313, 1803-1894.

Montessori, M. (1912). Pedagogical methods used in the “Children’s Houses” In The Montessori Method (pp. 73-77). Rome: Frederick A. Stokes Company.

I am MUSLIM and I am not a terrorist

From the first days of their birth my mother-in-law has been teaching her grandchildren the traits of Islam. Hopefully they will grow up into faithful and strong Ummah in the future. Most of the grandchildren are aged below 5, except the oldest girl, who is already 10. Having seen videos about the violence in France, she called my mother-in-law and asked why Muslims are terrorists… In the discussion to follow I would like to introduce you the ghastliest terrorists of the world, mass media.

The 9/11 tragedy in 2001 sealed a terrorist mark on ALL Muslims of the world, accusing them for further incidents as bombing in Indonesia, Turkey, Spain and England (Sirin & Balsano, 2007). Today, Muslims again appear to be the most atrocious Homo sapiens that unreasonably killed innocent people in France, despite the previous offensive actions towards the Prophet. The power of mass communication turned the whole world against Muslims. How did it happen?

Media outlets surround us everywhere: we wake up in the morning listening to the news, go to bed after the news and listen to the news on the way to work and back. Therefore, news is omnipotent driver of the society (Norris et al., 2003). Whether the people accept the new reform or reject depends on fingers of the feature writer. Unfortunately, due to the global demands and speed, the knights of the pen have to make up or even exaggerate the twists and turns of the news, neglecting the “background factors”(Norris et al., 2003, p. 8). I wonder has any of such facile newssupermen thought of dismembered current and future life of Muslim children.

Our children are lucky to live in the society preponderated by Muslims for 70%. Otherwise, they would suffer as 10% of Muslims DO now in France because of remarkable discrimination. Although the whole world tries to blame Muslims for all faults, there is a lack of sufficient and reliable investigations on Muslims most of which cover merely “veiling” and female education (Sirin & Balsano, 2007, p. 1). What is worse, none of them cover the impact of terrorist incident outcomes on Muslim adolescents and their academic and social achievements (Sirin & Balsano, 2007). Widespread velocity news frames are only interested in raising money and acclamation exacerbating the situation.

2 billion Muslims are praying for justice and adequate attitude on the Earth. Let us hope and pray that one day the pencil pushers will start working with good conscience and distribute trustworthy information.

References

Norris, P., Kern, M., & Just, M. R. (Eds.). (2003). Framing terrorism: The news media, the government, and the public. Psychology Press.

Sirin, S., & Balsano, A. (2007). Editors’ Introduction: Pathways to identity and positive development among Muslim youth in the West. Applied Development Science, 11(3), 109–111.

Yoga writing

Teaching writing can be more intricate in comparison with other skills. Therefore it requires more perseverance and interaction. Hairston (1982) outlines that writing is inexplicable process regardless the skills of the writer. Then how to teach writing? In all fairness, as an EAL teacher I tried to escape teaching writing, especially to lower level students. I did not even see the importance of teaching writing. Fortunately, the XXI century provides us with numerous invaluable opportunities to enhance our knowledge. One of them is Macmillan online conference, where I found many interesting teaching methods. The most interesting and weird session was about encouraging writing through yoga writing, which I would like to share with you in this post. Although I do not fancy yoga, I found the session really useful and decided to try it with my Year 6 students (aged 10-11). The results were so prodigious, that by the end of the lesson I was on top of the world with my students! If you are interested, take a deep breath…

  1. Take your children outside the school, you are doing yoga after all! All you need is love and blindfolds. Find a comfortable place and make a circle singing the song “Make a circle make a circle, big and round, big and round”. Standing feet shoulder width apart, students put the blindfolds on.  Ask them to take a deep breath and listen to the voices surrounding them for 10 minutes. Make sure there is a sufficient amount of different noises, otherwise you will have to make them yourself. As 10 minutes pass, wake the students up, take off the blindfolds and walk towards the classroom.
  2. In the classroom, ask the students to write down everything they heard during that serene 10 minutes. They may even refer to L1 or use dictionaries, as they have only 10 minutes as before. You can help them with translating, encouraging and giving hints if required. The more they write, the more extensional their writing will be.
  3. No more fuss. The students take another deep breath and add descriptive adjectives to each noun in their list, the noises they heard. They will find the colourful worksheets with descriptive adjectives, which you have prepared ahead of the game, really useful.
  4. Now they write complete sentences, not realizing that they are already writing an essay. I bet if you merely asked them to write an essay about the nature surrounding the school, they would not be that enthusiastic. They will be really contented to use linking phrases (conjunctive adverbs) from the worksheets, which you have prepared long before the lesson.
  5. As you start to notice shining faces, ask them to give a title to their magnum opuses. Believe me they would love to do it. They can also use descriptive adjectives.

You can give them a chance to check for mistakes and pass tour de forces the next lesson. Otherwise you can check them right away, adding cheering comments to hearten them for more writings. Such writing can be conducted after teaching the new vocabulary and adjectives. It is advisable to change the location every time, so that the writings varied from each other. I took my students to the canteen and the school hall for the following lessons.

Hairston (1982) remarks the new paradigm of teaching writing which promulgates exploration, as students realize the purpose during the process without any instructions. Yoga writing seems to fit this feature best, as the teacher stands behind, watching the students discovering their capacities, which is the main purpose of any lesson.

References

Hairston, M. (1982). The winds of change: Thomas Kuhn and the revolution in the teaching of writing. College Composition and Communication, 33(1). 76-88.

Macmillan Education ELT. (2013). The 2013 Macmillan Online Conference. [online session recordings]. London: Macmillan Education ELT. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbEWGLATRxw_FfS5Zb10iYq9wOkbVYEiU

Live streaming video monitoring at schools

A school’s main objective is to provide the children with effective knowledge, in virtue of different external support. Parental involvement seems to be the most robust as well as the most useful among them. Sampson (2014) defines the parental involvement as set of supportive activities to improve the children’s academic attainment, which positive influence is acknowledged by many other researchers (Fan, 2001; Williams et al., 2002). The activities may vary from controlling the child’s studies at home to interaction to the school administrative procedures. The schools of Kazakhstan are also lucky to have such committed and fully involved parents. In the following discussion I shall urge to implement the live streaming video monitoring system at schools as one of the most convenient ways to improve the parental involvement at local schools. Possible shortcomings of the system are also included for further discussions.

Let us penetrate deeper into the notion of the live video streaming facility, which is already abundantly used in Kazakhstani private kindergartens. According to Fryer (2001), video cameras in each classrooms of the kindergarten are connected to one computer to compact the recordings and simultaneously send them to the parents’ any devices that have internet connection. Consequently, parents are able to watch what their children are doing in real time sitting at home. In addition some modern devices allow parents to record the video (Fryer, 2001). It is important to highlight the difference of this facility from the security surveillance system, which is solely utilized by the security staff.

The system might look daunting prima facie. However, the kindergartens using this system demonstrate positive outcomes. The main advantage of this invention is that parents are able to watch their children’s activities in real time throughout their presence in the kindergarten, which enables parents to be fully and at the same time indirectly involved in children’s education (Fryer 2001). This helps the kindergarten staff to elude frequent misunderstandings from parents because of insufficient knowledge about their children’s lives at the kindergarten. Therefore, the staff could be protected by the system, as their activities can be verified with the video, which amplifies assurance of parents about the choice of the nursery school.

Let us get back to the schools. Williams et al. (2002) observed the quality of parental involvement at schools and investigated the ways parents are informed about the children’s academic achievements. The results of the research showed that 94% of the parents are aware of their children’s success because they regularly attend parent meetings (Williams et al., 2002). However, it is a well known fact that mostly only ONE of the parents attends the meetings, which means that the second parent remains less informed. Another way of getting acquainted with the child’s school life is the school report (92%) (Williams et al., 2002). Although these ways look eloquent, the question of reliability of such “verbal” information distribution still lingers. Hence the implementation of LSV system would greatly contribute to solve this problem.

Some would argue the effectiveness of the system regarding the rights and morale of the teachers. Considering the level of their professional commitment, I shall assume that they might be even glad to use such facility for above mentioned reasons. On the other hand, the system might be an extensive taste for schools. Again, reckoning with the level of parents’ interest, funding might be the minor problem.

The reason of parents’ intervention into the school life might be their scarce knowledge. LSV system could both abate their immoderate and baseless suspicions and appease the work of teachers as well as the administrative staff of the school.

References

Fan, X. (2001). Parental involvement and student’s academic achievement: A growth modeling analysis. Journal of Experimental Education, 70, 27-61.

Fryer, B. (2001). System and method for distribution of child care training materials and remote monitoring of child care centers. US 6233428 B1. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/patents/US6233428#backward-citations

Sampson, L. (2014) Parental involvement and children’s educational performance: A comparison of Filipino and U.S. parents. Journal of Comparative Studies, 14(3). 351-368.

William, B. (2002). Communication. In Parental involvement in education (pp. 42-50). Norwich: Queen’s Printer.

A message to parents

What is the most common topic of meetings in our modern society? Schools and teachers. More often than not I have to listen to the stories of teachers, the vessels of wrath and schools with worse conditions than in jails. Being a teacher, I desperately start to defend my poor colleagues, which exacerbates the situation. This writing is dedicated to all parents that blame teachers for issues that their children face at schools. It might seem that a teacher is responsible for your child. However, you could always keep in your mind that he/she is YOUR child. I hope the following recommendations will help you to judge the situation from ex altera parte.

  • Moving to another class will not enhance the knowledge of your child

What comes to your mind first when you see poor grades or frequent notes from the teacher in your child’s diary? If you think that you need to move your child to another class, take your time to investigate yourself first. The reason of poor grades is not always the negative attitude of a teacher, but YOUR attitude to your child’s studies. Think of what you have done to prevent poor grades rather than searching for the teacher’s faults. According to Hill & Taylor (2004) parents are responsible for regular attending and helping at school events, especially parent meetings, keeping in touch with teachers and supporting the child with the homework.

  • Encourage your child to gain knowledge, not excellent grades

Despite being the beginning teacher, I have met numerous students studying merely for grades. Outstanding marks are not always the indicators of good knowledge. Therefore, exerting your child to receive only excellent marks might entail “performance goals”, when your child prefers memorizing to understanding and analyzing (Covington, 2000).

  • Teachers are good at conversations

There is high contingency for parents to misunderstand teachers’ educating approaches. The simplest way to find out the effectiveness of vague teaching methods is talking to the teachers straightforwardly. Otherwise, you may remain dissatisfied with principal’s or other teachers’ answers. Lareau (1996) claims that good collaboration with teachers help parents to be aware of the school news and policies, the ways of supporting and encouraging the child in studies (as cited in Hill & Taylor, 2004, p. 162).

  • Private tutoring is not the best solution

How do you deal with your child’s difficulties in studies? Referring to private tutoring off hand will not inscribe you in the list of “super parents”. In fact, your child does not need a private tutor to do the homework. Instead,  YOUR daily half hour support could enhance your child’s achievement. In addition, Dang & Rogers (2008) question the effectiveness of private tutoring materials in improving the students’ capacity in education. Hence, it is advisable to employ private tutoring with the teacher’s recommendation.

  • The more children sleep, the better they perform

Oftentimes, the students are exhausted in the couple of lessons because of insufficient sleeping hours. The results of the investigation by Kelly et al. (2001) showed that the students that slept more than 9 hours a day performed remarkably higher achievements than the students that slept less than 6 hours a day. How many hours a day does your child sleep?

Being a parent requires a lot of responsibility, but being a teacher requires a lot more. Consequently, a teacher is the next person after your child that needs support, as he/she has to work with at least 20 children 7 hours a day, 6 days a week. I hope that this benevolent message convinced you to start the conversation with teachers with simple “thank you” as well as to keep in your mind that a teacher is also a parent.

References

Covington, M. (2000), Goal theory, motivation, and school achievement: An integrative review. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 171-200. Doi: 0084–6570/00/0171–0200$12.00

Dang, H., & Rogers, H. (2008). How to interpret the growing phenomenon of private tutoring: Human capital deepening, inequality increasing, or waste of resources? Policy Research Working Paper, 4530, 1-39.

Hill, N., & Taylor, L. (2004). Parental school involvement and children’s academic achievement:  Pragmatics and issues. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(4), 161-164.

Kelly, W., Kelly, K., & Clanton, R. (2001). The relationship between sleep length and grade-point average among college students. Coll Student, 35, 84-86.