Crafting Your Child’s Future… Thinking Schools Ethiopia

By: Edda Zekarais
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 

This article is taken from the upcoming March issue of  ” The Eminence” magazine.

‘Isn’t thinking a key component of most learning and isn’t student learning the primary function of all schools? Unfortunately, a great deal of evidence would appear to indicate that a significant proportion of pupils pass through their 15,000 hours of schooling without being required to do much real thinking at all. External tests and examinations are prepared for and passed at every level by means of drills and rote-memory exercises with the result that a great deal of superficial information may have been accumulated without any reflection on its value or the meaning. Meanwhile, the notion of an autonomous (and group orientated) learner and problem-solver has been completely lost.’ (Professor Bob Burden (University of EXETER-UK)

Indeed, can we take a moment and reflect on the type of routine education we have had? Better yet, if a parent, what sort of education/ learning system have we put our most valuable children into? If a teacher, what have students learnt with us today? If part of the school administration, what values have we imparted on our students and have we truly made an effort to engage with our students beyond reminding them to pay tuition fees, respect school rules or even keep grade scores up so that our school is successful?
Fundamental as these and other related questions might be, they only tend to be asked contextually. In other words, they are left as questions to be asked and responded to by those in the system of education. It is rather unfortunate that it fails to be understood that such bearings only hamper and limit the exploration of maximum capacities to teach and learn. What such a statement alludes to is the fact that, learning and teaching should not only be limited to teacher and student, and within the confines of a school compound.
The truth of the matter is, raising questions alone without suggesting or providing tangible solutions to such issues is equally hazardous as doing nothing at all.
On the other hand, the beauty of the matter is, profound dedications and contributions have been made to address the issue(s). In addition, time and time again, across continents, it has been proven this effort works! This is in reference to Thinking Schools International. Initiated in the UK and US by David Hyerle and Richard Cummins, Thinking Schools International has been integrated into schooling systems in the UK, Norway, South Africa, Malaysia, India, Brazil and Northern Ireland.

Defined a
‘Thinking School is an educational community in which all members share a common commitment to giving regular careful thought to everything that takes place. This will involve both students and staff learning how to think reflectively, critically and creatively, and to employing these skills and techniques in the co-construction of a meaningful curriculum and associated activities. Successful outcomes will be reflected in student’s across a wide range of abilities demonstrating independent and co-operative learning skills, high levels of achievement and both enjoyment and satisfaction in learning. Benefits will be shown in ways in which all members of the community interact with and show consideration for each other and in the positive psychological well-being of both students and staff.’
(Professor Bob Burden (University of EXETER-UK)

Understanding the benefits associated with Thinking Schools approach or learning, Eminence Social Entrepreneurs in collaboration with Thinking Schools International (TSI) have created Thinking Schools Ethiopia (TSE). This partnership without doubt comes at a crucial moment in the thriving academic sphere of Ethiopia.
Education is a basic foundation for any country’s development, especially in the context of developing nations. In our context, Ethiopia’s globally appraised growth will require constant human capital productive involvement. This condition creates obligation to cultivate these required skills from childhood and continue building them even in adulthood life circumstances. In such environments, progress is visible and achievable considering; each and every single person becomes a stakeholder in the processes created therewith.
Approaches and ideas set forth by Thinking Schools International also apply for Thinking Schools Ethiopia. In other words, the ‘whole-school’ teaching-learning approach is to be implemented within Ethiopia and in the long-run across the region. A vigorous pilot programmed phase between 2009 and 2011 was completed with utmost success. Following, TSE conducted pre-implementation training with government and private schools, the latest one having taken place November 2011. Consequently, the Addis Ababa City Administration Education Bureau signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Eminence (TSE) officially making it possible for the latter to commence preparations for initially working with schools in Addis Ababa.
This whole school method of teaching changes systems of the teaching-learning processes by making everyone a learner and teacher at the same time. Conventional schooling systems that focus on teacher-dominated learning, non-child/ learner friendly learning environments/ spaces, non-creative thinking, minimal parent and school administration involvement, etc are some of the aspects that TSE will work with in schools.
Of recent, Thinking Schools Ethiopia has received support from UNESCO-IICBA (UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa), which serves as great acknowledgement and also encouragement at the same time for this grand initiative in the area of education.
I would like to see this continue in some form…this was a complete success…to have on an ongoing basis…for public school teachers…that would assist the whole education system in the country because this was a workshop about changing minds…acquiring a new set of beliefs about what education is all about… (Awol Endris, Dr— Program Director at UNESCO – IIICBA)
Future prospects for TSE hold expansion within Ethiopia and eventually in the region. In all of the engagements that will follow the progress, TSE will further strengthen Eminence’s social responsibility based initiatives that are crafted for wider community good.
“…I have started up using Thinking Maps…managing my own classrooms…now every single individual in my classroom is very much engaged in what we try to do…this has become a two way communication…” Mr. Addis – English Teacher
Video of Mr. Addis interview including how the integration of Thinking Schools Ethiopia training has impacted him as a teacher and the affect on his students…

Additional thoughts from Mr. Addis on the need for participant centered professional development training…