Tag Archives: communication

Speaking the language of bureaucracy in a foreign land

One of the most tiresome and tiring parts of moving to a new country is getting all the basic things done so you can legally function there: work permits, residency, tax registration, driving license, health care, etc. These are all things that citizens pick up as they become adults and take care of these things one at a time. When you’re settling in as a foreigner, you need to get them all done at more or less the same time. Meanwhile, you don’t speak the language, don’t know where to go, etc.

tax-consultant-1249530_640Often, expatriates get these things done for them, rather than have to do them themselves. In previous moves, we’ve had our employing schools take care of much of this type of thing, or at least provide good assistance. Other people often hire a “fixer” – someone who speaks the language, knows the process, and is willing to grease the wheels for a fee. Other foreigners in Portugal had suggested we hire someone like that. In particular, they said, Portuguese bureaucracy was difficult and government officials would speak no English.

We wound up without a fixer on the day we wanted to start our process. Bull-headed, I figured I’d soldier on and see what would happen. It was intimidating and scary, but I put on a brave face and headed out, figuring that if I failed miserably I could then get the fixer to help.

Surprisingly, it went very smoothly. Most of the people I’ve dealt with have spoken some English with me and all have been friendly and very helpful. Maybe I’ve got lucky (a few Portuguese friends have suggested as much), but I have another theory.

frustratedConsider this: Joe and Pete are queuing up to speak with Teresa, who works in the government licensing office. They’ve both arrived recently and are getting licensed to live and work here. Joe goes in first. He sits down and asks Teresa, “Do you speak English?” She shrugs and says “não.” He then pulls out his papers and pantomimes what he needs, speaking English with exaggerated slowness and loudness – just as he’d do with someone who doesn’t speak English in his native country. He might try a few phrases of the language but he persists with English, figuring that everyone learns it here in school since all the waiters and shopkeepers he’s met do. He walks away a great deal later, convinced that Teresa (and all the other bureaucrats here) are difficult and unfriendly.

okPete then comes up next. He begins by apologizing to Teresa in her language that he doesn’t speak the language well. He fumbles through various phrases that he’s prepared ahead of time, explaining that he’s just arrived and he needs his licensing. He has a phrasebook and translating app and does his best to use the local language to communicate. No doubt Teresa will find him an easier person to deal with. Certainly she will appreciate the fact that he’s trying to use the local language.

This morning, I’d gone to my third government office here. I did just as Pete did, with a notebook full of phrases in Portuguese that I’d prepared ahead of time. I apologized for my poor Portuguese, but soldiered on. I’ve done that in other offices, and people switched to English for me. Today, this “Teresa” in the city office only spoke Portuguese. But she was willing to mime, repeat things in more simple terms. slow down, etc. She put up with my fumbling and made the effort to understand what I was trying to say.

When my wife came in, “Teresa” said (in Portuguese) that it was great we were trying to learn Portuguese: that it was the language here and we had to leave English behind. She was laughing and complimenting us both on our efforts, and sent us on our way with our paperwork and smiles all around.

I am convinced that I’m finding the bureaucracy here easier than I’d thought mainly because I’m making a strong effort to speak in Portuguese. Sure, I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve met. It probably helps when I try to meet them at the beginning of the day when they’re fresh. I’m also lucky to have enough time to work on it without juggling job responsibilities or schedules. But it really seems to me that my efforts in the language are key in being treated well.


photo credits: all photos from Pixabay, licensed CC0/Public Domain

The family that plays together…

It was as we were walking home from school that I heard Helen giving Nadia tips about how to play their new iPad game. “Don’t always give them what they want. They’re asking for things that are going to cost real money.”

playingtogetherThe conversation continued on the way home and then they both took out Helen’s iPad and started playing together. It was classic mother-daughter interaction: mom giving advice to the child, child listening and obeying dutifully. But there were no arguments, no defiance, just willing compliance.

From a parenting point of view, it was clear to see why this worked. The adult had information that would help the child in something the child was trying to do. The adult demonstrated experience and knowledge, and the child wanted to have the same. It was a classic case of teaching from experience. Often, our teens rebel against us because of their perception that the adult doesn’t know or understand what the child is going through. It also comes across as preaching rather than saying, “Let me help you accomplish what you want to do.”

From a technology and Digital Citizenship perspective, this was a great example of learning and exploring together. Helen wasn’t just teaching Nadia how to play the game and win, she was teaching her how to avoid costly in-app purchases. These are a hot topic in technology stories about kids and tablets. There have been cases of huge class-action suits against app makers when parents find that their children have spent thousands of real dollars in buying magic potions and level-ups and so forth in video games.

In this case, the child was being taught how to avoid those costly purchases – and in the language of the game. “You don’t need those right now.” “You can get those a different way.” “All you have to do is wait a bit – put the iPad down and go do something else for a bit and when you get back you’ll have it for free.”

Now, Nadia is old enough to understand the difference between real money and in-app currencies. (Part of that is because we’ve been teaching her over the years with allowances, shopping lessons, etc.) But even younger children can understand that if they are taught.

If parents want their children to be responsible with money and in-app purchases, they should join in the gaming and learn how the programs work and how to avoid unnecessary costs. But, more than that: parents should join in the gaming so they share an experience with their children. By being a part of the experience, by showing an interest, even by having more knowledge, parents earn the respect of their children and what might become a source of resentment or disagreement becomes a shared experience that can be enjoyed together and managed better.

The family that plays together stays together.


Cross-posted from my school blog.

In the Internet We Trust ????

by geralt (Pixabay) – license CC0 (public domain)

A recent event highlighted the importance of checking the credibility of information published on the internet.  An anonymous blog reported Ebola cases in Kenya and Ethiopia, causing concern among many people in Ethiopia, including ICS community members.

A quick check of the site found it not to be a credible source of information. It was the only site reporting the case in Ethiopia, and it has a strong anti-government bias. The Ethiopian government denied that the report was true. That denial was then backed up by various other organizations including the US Center for Disease Control and the US Embassy. The Kenyan incident was reported in other media outlets, but the case was confirmed to not be Ebola.

This event highlights some of the important critical thinking skills that are needed when getting information on the internet:

Be sceptical about anything that sounds strange

Anybody can publish anything online. For example, did you know that the US Government has kept a Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency to protect US citizens from attacks by the undead? It’s true! You can read all about it online. (Spoiler alert: it’s not true – this is a humorous site.)

Similarly, email messages or Facebook posts that tell you that the moon will be ten times larger than normal, or that Bill Gates will send you $1,000 if you forward a message or that if you open a particular email message your computer will explode or… these simply aren’t true. People send out all kinds of wacky information and there are no Internet Police stopping them. This kind of gossip, rumor-mongering, and spreading of false information has always happened. It’s just with the internet, it’s easy to spread it faster and further.

Chances are, if something sounds wrong …it probably is.

Check the credibility of the source

PD Pics (Pixabay) - license CC0
PD Pics (Pixabay) – license CC0

When you read something online, you need to know who is publishing this information. Are they trying to promote a particular viewpoint? There is a website about the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. which describes all kinds of unpleasant aspects of his personal life. Read through the site, and you’ll wonder why people admire him …until you find out that the website is maintained by a racist white supremacy organization. (I won’t link to the website because I don’t want to increase their traffic, but you can find it easily on the web if you want to read it.)

Check whether a website has a bias. If they are trying to convince you to believe a particular thing, then they won’t give you balanced information. They also may skew the facts or even blatantly misrepresent information in order to further their cause.

Verify the information somewhere else

If one site publishes some information, is it published on another site? If something is only found on one place on the web, then it may not be correct.

Even if you do find the information elsewhere, you need to make sure that it’s not just repeating the first site. A while back, there was a report that the Ethiopian government was banning Skype and other internet calling applications. This report spread out and was reported on several news sites …but they were all simply copying the initial report (which was by an activist group that had an agenda). In the end, the report turned out to be false.

There are a few websites that are devoted to trying to stop the spread of misinformation.  Snopes is probably the best source to use …I always use it to check email messages I receive that make strange claims. Others include Hoax-Slayer and Truth or Fiction. The Straight Dope is also an excellent site that tries to fight ignorance and misinformation.


There is a wealth of information on the web, and it’s great to have access to it all. Use it. Enjoy it. But think critically about the information you find. Just because it’s published on a website, just because Google offers it to you when you search for information, doesn’t mean that is reliable. Use the web. But check your facts.


A new chat is born

geralt (Pixabay) - license CC0 (Public Domain)
geralt (Pixabay) – license CC0 (Public Domain)

On Tuesday night, a new event was created. Two ICS teachers – Amy Hughes & John Meinz – started up an online chat on Twitter to connect with other teachers around the world, but particularly in this region.

They were inspired to do this by Jamie Raskin, who came to Addis to present at Learning 2.014 about Genius Hour and self-directed learning. Jamie delivered an inspiring Learning2 Talk about self-directed learning (or “heutagogy”), and also led 3-hour extended sessions on using Genius Hour in education.

Genius Hour – also called “20% time” – is a concept that has been most widely popularized by Google. Google gives its employees permission to spend 20% of their time on any project that interests them. They aren’t told what to do & they aren’t evaluated on that time spent …they are certainly not penalized for taking that time away from projects and work they’ve been assigned. Instead, they have the freedom to explore, to tinker, to experiment. Many of Google’s greatest and most successful projects have come out of work done during this time. It seems that when you give employees freedom to experiment and work on something they are really interested in, they can come up with some amazing things!

Teachers have started trying out this idea. If we give students time to explore new ideas, to try out things, and to work on something they are really interested in, what amazing things can they come up with? This is a powerful idea – not only for giving students more individualized education, but also for inquiry-driven instruction. Students who are given more freedom in choosing what to inquire about will dive deeper into it  and learn far more than if they were assigned a topic.

After learning more about Genius Hour and heutagogy from Jamie at Learning 2.014, some teachers started trying out this idea in their classrooms:

But it’s not enough to just try these kinds of things. It’s important to learn from people who’ve done this before: get their ideas, find out the tricks to avoid problems, etc. It’s also good to be able to ask these people the questions that you have about the process. Fortunately, with the internet, expert advice and information is just a few clicks away. And Twitter has become a terrific learning space for teachers to get information and talk with others about the process. So, Amy and John set up the first-ever #geniushour chat set in our timezone:

The excitement built, and at the appointed hour teachers from schools in Tanzania, Angola, South Africa, and Sudan joined ICS teachers for a free-form discussion. Questions were asked, resources were shared, and jokes were made! The pace was fast and furious, with tweets flying fast and responses coming quickly.

If you want to read the entire discussion, the whole archive of the chat is saved here.

At the end, everyone was very happy to have spent an hour of their evening discussing the idea of giving students time to explore their own interests.

And the discussion continued, with experts from elsewhere around the world spreading the news and offering advice!

Congratulations to Amy & John for starting an exciting and powerful discussion. Look for more participation and more good ideas at the next Africa (and Europe and Middle East!) chat the first Tuesday of every month!

#GeniusHour chats:

  • Africa/Europe/Middle East zone – 1st Tuesday of every month – 8:00 pm Eastern African Time (UTC+3)
  • North America – 1st Thursday of every month – 6:00 pm Pacific Time Zone (UTC -8) (time zone converter)


21st Century Learning

by Public Domain Photos - Pixabay - CC0
Public Domain PhotosPixabayCC0

Read enough about education, and you’ll quickly find a plethora of posts, posters, and more about “21st Century Education.” ICS is including this language in much of its guiding documents. The school’s mission statement includes the phrase. The Board of Governors includes a “statement of understanding” about 21st Century Learning. Our Head of School writes about it in his weekly news column. It’s a phrase often used in describing school programs.

What does “21st Century Education” really mean? Why is it being discussed and promoted so much? What does it mean for parents and students? I’ll be writing a series of blog posts about this concept and how it’s being put in place at ICS over the next few weeks. (Please post questions and comments!) In this post, I’d like to explore a bit of the background and explain what it’s all about.

What is 21st Century Education?

There are many ways people define 21st Century Education, and various groups and initiatives which promote it – all of whom describe and define it in different ways. In general, the phrase refers to the fact that education is changing and must change to meet the needs of today’s learners and today’s society. In order to produce individuals who can succeed in today’s world, schools need to teach and reinforce different skills. Students must be more adaptable, more independent, and more technologically savvy.

To accomplish this, schools and educators are shifting their emphasis away from content knowledge to more skills-based learning. In the age of Google and Wikipedia, knowing something is less important than knowing how to find things out or how to accomplish things.

An excellent and simple framework for this is the “4 C’s” – championed by the Partnership for 21st Century Education. The 4 C’s are skills, offered as counterpoints to the traditional “3 R’s” of Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. (Yes, I know.) The 4 C’s have been identified as skills that will help students be successful in today’s changing world. They are:

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

Now, do understand that these do not replace content knowledge. But they are a different emphasis.

Why is it important for our students?

In the information age, it is not sufficient to only be knowledgeable. Traditional education emphasized mastery of subjects by gaining information. Students read textbooks, listened to teacher lectures, passed knowledge-based tests. Now, a smartphone in your pocket can give anyone immediate access to a vast wealth of information. When you can carry Wikipedia around in your pocket, how vitally important is it to know the dates and outcomes of the Battle of Hastings?

This is not to say that it’s not important to know things. Students must always have a good background knowledge of history, science, etc. However, with access to all that knowledge, it becomes more valuable to students to be able to process information instead of remembering it. How do you find that information? In what way do you phrase your research question? What key words do you use? And how do you identify valuable sources of information?

And with the fast pace of change in business, science and society, the flexibility that one gains from good critical thinking and creativity skills will help our students navigate their future world.

What technology is needed?

Despite the title of this blog, 21st century education really isn’t all about the technology: it’s about the learning. Sure, we use modern tools. Computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. all have a part to play in students creating things, communicating with others, collaborating with people near and far …but that’s not the heart of the matter. The key is the type of learning. Instead of listening to a lecture, or writing a research paper, etc. students are discussing things in online forums with students (and adults) around the world. They are writing blog posts and posting online videos that others can comment on and share. They’re remixing other people’s creations to build new ways of looking at things. Technology makes this possible, but it doesn’t force it.

So what’s going on at ICS?

In a word, plenty. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be profiling some of the great things happening at ICS …and looking at ways we’re changing to promote 21st century education even more.

Welcome to the 21st century!