Propelled by Dreams & Rolling with Reality

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Last week I had the privilege of touring two high schools in Monrovia and the opportunity to speak to the upper-grades students about their interest in STEM education.  I collected at least two hundred survey responses from various groups of 10th, 11th, and 12th graders who wrote comments about their dreams to be doctors, engineers, IT specialists, and accountants.  Eyes wide and heads nodding throughout the audience as I spoke, the students listened intently as I told them about my mission to nurture their career interests through hands-on learning.

On the survey, “doctor” and “engineer” were the top two career choices.  Why?  Because these students dream of making their country a better place, a safer place, and a more prosperous place.  These are young people who live amongst the rubble of 30 years of civil war that only just ended in 2003.  They also lived through the Ebola outbreak of 2014.  They have heard about, witnessed, and experienced the physical, social, and economic effects of these traumatic events.  And, despite these harrowing challenges, many of them have retained a youthful idealism.

Many of these young people dream of the chance to make a difference, and they know that education is the best way to make this happen.  However, they are frequently frustrated that the quality of education here is lagging behind more internationalized standards.

For instance, students here rarely — if ever — get the opportunity to practice hands-on learning.  Practical application of knowledge is not part of the academic culture here for a variety of reasons, but it most often comes back to lack of materials and lack of teacher training.  While doing research for my master’s degree program, I have run into details about these challenges in the education system here, and it has frustrated and saddened me for the kids who are so hungry to learn.  At times, I’ve had to step away from my research because of the emotions it evokes and the helplessness I feel.

I am not one who accepts feeling helpless, though.  There is always something that can be done, some way to be even minimally productive.  My husband would say it is my optimism that drives me.  My sister would say it is my stubbornness.

Whatever it may be, it has brought me here — to the edge of realizing my own longtime dream:

Working with the US Embassy while I am here in Liberia, I will have the opportunity to bring hands-on, STEM-focused activities to high school students; lead digital video conferences between local students and my former school in the US; and go into the field for research and site visits to schools in rural towns.  As a young adult, a young professional, and then a veteran teacher, working with students in developing countries and serving as an ambassador of sorts was always a fantasy — always one of those things I wished I could do “one day.”  I am both excited and a little overwhelmed that fantasy is becoming reality.

I took the photo above on the sidewalk outside of a busy Liberian market.  When I saw this boy with his tire toy, I thought to myself, “I wonder if anyone has ever used a tire like that to explain the physics of motion to a group of Liberian students?”  The answer is probably no.  Student-centered teaching with connections to relevant prior knowledge and hands-on learning is not how education is done here.  In a country that is desperate for innovative, critical thinking among its people, this is just the type of learning that needs to happen.

Making large-scale, sustainable change is difficult in any situation.  It is especially true in a place like this.  So, I’ll start small.

…and we’ll see what happens from there. 😉

3 thoughts on “Propelled by Dreams & Rolling with Reality”

  1. I am so excited for you, Bobbie. I can’t wait to hear about their learning adventures with you. Let us know if there is anything we can do from here to help you/your students. I may be able to get a friend to video conference with your students. He and his wife helped develop the Ebola vaccine and are working on a zika vaccine, among other things.

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