Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Final Posting: Pictures Tell A Thousand Words

This will be my final post. It took me way, way more time and effort to put together the photo presentation than I had anticipated...chalk that up partly to my inexperience in picture/video making and partly to me not having a software program that facilitates doing such a thing with ease.

Most, if not all of you will be relieved to learn this posting will be extremely brief. For those of you who have lumbered through this blog’s postings, many of which indeed were long in length and oftentimes heavy in subject matter, I thank you and hope that you found something of value for the investment of your time and effort. Sharing stories from my Travels to South Africa has been a privilege, and in many ways, it’s been cathartic.

I’m including the link below that I believe will offer a more meaningful and complete summary and closing than words I might choose to write: one told through pictures. I’ve tried to include photos that capture the essence of my South African experience. Yet for all of the moments I caught with the camera, I no doubt missed many others. Enjoy.

Watch the picture presentation:
With thanks,


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Technical Difficulties and Something for Us to Ponder

Ok, so compiling a photo presentation hasn’t gone as easily as I anticipated. I tried using Windows Moviemaker, and every time I open it, I get a message that it has encountered a problem and has to close. I’m trying to figure out what the issue is, as well as looking into other possible software programs to organize and share my photos. Sorry for the delay, but hopefully I’ll figure it out in time to post them tomorrow.

For today, however, I am going to provide you with a link to an Op-Ed piece that appeared on The New York Times web site. The subject of the piece is “slum tourism,” and it’s written by a junior at Wesleyan University in CT whose home is in Kibera, a Nairobi slum. I found the commentary to be thought provoking and worth the time to reflect on what he shares. I don’t want to give away the story, so I’ll provide the link below. Please feel free to share your thoughts and reaction via comments.

Here’s the link:

Hopefully I’ll be back with the photo-finale tomorrow!

Monday, August 9, 2010

An Argument for South Africa to Learn from the United States' Higher Education Challenges

Yesterday, I focused on the overall experience of the trip to South Africa and specifically on the country’s people. Today, I turn to higher education. After all, the reason for my trip to South Africa was the privileged opportunity I have to be studying for my doctorate in higher education management.

In my July 21 posting, I shared some summary observations regarding the state of higher education in South Africa. In short, I noted that while its desires seem appropriately focused and from a policy standpoint there has been abundant action, the South African government has not made progress in accomplishing its higher education goals at a rate it desired. After 16 years of democracy, the gap in college participation and completion rates between the affluent and the poor and between the white and non-white populations has not been significantly closed. Even with all of the official government policies that have been adopted and with the minimal participation and completion rate improvements that have occurred, South Africa currently has a higher education participation rate for 18-24 year olds of only 16-17%, and even more strikingly, a completion rate that also is only about 16%. The country continues to have a huge disparity between its wealthy and poor populations, and increasing access to and success in higher education has not done much to help close the gap. A related concern for the people of South Africa is that its educational system is not producing enough “technically” skilled workers, so that huge workforce is importing talent rather than drawing from the huge population of unemployed South Africans.

It seems to me that those in positions of influence for South Africa’s higher education system could do well by learning from what hasn’t worked in the U.S. While the U.S. system of higher education fares well when compared to most other countries, we continue to have serious challenges in the areas of participation and completion rates in general, and in particular, among lower socioeconomic statuses and historically underrepresented populations. I believe the U.S. continues to struggle in closing its achievement gap because too much emphasis has been placed on programming and policy-making at the post-secondary and secondary school levels. While it makes sense to try to make improvements among current college students for completion and among current and former high school students for college participation, my opinion is that those populations are too far along for change of the magnitude we seek to occur. My point is that a major emphasis should be placed on the K-8 population of students and on family dynamics in general.

My premise is that students in the K-8 years are still in the formative stages of developing a mindset about college, its benefits and its feasibility. For systemic change to occur, going on to college and completing a degree have to become the norm and the expectation, rather than the exception or the option for only the elite. Yes, there are exceptions to these claims. But if we drill down even further and focus on those families and children from the lower socioeconomic statuses and from backgrounds such as African American, Hispanic/Latino, rural, or first generation college-going, these and other areas are where the real opportunity for dramatic change lies. In South Africa, I believe the same strategizing is needed. Admittedly, the populations that fall into these categories are larger and represent a larger portion of the overall population than they do in the U.S., but thus the rationale becomes even stronger. Scope and scale of initiatives, including funding sources, will absolutely be problematic. And even if these emphases were to gain traction, they cannot be at the complete elimination expense of secondary and post-secondary focused initiatives.

I’ll finish by saying that I think the above observations and recommendations call for significantly increased capacity. Capacity of resources, financial, human and other, will be necessary to make any of this even remotely feasible. In addition, I believe capacity increases in postsecondary spaces and seats need to occur. An infusion of more students that have not been present in the past can’t be done at the expense of other college-seeking and going populations. It seems that the political dynamics of this scenario would prevent progress. On the other hand, if capacity can be increased to the point where those who are academically capable have equal opportunities regardless of whether they are from traditional college-going populations or traditionally underserved populations, then progress may be possible.

These are my thoughts, and they are incomplete as a prescription. There are so many other factors to consider, not the least of which are academic preparedness issues, for students in South Africa but also for the country’s teachers. But to put it succinctly, I think South Africa, and our own nation, could be better served by refocusing attention towards families and to younger aged children.

Tomorrow I’ll finish this off with my attempt at a photo-finale! Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Post-trip Thoughts and Reflections: the South African Experience

We’ve been back from South Africa for almost two weeks now, and I still haven’t posted my final thoughts on the trip. It’s amazing to me how quickly upon returning from a trip we get re-immersed in our daily lives, the hustle and bustle, and how easy it is that experiences can get pushed to the back of one’s mind, to the back burner of our focus and attention.

I’ve decided the best way for me to attempt summarizing what the trip meant and all that I’ve taken away with me is to do so in two thematic categories: the experience of visiting South Africa and South African higher education. And if I can pull it off, I’ll finish off this blogging experience with a photo collage to help bring to life the stories I’ve shared.

Today’s posting will focus on the experience of visiting South Africa. In previous postings I’ve shared in some detail the incredible natural beauty of the country, so I won’t go on about it again. What I will say is that I am fully aware I didn’t come close to seeing all that South Africa offers in geographic variety and sights. But in seeing the Cape Town and Johannesburg areas, as well as the Pilanesburg Game Reserve, I was in awe of the beauty and I would go back for another visit tomorrow if given the chance.

The food and drink in which we partook were equally pleasing. The rich diversity of cultures found in the people of South Africa provides for myriad tastes and styles when it comes to food. Whether you are looking to sample the many different meats found in traditional African barbecues or seeking vegetarian options, it’s all there… and it’s all delicious.

Lastly, and most importantly, it was the people of South Africa that were the true highlight of the trip. In learning about the different cultures and backgrounds that are found in South Africa’s population, I was enlightened. Words cannot describe the atrocities that occurred during the Apartheid era, and while democracy is now the country’s form of government, the visible and ever-present injustices and inequalities are a constant, undeniable reminder of how even the most seemingly ideal systems of government cannot rectify decades of narrow-mindedness.

And yet, throughout our ten day journey and common among all of the people we met, there seems to exist among South African’s of all backgrounds a sense of hope. In the traditional sense of the word, we observed a sense of hope for a more just future. Even among those who remain marginalized, such as the residents of Kliptown, the sense of hope seemed to extend backwards, to the present. Living in conditions that we, as Americans, can’t even imagine nor comprehend, South Africans who live in the squatter shanty-town slums seem to hold on to hope as a guiding force to transform their daily lives and conditions into a focus on the good and the gifts versus the bad and the injustice. I can’t help but recall the words expressed by my son, wise beyond his 11 years, when he said through tears that “they have so little, but they seem so happy.” His assessment, I believe, is transferable to any country, any population that is among the less fortunate. The measure of a person’s happiness is not seen through material things. The people of South Africa also showed that happiness cannot be represented through one’s living conditions. Happiness is found in the heart and in the mind. This is a lesson for which I am grateful and which I pray I never forget.

Tomorrow, I’ll offer my thoughts on South African higher education.