Monday, Oct 05th

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Lessons and Legacy: Let's recognise our good teachers

They are unsung heroes who rarely get to see the long-term fruits of their labours

A good teacher can change the course of a student’s life – and income – but are we giving them enough credit, asks Frances Mensah Williams?

Teachers have a thankless task for the most part, filling in the gap created between inadequate systems, broken budgets and careless parenting. 

And their reward for their troubles? At worst, harassment and even violence and, at best, cursorily scribbled Christmas cards in December and battered chocolate eggs at Easter.

Yet, as we grow older, the importance teachers have had on our lives often starts to become clearer. 

Although, when I was at school, Mrs Theasby may have put me off Physics for life with her stern approach to teaching, Miss Mulvihill introduced me to, and shared with me, her love for English literature, while my enthusiastic young French teachers inspired me to study languages all the way to university and beyond.

Miss Brownlow, the aged and hesitant Maths supply teacher, taught me about the impact of body language – her panic at a simple ruler being tapped on the desk by an impatient student was an intriguing lesson in how seemingly innocent gestures can inspire terror in the elderly.

Miss O’Shea’s constant admonition of our class for unruly behaviour, while also commending us for raising the most funds for charity, demonstrated how you could hate the sin and love the sinner – a pretty relevant lesson for a Catholic school.

Even Miss Bondi, our Spanish teacher who spent more time out of school than in it, taught me a valuable lesson; that when there’s no teacher around, you’d better be motivated enough to teach yourself.  Managing an ‘A’ grade in Spanish through my almost self-taught efforts gave me a morale boost that has since been hard to match.

My schooldays are far behind me yet these are among many memories that will stay with me for years to come.  And I am not alone in developing a belated appreciation for those who were charged with educating me.

Looking Back in Gratitude

A recent survey in the United States by ING Foundation looked at the impact that teachers have on our lives and found that while the vast majority of respondents (88%) felt they had a teacher who had made a ‘significant, positive impact’ on their lives, teachers received less gratitude than other ‘helping professionals’ such as social workers, nurses, clergy or doctors.

Ninety eight percent of Americans surveyed believe that a good teacher can change the course of a student’s life and that, outside of family, teachers have the greatest impact on our lives growing up, even more so than friends.  Almost everyone (94%) agreed that we need to do more to recognise our good teachers.

Appreciation is often belated, however, with 87% of those surveyed admitting that they wished they had told their best teachers how much they appreciated their efforts.

Kudos to Kindergarten

Teachers play a critical role in preparing our young for the challenges they will face as adults and recognising and rewarding this role is the sign of a responsible society.

The legacy of a good teacher can even, it seems, be traced back to our earliest days in school.  A study by Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist, found that students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement and, perhaps the most striking finding, they were earning more.

The crucial problem the study set out to solve was that of causation-correlation. Are children who do well in kindergarten tests destined to do better in life, based on who they are? Or are their teacher and classmates changing them?

Mr. Chetty and five other researchers examined the life paths of almost 12,000 children who had been part of a well-known education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s. The children who are now about 30 are well into their adult lives.

With all else equal, they were making about an extra $100 a year at age 27 for every percentile they had moved up the test-score distribution over the course of kindergarten. A student who went from average to the 60th percentile — a typical jump for a 5-year-old with a good teacher — could expect to make about $1,000 more a year at age 27 than a student who remained at the average. Over time, the effect seems to grow, too.

While factors such as the class size played some role - classes with 13 to 17 students did better than classes with 22 to 25 – and peers seemed to matter, none of these factors came close to explaining the variation in class performance, leaving only one plausible explanation: the teachers.

Highly effective teachers, the study showed, can affect students for years to come. Mr. Chetty and his study team estimate that a superb kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year – the amount of additional money a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. And this estimate doesn’t even take into account other social gains, like better health and less crime.


Even if we can’t directly influence government policy on pay and working conditions for teachers, we can influence how we treat the teachers we – and our children – come into contact with. 

As any parent will attest, it is often hard to recognise the description of your child when speaking to their teacher.  A child who has to be nagged to pick up their toys at home is transformed into teacher’s most helpful pupil at school.  The little girl who barely stops talking long enough to draw breath when you pick her up from school is praised for being focused and not chattering in class.

While we are happy (and sometimes stunned) enough to accept these accolades, we should also be ready to accept the less than perfect observations about our children’s behaviour, attitude and performance in school. 

Supporting a teacher’s decision or questioning it in a positive manner, rather than challenging it, will not only show our children that teachers deserve respect, but will help teachers work with us in a positive way to support a child – ensuring that everyone wins.

And while a good teacher can change the course of a person’s life, we also need to remember that even the best teacher may not be able to save a child when parents fail to do their part.  When a child is led astray, our first rush to judgement shouldn’t be to blame their teachers but to question our own effectiveness in leading our young people down the right path and in building the confidence they need to avoid making poor choices.  Because it is only when we, as parents, guardians, carers and family, play our part in moulding the characters of our children, that teachers have a clear stage on which to play theirs.

And few can deny that most teachers do a remarkable job in building on the raw, noisy products we send to them almost every week day of the year. 

Among the vast majority of Americans in the ING study who said they had a teacher or teachers who had a “significant, positive impact” on their life growing up, 83% said they had a teacher who helped build their confidence and self-esteem, 79% had a teacher who encouraged them to pursue their dreams, 75% said a teacher served as a mentor or role model, and 54% said that a teacher helped them through a tough time.

Better late than never when it comes to recognition, it seems, as in later life our teachers are eventually admired and appreciated – an overwhelming 93% of those surveyed agreed that teaching is a noble profession, while 89% believe teachers have a “really hard job.”

Good teachers are unsung heroes who rarely get to see the long-term fruits of their labours.  So this Christmas I’m making sure that my kids’ teachers receive not just a card with a scribbled signature, but a message that says thank you today for what we are learning for tomorrow.

It’s never too late to say thanks for the lessons that lasted a lifetime.  I’m with the 87% that wish I’d said it then but, if I can’t thank Miss Mulvihill directly today, I can at least show some appreciation for her legacy.

Frances Mensah Williams is the Chief Executive of Interims for Development, a Human Resources and Training consultancy and Editor of ReConnect ( an online careers and jobs publication for African professionals around the world.

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German Multiculturalism decays while Diverse Britain prospers

Almost 10% of the British population is of ethnic origin

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted Germany’s failed attempt at multiculturalism in mid October, the cultural mosaic of Britain took notice, and perhaps felt even a touch of pride. For, multiculturalism in Britain may have its own challenges and detractors, but failure it is not.

And the reasons can perhaps be found in how Merkel frames the issue, reproaching immigrants for the lack of assimilation. Britain on the other hand understood a long time ago that if it were to gain from the positives of a diverse culture, it necessarily had to be a two way approach, a shared responsibility between the immigrants and the home culture. And the results of multicultural responsibility are there for all to see. Government diversity policies, annual celebrations of diverse ethnic festivals, celebrated curry cuisine, booming Chinatown and an innate love of all things ethnic signal the collective consciousness that has engineered a multicultural Britain.

It took a long time coming and it still has a long way to go. However, the government, private sector, ethnic media agencies and the common man together have evolved the concept of diversity in the United Kingdom. Today, almost 10% of the British population is of ethnic origin, and the upcoming 2011 Census Survey is expected to reveal a higher figure.

Pockets of high density ethnic population have grown roots across the UK. The second generation and a majority of first generation immigrants speak and write fluent English. They may continue to hold onto their faith and belief systems but their cultural assimilation into the mainstream is high and personally motivated.

A growing number of British fast food, clothing and confectionary brands such as Asda, Tesco, Thorntons, Mars, have recognised the market potential of the immigrant population. Focused ethnic marketing and advertising run alongside products and services designed for the ethnic consumer. Halal meat has found its way to supermarket shelves and even fast food retailers such as KFC and Domino’s.

Accepting the pluralistic nature of a cultural mosaic as opposed to a unifying melting pot, Britain celebrates Christian festivals alongside festivals from other religions such as Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. The London Mayor’s Diwali, Eid, Chinese New Year and other multi-ethnic celebrations held in the heart of London’s Trafalgar Square are heavily attended and publicised every year.

We at Here&Now365, with our partner EMMA Trust, are proud of the role we are playing in further strengthening multiculturalism of Britain by helping businesses and brands effectively reach out to the ethnic minority communities and actively contributing to the British economy.

That multiculturalism is here to stay and prosper in United Kingdom is clear. What remains to be seen is whether other European countries learn to gain from its vibrant and pioneering experience. Maybe our own experiences when opening new offices in other European countries will tell us something of what the future holds for multiculturalism in Europe.

By Here&Now365 Ltd


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Verhofstadt: We have to fight racism and populism in Europe

Statement by President of ALDE on rise of populist far right movements across Europe

In more and more European countries we see the rise of extreme right and populist parties. In several countries they are elected to parliament, in some they are even in government or supporting the government. This evolution worries the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats a lot because what the extremist and populist parties are standing for is exactly the opposite of what we believe in and what we are fighting for day after day in the European Union.

Across Europe, Liberal parties follow different strategies in order to oppose extremist and populist parties. We trust that liberal parties will stand strong and firm on our shared liberal values. On these matters, the ALDE Group will be vigilant. We will judge the governments on their policies. We will not accept they will ever end in racist, intolerant policies targeted against minorities based on colour, religion, origin or sexual orientation. We will not hesitate to act if necessary, as we did over the Roma issue, to condemn acts of intolerance and prejudice. We will never accept policies that conflict with fundamental liberal and democratic values.

Perhaps more worrying is the tendency that more and more politicians from moderate parties from all over Europe are starting to repeat the same populist discourse. (Over the last few weeks and months) we have seen policies against minorities (including the Roma), a general radicalisation about religion and attacks against the open and multicultural society. We also see a return of the discourse of national identity.

For all moderate politicians there is a choice to make. Either we follow this populist discourse in the hope of countering it - a contradictory approach in so far as one cannot oppose extreme right and populist ideas by imitating them - or we analyse more carefully the reasons for the rise of these parties.

It is a fact that European citizens fear their welfare is declining. They fear the consequences of climate change. They fear that globalisation means that other continents are taking over and Europe will be left behind. The successful formula of extreme right and populist parties is that they feed and exploit these fears and propose a closed society instead.

We, Liberals and Democrats, are convinced this ideology of retreating into a nationalist air-raid shelter is the wrong answer to the current challenges. Even more, this answer will turn the challenges into more serious problems for our future. What we need to do instead is to adapt our society to the new multi-polar world: provide the answers to the current economic crisis, and make the process of globalisation something with positive benefit to people's lives; create a humane sustainable and balanced European migration policy; vigorously defend the open society.

This conclusion after a broad debate in the Bureau of the ALDE - Group shall be the basis of a conference in which we will elaborate with in-depth analyses the rise of extreme right and populism in Europe and the strategies to counter them.

By Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European Parliament

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Let's be Grown-ups about Africa

An open letter from Ms. Frances Mensah Williams

In an open letter, Frances Mensah Williams suggests that Africans and their continent would benefit more from a change of mindset from the West than from the tales of woe used to fill those rattling charity tins.

Dear Non-Africans,

Forgive me if you honestly believe the following does not apply to you.  But if any of the points below do hit home, please take them on board. 

The truth is that we Africans are fed up - and for good reasons.  So, on behalf of my fellow citizens of our great continent, here are some rules we would like you to observe in your future dealings with us.

1. Change your mindset. As we have (inevitably) proven false those among you who thought Africans could never host a World Cup and that FIFA should put a contingency plan in place, can you now get over yourselves and realise that it wasn’t a fluke but based on careful thought, serious investment and meticulous long-term planning.

2. Be prepared to have adult to adult conversations with us instead of the adult to child approach that so usually dominates your thinking.  In short, no more talking down to us, please, and no more not-so-subtle dismissals of our traditions and ways of doing things. If you don’t complain about our vuvuzelas, we won’t complain about your football rattles, rude chants, drunkenness and hooliganism.

3. Please take the look of surprise off your face when you hear us speak English just as well as (and, dare I say, sometimes better than) you.  We are not necessarily gifted or unique because we speak your language fluently; English is the lingua franca of many African countries previously colonised by Britain and, besides, many of us are actually pretty well educated. 

4. Quit looking astonished that we have successful world-class businesses and enterprises that thrive; it’s not surprising to us given the level of originality, entrepreneurship and ingenuity we see around us all the time.  And, don’t worry; Gatwick Airport is in safe hands.

5. Do stop damning us with faint praise and lose the condescension. It has strong overtones of that whole ‘noble savage’ era; it’s getting old, and does neither of us any favours.

6. Please get the facts before you voice your opinions. No, you can’t comment on countries that you’ve had no experience of except through the writings of lazy commentators who are happy to repeat other people’s misconceptions.  And if you did visit Africa 5, 10, 15 years ago (or even last week), it still doesn’t make you an expert.

7. When you get it wrong, please put in just as much effort on putting it right. Okay, so we might be just a little optimistic with this one, but here’s hoping.

8. By all means, give us your opinion about the governance failings of our leaders – believe me, we have our own criticisms of some of them too!  But (see point 2. about adult to adult conversations) don’t get defensive when we point out the failings of your own elected officials and parliamentarians or reveal how it is your corporations that are paying many of the bribes to said failing leaders.

9. Do remember that we are a continent of 53 countries with different cultures, languages, foods and customs, and not one entity. We don’t consider Greece’s economy to be the same as Germany’s, so can we ask you to start distinguishing us from each other. Use the names of the particular country or countries you are discussing, rather than the convenient shorthand of ‘Africa’. We enjoy our diversity and would like you to appreciate it too.

10. Let’s have a balanced approach to immigration and trade (see point 2. again).  Here’s the deal; we won’t come after your state benefits if you don’t come after ours. Agree fair terms with us on trade for our gold, diamonds, oil and minerals and we’ll have less incentive to access your assets. On the subject of immigration (by the way, why are we immigrants when we come to your country but you are ex-pats when you come to ours?), let’s agree that if you’d like us to know how to speak your language if we decide to come to your country, you will learn to speak our language when you ‘ex-pat’ to ours.

If you can observe these rules, there’s a real chance that we can forge a new relationship that benefits all of us - before we give up trying and start learning Mandarin.

Frances Mensah Williams

Author is the Editor of ReConnect ( an online careers and jobs publication for African professionals around the world.


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20 years after unification, German unity still a myth

It will take another 4 to 5 generations to achieve unity

Twenty years ago, on 3rd October 1990, the streets of Berlin were agog with people streaming into the city from all over the country and also beyond the borders of Germany. The Unter den Linden, one of Berlin’s most illustrious streets was packed with millions of people marching to and from the famous/notorious Brandenburg Gates.

The atmosphere was euphoric with lots of fun and frolic in the air. It was a real mela (feast). “Wir sind ein Volk” (we are one people) was a slogan that roared through thousands of throats throughout the day and continued late into the night. Beer and other potent fluids were gulped by the gallons. Many cows, pigs and chicken had to sacrifice their lives to fill the bellies of the hungry throngs that gathered in the city to celebrate the Deutsche Einheit (Reunification of Germany).

That was 20 years ago. What is the situation today? German unity is a myth. Why? Let me quote a former East German dissident whom I interviewed on the occasion of the 10th anniversary in Berlin in September 2000.

Rev Friedrich Schorlemmer from the Evangelical Academy in Wittenberg (the town where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses in 1517) explained: “Legally and politically Germany is a united country, but not in fact. The East Germans have always looked forward to unification but the majority of West Germans on the other hand are not interested anymore. The West Germans followed a very successful path and the people there were satisfied with what they achieved. The GDR (German Democratic Republic) collapsed politically and economically. One might say a dominance of interpretation, and economic power.

“This in turn is interpreted by West Germans as their victory in all aspects which has given the East Germans the impression that the country is dominated by the westerners. On the other hand, much has been done in reconstruction of run-down towns, roads and other social infrastructure. It is really great. But, that which is the centre of East German life - full participation in social life, has been shattered. Almost one in four adult of working age is unemployed and this is a very heavy burden”.

That situation referred to by the man in cloth ten years ago, has not changed. On the contrary, it has worsened and can safely be said that a large section of the population in the East are living below the breadline. Even those working have to be subsidised by the State in order to make ends meet. In the recent past, they have been joined by many areas in the West who have been hit by the global crisis.

One of the most galling problems with which the people in the East are confronted is the arrogance that blows over from the West. The Easterners are dubbed lazy, incompetent, and these insults go the whole hog. They are looked upon as poor second cousins. To be kept at arm’s length. The GDR was an “undemocratic, underdeveloped, dictatorial police state”. This picture is enhanced by Authoress Monika Maron in her book “Zwei Brüder” (Two Brothers), a collection of essays and speeches of the past 20 years. The language is bitter, full of hatred and very one-sided.

The fact is that Frau Maron was born in East Berlin in 1941 and had the opportunity of seeing things for herself before she skipped over to West Berlin in 1988, whilst many on the other side of the border are “guided” by people like Ms Maron and a very hostile press. Herr Klaus Wowereit, (Lord) Mayor of Berlin, has recognized this problem and made the following statement to a Berlin daily newspaper last week.

“In the West they refuse to accept any concept, other than their own, in regards to the East. The same applies to West Berlin, a city where people have the greatest opportunity of social intercourse. There are people in West Berlin, who even after 20 years (after the fall of the wall) have refused to set foot in the East”. Just a stone throw away from many areas of West Berlin.

For their one-sidedness, people like Ms Maron are feted and are recipients of all sorts of awards and decorations in western society. But the outpourings of this lady have not gone unchallenged by people in the eastern sector and here are a few examples from reader’s letters to the press.

One reader asks: “Who gives Frau Maron the temerity for her contempt for the majority of the people in the East? Many like me, still see that there were lots of positive things in the land that have now disappeared – honest work, study facilities and achieving something in life. Frau Maron is possessed by hate. Hate can make you sick. It can grow like a cancer and eat you from within. Instead of dwelling so much on the past, the lady should direct her energies to the disastrous economic situation that is facing millions of people today”. Both East and West.

This sentiment is enhanced by none other than Matthias Platzeck, Premier of the State of Brandenburg and one of the founders of the East German dissident group Neues Forum (NF). He told the West German Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that in Brandenburg streets and suburbs have been spruced up, which the naked eye cannot fail to see. But what the people do not see is the destruction of industries, lack of industrial potential or research thereby resulting in high unemployment rates in the eastern sector in comparison to the west.

Herr Platzeck has risen very high in the political hierarchy of Germany. He was even elected national chairperson of the SPD (Social Democratic Party) which he joined in the early 1990s after refusing to join the merger of NF with the Greens of the West to form the Bündnis90/Grüne. Last week he let the cat among the pigeons when he declared that he was not in favour of unification. He wanted a better and democratic GDR. Due to their inexperience and naivety, they allowed Helmut Kohl to actually filch the revolution from them and set himself up as the Hero of the Deutsche Einheit.

The problem of the East German dissidents was that they knew what they were against, but did not know how to go about getting what they wanted. That made very easy picking for the heavy guys from the West. Kohl, whose political obituary was about to be written after the disastrous results suffered by his CDU in the June 1989 elections to the European Parliament, saw the opportunity and grabbed it both hands. He made wild promises to all and sundry. It included a blossoming landscape in East Germany. The sad part of the whole thing is the people in the GDR and Eastern Europe believed him. It is also rumoured that huge sums of cash were in play. Maybe someday details of this aspect will be made public.

This is a repetition of precisely what Rev Schorlemmer said 10 years ago. “The social inequality in the GDR was not so pronounced as it is now. Today, the cleft between the haves and have-nots is growing immensely. We from the opposition did not want such a situation. What is interesting is that all opposition groups in autumn 1989 did not think about unity, rather of the transfer of Gorbaschov’s ideas into the GDR. We believed in Glasnost, Perestroika, in open information, but for the misuse of freedom for purely business reasons”.

The deliberate destruction of the industrial power in the East, as many East Germans will tell you, lies at the feet of the Treuhand, a trusteeship set up to monitor and administer the economy that existed in the GDR. Rev Schorlemmer mentioned the collapse of the economy. But the question must be asked – did it collapse or was it collapsed?

These industries were a challenge to those existing in the West. The demise of the industrial base meant that jobs were rare and the only alternative was to move West in search of work. To the young people that was not a problem. Not so easy for the older ones. That is why many areas in East Germany are like the ghost towns one sees in Americans’ cowboy films. Those from the younger generation who were unable to make the journey are at a loose end and have become prey to the fascist/nazi recruiters who are very active under such circumstances.

Frau Waltraud Neuner from East Berlin, penned the following statement: “After the war ended in May 1945, I, and many thousands like me, hungered, worked, removed the rubble that covered the city, and watched the steady progress being made from day to day. There was the establishment of children’s crèches; kindergartens; shelter in the afternoon for school beginners under supervision until collected by their working parents; school-feeding; poly-technical training; vocational training combined with examinations for entry to institutions of higher learning; medical centres; hospitals; affordable rents and visits to cultural facilities. Then there was that fantastic tenant community where mutual assistance was taken for granted. And many such things. Where are they today? Now, we have the elbow society. Each one for him/herself”. Fantastic achievements by “lazy” people.

The Premier of the State of Mecklenberg-Vorpommern also reminded the world of the economic situation that exists in the East 20 years after unification. Erwin Sellering said: “It is shameful that there is such a difference in wages for the same vocation (generally workers from the East receive about 60-70% of the wages that those from the West take home. More often than not in the same factory –ES). It is unbelievable that after 20 years of unification we still have a Pension East and a Pension West”.

There is a tendency to compare German Unity with the demise of Apartheid in South Africa. This comparison is absolutely false. South Africa has a whole of different ethnic groups, cultural differences, languages etc. The people were divided rigidly on ethnic grounds for centuries, so that there was very little ground for social mixing. Even the places of worship were segregated. Under these circumstances it is nonsense to frequently pose the question as to the progress of unity in South Africa. This will take time. It is an evolutionary process.

That is not so in Germany. They are one people with the same language (albeit different dialects), colour and culture. Yet Germany is making such heavy weather of this process.

I dare to say that it will take another four to five generations before this can be achieved to some extent. Hopefully.

By Eric Singh

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