nichollsretirementproject

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Capacity Needs Analysis

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?  It’s what we have been doing for the past two weeks in two separate Teacher Training Colleges in the Highlands of PNG.

The Government of PNG has recently introduced a new curriculum for training Primary teachers, which involves changing the Diploma in Teaching from a two-year course to a three-year programme.  Student-teachers will be qualified to go and teach after the three years if they choose to.  Alternatively, they could continuing studying for a further twelve months and graduate with a Bachelor of Education degree.

If you decide to add a year to a training course, there are obvious implications.  It means adding a further year group into the college.  This in turn means that the college will need all sorts of additional resources, extra classrooms, more dormitory space, a bigger dining hall, greater stocks of books and other teaching materials, the list goes on.

On top of that there may be a need for the staff to upgrade their qualifications because you can’t teach on a Bachelor’s course if you only have a Bachelor’s degree yourself. So the colleges will need to find  ways of encouraging  their staff to study for Masters degrees.

So our job was to visit the colleges and come to an assessment of how ready the colleges are to take on the new specification.  Part of our ‘data gathering’  took the form of a ‘Problem Tree.’

The idea of a ‘Problem Tree’ is that all of the participants in a situation, (in this case, the lecturers and the administrators of the college), are gathered in one room and asked to write, in big letters on A5 pieces of paper, any problems that they see with the situation under review, (in this case, the introduction of the new specification.)

The bits of paper are stuck up on the wall and then reorganized into categories.  In the case of the introduction of a new training course, the categories are likely to be things like “Infrastructure’, Staff Training Needs”,  Internet access, ’ ‘Lack of Library Resources’ etc.

Once all of the “Problems’ are displayed, all of the participants can see what is on everyone else’s mind and we can start to explore the different perceptions of the challenges ahead.   We then encourage the participants to look at possible solutions to the problems identified and eventually this kind of analysis can be used as the basis for forward planning, perhaps as part of a second workshop.

All good fun and it is always interesting to see how much people appreciate being asked to take part in an exercise like this, even if nothing much changes as a result of the exercise.  Being listened to and being taken seriously as part of the planning process is sometimes enough for people to feel good about their participation.

I’ve included this particular entry and the photos below just to show that Linda and I do sometimes do a day’s work and don’t spend all of our time sitting under coconut trees and snorkeling the reef!

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Resisting the temptation to pull out a rabbit.

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Come on, come on.  That’s not nearly enough bits of pink paper!

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Linda keeping order!

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Sticking the ideas onto the wall.

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Well, someone has to supervise!

Road signs you don’t see every day. No 10.

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The Australians feel that it is very important that their cows should be literate.  Tough job for the teachers, but well worth doing.  No-one wants stupid steak.

Road signs you don’t see every day. No 9.

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Road signs you don’t see every day. No 8.

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Captions, please!

Just a thought.

We are currently staying at a hotel in Mount Hagan while we visit a couple of teacher training college as part of our grandly named “Capacity Needs Analysis.” In our room there is a TV and, as I was channel flicking yesterday, I stumbled on the start of “Die Hard 4.”  Well that was that for the next ninety minutes.

For those of you who don’t know the Die Hard films, they all follow more or less the same pattern.  Tough, but ultimately loveable, New York detective, John McClane, takes on improbably evil villains and, against all the odds, eventually wins the day and lifts the threat to the city/to America/to the world.  Along the way, many bullets fly, much stage fighting takes place, lots of things are blown up and, almost inevitably, the chief villain meets his doom by being thrown off a high building or down a lift shaft.  McClane himself is completely invulnerable.  He can be beaten up, run over, thrown of other high buildings.  He can be shot, stabbed and smashed up in cars, but always manages to get up and continue his quest to defeat evil and protect freedom.  In the film I watched last night, I lost track of the number of cars that were wrecked and traffic violations committed, but at least we knew that all would be well as long as John McClane had his gun, his gritty determination and a succession of disposable vehicles.

I confess I am a sucker for these films.  They are, of course, complete nonsense but they are so over-the-top that they are quite fun.  Nobody really gets hurt. You know that everyone will get up at the end and take a bow.

The sad thing is that it isn’t even as if I hadn’t seen the film before.  I had, but fortunately, at my age, it’s perfectly possible to see a film a second time and have no idea what is going to happen, except perhaps that John McClane will still be standing at the end and will save the world.

So why am I telling you all this?  Well, Die Hard 4 actually frightened me yesterday.

The premise is that the villain is a computer wizard who used to work for the CIA and who told his bosses that America’s computer infrastructure was vulnerable to attack.  He wasn’t believed and was humiliated by his bosses.  He therefore decided to stage a “Fire Sale”, which is computer nerd-speak for the complete wrecking of a country’s computer networks.  A Fire Sale – Everything must go.

The film started with the baddie taking control of New York’s entire traffic control system.  All the traffic lights were set to green and the whole city came to a spectacular halt as cars , trucks and buses all crashed into each other, blocking the city.  Then Mr Super-Villain hacked the computers of the electricity systems and plunged the city into darkness.   Next he hits Wall Street and causes the stock market to crash and then hacks into America’ Social Security system and threatens to wipe all the records off the servers.  Chaos ensues.

Don’t worry! McClane is on the job and has teamed up with a young computer-nerd to help him to overcome his computer-phobia. As mayhem breaks out all over the Eastern United States, McClane tries to reassure his young co-hero that the US Government has hundreds of people who are trained to handle crises like this.  The young man replies, chillingly, that when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it took the Government five days to get water to the people sheltering in the local baseball stadium!

So what happens in the end?  Well, McClane doesn’t die. His kidnapped daughter is rescued (by him, of course), and civilization as we know it, is saved just in the nick of time.

So why did this film actually scare me?  Well, it was made in 2007 and the scenario was the brainchild of some creative scriptwriters, who probably sat around, with several glasses of scotch, in a smoke-filled room and played the game “Imagine what would happen if…?”  Obviously, the story they were writing was fantasy, but they obviously thought it would make a gripping thriller, if there were enough car-crashes, explosions and fighting.  And they were right.  It did.

And then, back in the real world, we saw on the BBC last week that a young man had been arrested by the police in an ordinary suburban house in the South of England, accused of causing a ‘flash crash’ on the New York Stock Exchange.  Millions of dollars were wiped off the value of US shares in a matter of seconds.  Apparently, the motive was just theft.  The hacker was only interested in getting rich from hacking into Wall Street.

But that little news item raises a much bigger question.  If one insignificant thief in a bedroom in England can cause, albeit temporary, panic in a Stock Exchange thousands of miles away, what could a serious criminal network, or, even more scary, a group like Islamic State, with a serious political motive, do?  Computers control every aspect of our lives these days.  Life without them would be unimaginable.  And yet we are always hearing stories of often very ordinary people hacking into sophisticated computer systems, either for personal gain or to make a political point.

I am wondering if it might be time to take my money out of the HSBC, put it into a small plastic bag and go and live in a cave somewhere with my Swiss Army knife, so that I will be ready when the world computer Armageddon finally happens.  John McClane is not a young man.  He’s bound to be retiring soon.

We’re going to a Mou-mou.

We are currently in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea where, Oh Rapture, you sometimes need a sweater!  Our access to the internet is very limited here, which is why the blog has been a bit slow this week and devoid of pictures.

We have just spent four days in a Teachers’ Training College trying to get an idea of what the college will need in terms of classrooms, dormitories staff training etc., as it implements the new teacher training curriculum that we were involved in writing last year.

We tried to make the experience as little like an OFSTED inspection as we could, and I think we succeeded, because the Vice-Principal has invited us to a Moo-moo in honour of her granddaughter’s 12th birthday.  Can’t wait.

“What’s a Mou-mou?” I hear you ask.    I have no idea, but tomorrow we are invited to one.

I know that a ’murmur’ is an inarticulate utterance.

I know that ‘My, my!’ is an expression of mild surprise.

I know that ‘Mimi’ is the consumptive heroine of La Bohème.

I know that ‘Mama’ is the first word that any of us ever spoke.

And ‘Mau mau’ was the pre-Independence, secret organisation of terrorists or freedom fighters, (depending on whose side you’re on), that ‘encouraged’ the British to get out of Kenya.

But a ‘moo-moo?’

Well, watch this blog.  Tomorrow we will all be cleverer than we are today.

We have broken out of Madang again.

On Saturday afternoon we landed in Mount Hagan in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.  We were glad to have done so.  Perhaps we should have been suspicious when we were admiring looking at the spectacular cloud formations as our plane started its descent towards our destination.   The closer we got, the darker the clouds became and then we held on tight as our pilot spotted a gap in the cloud and came in to land.

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The scene at the airport when we arrived was one of chaos and joyousness.  Unlike at other airports where your luggage arrives on a carousel , or at least gets passed through a wall into some kind of arrivals hall, at Hagan Airport there are no such formalities.  The baggage handlers just offload everything from the plane onto huge baggage trollies which they bring to the arrivals area.  They then clear off as quickly as they can, before  the trollies are besieged not only by the newly arrived passengers but also by all of their  husbands, wives, brothers, uncles, sisters, cousins and aunts, who have all turned up to meet them.  There is no attempt to separate arriving passengers and awaiting relatives.  The result?  Bedlam!

I don’t know if we had arrived on an especially auspicious weekend, but there seemed to be an inordinate number of family reunions going on as luggage disappeared in all directions.  People were laughing and hugging each other, fierce looking, heavily bearded men were suddenly transformed  into doting dads as babies and young children were pressed into their arms.  One boy, about 15 years old was being mercilessly pummelled by a woman who I can only assume was his mother.  I thought I was witnessing a physical assault as the woman slapped the boy’s head and thumped his back, whilst intermittently cuddling him to her ample bosom.  The boy seemed to be very happy with the reception he was getting from his mum and took his beating with a broad smile on his face.

We had come to Hagan to visit one of the Teacher Training Colleges that will be implementing the new Diploma in Teaching/Bachelor of Education course that Linda and I were involved in writing last year.  The new course calls for colleges to increase the Diploma in Teaching qualification from a two year to a three year course, which has obvious implications for the colleges in terms of resources, books, staffing, accommodation etc.

We are now part of a three- person team, charged by the Ministry with visiting all of the Teacher Training Colleges in PNG and reporting on what their needs are likely to be as they implement the new programme.  Since most of the students who are training to be teachers live on the College campuses, there is an immediate need for more dormitory spaces, as soon as the colleges go from a two year course to a three year one, but there is a whole list of other information that the Ministry will need in order to be able to respond to the Colleges’ needs.

We will be in the Highlands for two weeks spending four days in each of two colleges and, guess what?  At night it’s actually cold in this part of PNG.  We actually need a blanket on our bed.  How wonderful is that?

Road Sign You Don’t See Every Day. No 7

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It’s all part of the Australians’ love of shortening perfectly serviceable words to the point of incomprehension.  This one was only useful if you happened to be in the market for avocadoes at the time.

Two other that we came across were ‘servo’ for ‘service station’ and ‘rego’ for a car’s number plate.

I asked whether ‘pollo’ was the abbreviation for ‘politician’.  I was told that ‘pollo’ is  the Spanish for ‘chicken’.  The abbreviation for ‘politician’ is, apparently, ‘pollie’.

I’ll crack this language yet!

April 16th, 2015. A day worth forgetting.

It’s my birthday today, so today I am, officially, old.

When you have had several dozen birthdays, as I have, it’s difficult to get too excited about another one clicking past.  However, given the importance of today’s milestone, I spent a few minutes this morning pondering and reflecting on how many of my birthdays I could actually remember.  There aren’t many.

I can remember my 18th birthday which was memorable for all of the wrong reasons.  In Britain, you can legally drink alcohol at the age of 18, so for many young people, their 18th birthday is a good excuse for going out and getting drunk, just because you legally can.  Now, I cannot claim to have been a complete stranger to the inside of public bars, even before my 18th year, but there was still a certain frisson about finally reaching the legal age.

My 18th was a very sober affair.

In order to have a ‘safety net’, in case I didn’t get into University, I had applied for a commission as an officer in the Royal Navy.  I spent three days at a selection board in Portsmouth, where I underwent all sorts of mathematical, psychological and language tests, interviews and practical exercises, designed to establish whether I was a fit person to wear Her Majesty’s uniform and float off into the sunset on one of Her majesty’s ships.

I remember that six of us young men we spent one whole morning in a gym, where two ‘river banks’ had been chalked out on the floor.  I was put in charge of the other five other applicants for this particular test.  We were told that, on the opposite side of this imaginary raging river, there was a man dying of thirst.  Our job was to get a bucket of water across the ‘river’ using only a plank, two oil drums and a short piece of rope.

As this exercise progressed, all sorts of assessors made notes on clipboards.  I remember wondering at the time why if our unfortunate man was so thirsty, he didn’t  just get a drink out of the raging torrent that separated his side of the imaginary river from ours, but that didn’t seem to impress our Navy supervisors.

One of the other candidates in our group was the son of a Royal Navy captain, (captains, apparently, are the ones who drive the boats), and he had obviously been well prepared for the rigours of the selection board.  When we were sitting in the waiting room before our final board interviews with a panel of high-ranking officer sitting behind a huge polished table, my captain’s son colleague spent his time memorizing the names of all the battleships pictured on the walls of the waiting room, just in case he was asked to recite them.

One of the questions that I remember being asked by one senior officer was whether I had had any naval experience.  I was 18 years old and had lived almost all of my life in Swansea, a small fishing port, not exactly a centre of navy activity.  I replied that I had no real naval experience other than a fairly disastrous family holiday in a cabin cruiser on the River Thames when I was about 12.  I remembered that my dad had managed to sink a punt by crashing our boat into it as we tried to manoeuvre into a lock.  I asked whether this counted as “naval experience.”  I didn’t get a straight answer.

Anyway, the upshot was that, much to my surprise, I was offered a commission, subject to my passing a stringent medical examination, for which I had to travel to London – on the day after my 18th birthday!  How unfair was that?

So that was my 18th.

I’ve never been one to make a fuss about my birthdays.  When I was growing up, birthdays were recognised in our family until you were about 16 years old and after that no-one paid much attention.  I think it was my 30th or 31st birthday, shortly after Linda and I started living together, when my parents came to visit us for the first time. Seeing a birthday card on the mantelpiece, my mother asked “Whose birthday is it?”  “Robert’s,” answered Linda.  “Oh, happy Birthday, son.”

After that we need to fast forward thirty years or so to my 60th.  I remember that birthday because Linda arranged an air-balloon trip over Northampton as a surprise birthday treat. Over the years, I’ve met people who have sailed in air balloons over the Serengeti in Tanzania, or over Victoria Falls in Zambia or even over the Grand Canyon in America, but I have never met anyone who has flown over Northampton in the English Midlands, so that’s pretty special.

And then last year was memorable because we found ourselves in Singapore, where we had to spend a couple of days in order to collect our visas for Papua New Guinea.  There is a famous hotel in Singapore which has a swimming pool on its roof, so we checked out of the back-packer hotel into which VSO had booked us, and spent the night at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, just so that we could use their pool.  I have to say it was the most expensive swim of my life, but it’s not every day that you can wallow in a swimming pool and look town on the sky-scrapers of a major city.

And so we come to today, my 65th birthday, which started with an expression of outrage!  Grumpy Old Men Rule!  Before breakfast, I turned on my home computer, like I do every morning, to check for any emails that might have come in during the night.  Much to my consternation, I found that the normal Google logo has been replaced with a design made up of cakes, with the message “Happy Birthday, Robert,” on it!

How dare they?  How did they know?  Am I not permitted any privacy in this Brave New World?  If the Lords of Google think they were cheering me up on my birthday by this example of corporate cyber-jollity, they were wrong. I felt invaded by a communications giant who presumes to intrude into every aspect of my private domain.  They have already given themselves the right to photograph my house and publish the picture on Streetview for the rest of the world to see.  Did I agree to that?  No, I didn’t?  Am I happy that there is a picture of my house on the internet that shows a large crack over the front, downstairs window, (long since repaired, I should add)?  No, I am not. Who do these people think they are?

I was pleased to note on the news today that Google are being sued in the European Court for unfair business practice, because when someone searches for something, like a new washing machine, on Google, the washing machines from companies that have paid Google are always the first to flash up on the screen before the consumer gets to read any further. I hope Google loses its case and is heavily fined.  I hope they get taken to the cleaners, (if you’ll pardon the pun.)

I also understand that in Germany many people have insisted that their houses be removed from Google Streetview.  So now I have a task for this year – to get Google to take my house off their world-wide snooper maps.  Well, a man has to have an ambition!

Curious Australian Signs No 6

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Just in case you thought just anyone could climb it!

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