Disappearing Glaciers?

As a teacher in the 1970’s I remember discussing the loss of species and habitats . My students commented that  even the invention  of the electric toothbrush may be the start of a slow environmental decline due to over use of energy . Little did I think I would be watching the news of glaciers disappearing at an alarming rate. Take a look at this one in Bolivia, reported on the BBC site


Disappearing glaciers in Bolivia
Disappearing glaciers in Bolivia

Scientists in Bolivia say that one of the country’s most famous glaciers has almost disappeared as a result of climate change.

The Chacaltaya glacier, 5,300m (17,400 ft) up in the Andes, used to be the world’s highest ski run.

But it has been reduced to just a few small pieces of ice.

Many Bolivians on the highland plains, and in two cities, depend on the melting of the glaciers for their water supply during the dry season.

The team of Bolivian scientists started measuring the Chacaltaya glacier in the 1990s. Not long ago they were predicting that it would survive until 2015.

But now it seems, the glacier has melted at a much faster rate than they expected.

Photos taken in the last two weeks show that all that is left of the majestic glacier, which is thought to be 18,000 years old, are a few lumps of ice near the top.

The Chacaltaya glacier in 1996 (left) and today
The Chacaltaya glacier in 1996 (left) and today

Education in environmental awareness and action can support young people when making informed decisions about their future -and can help save the planet!

Students going to school while sea levels rise?
Students going to school while sea levels rise?

What is more worrying that there are stories of disappearing glaciers in Turkey, New Zealand,Tanzania,Alaska and check this on Himalayan glaciers….we should be worried..

Participation is the name of the game

Participatory forms of training have proven themselves during the last 30 years or so. New brain research has helped define good practice around the concept of learning by doing. Lecturing can still be part of a trainer’s repertoire ,fifteen minutes maximum and supported by a variety of visual media, as part of trainer’s toolkit.

Participation now considers all participants not just a select few, or the majority. It is now the facilitator’s duty to involve all participants, to adapt training activities to meet participants’ needs. Training is now more demanding but at the same time more satisfying as you watch participants ‘grow’ through their involvement in various training challenges,leading to skill development.

For teacher training, one – off training is not seen as affective. A training package is now seen as:

needs assessment

training plan

 first workshop

follow up in the classroom with a mentor

second workshop

more follow up at classroom level where application of training concepts can be observed and even assessed if necessary.

Another relatively new development is classroom action research. Reflective teaching or classroom action research,brings educational research into the application to solving classroom issues,rather than consideration of system reform/change.  


Action research tied to ongoing democratic forms of training can be a powerful innovator for change at grass roots level.

The other aspect of training is that  for school teachers the content should be relevant to their working situation and challenge them in ways that motivate them to apply in the classroom. Creativity is a concept that could be explored in a workshop and then applied in the classroom in any subject. Short videos of classroom experimentation followed by group discussion can be a powerful approach to teacher learning and improvement.


Following action research by teachers during in-service training there is no reason why students at whatever age should not engage in action research themselves. They can explore their own ways of learning. Look at this example from Croatia:

It may seem a simple approach but the development of a range of skills related to ‘metacognition’ -or learning about learning will prepare them for lifelong learning.

Using local resources – Timor Leste becoming more independent!

Timor Leste -background

Though the vote in East Timor in 1999  was overwhelmingly for independence, extreme opposition from militia groups led to massive destruction and the displacement of some 250,000 people to West Timor and still more hundreds of thousands to the hills around the villages and urban settlements of East Timor.

Area map Timor Leste
Area map Timor Leste

Over 90% of all school buildings were severely damaged or destroyed by the Indonesian military and in the exodus of Indonesians out of East Timor, the nation lost 20% of its primary school teachers and 80% of secondary teachers. UNICEF and other international aid organizations responded fairly quickly, however, reestablishing classes for 420 of the country’s 800 primary schools by December 1999 plus an additional 273 schools by April 2000. Timor Leste became the world’s  newest nation on May 20th 2002.

Using local resources

During training, it is good practice to make the best of whatever local resources are available, both human and material. While working in Timor Leste (East Timor) I was privileged to meet a local translator, Jorge, who became a good friend and a wonderful natural facilitator, while training head teachers and teachers.

Jorge had survived a ‘near-death’ experience facing Indonesian militia during Timor’s struggle for independence.

During one training workshop, I was naively discussing with  the group about using local materials for use in science lessons. After the session Jorge asked if he could run a short session on the use of local resources for teaching, and he would provide the local materials. I already knew I could trust Jorge so I eagerly let him prepare for the next day. Little did I realise he would spend until midnight preparing for his session, which included climbing trees to collect natural gum, to be used as an adhesive


The outdoor laboratory

Although he had no training as a facilitator, he was a natural in terms of knowing his subject, understanding the needs of his audience,preparing well and providing challenging activities so that participants develop new skills in a supportive environment.

In many ways we were teaching each other and learning from each other as I watched in awe at the inventive way he developed his session into a full day experience and how he continued to build and extend his repertoire of training skills. As a local person he was also able to be more challenging and try to get the best out of poorly educated teachers,many of whom had to come off the fields to volunteer to be a teacher in the early days of the world’s newest nation. He believed in people’s capacity and the proof was in the revolution that could be seen in the classrooms of teachers we worked with.


Products of a  teacher training workshop in rural Timor Leste

With Jorge’s drive and ingenuity bare-walled classrooms, previously devoid of stimulation, became an Aladdin’s cave with models of the solar system hanging from the ceiling, learning corners with local musical instruments, pieces of weaving looms and many other artefacts and teaching aids that started to make lessons come alive and stimulate learning for all the students.

It really was a dream to work alongside Jorge and a humbling experience to see people build something from the ashes of their schools. Rice farmers came off the rice fields to volunteer as teachers, so that children could go to school.

Luckily Jorge was able to witness his country’s independence and be determined that he could help build capacity in others to make the most of new found freedoms.

Dedicated to Jorge Mouzinho and the other young people of Timor Leste.

Dreams of a better future
Dreams of a better future

Ray Harris May 2009

Human Capacity

roleplayTrain copy

Working with head teachers and teachers in rural and isolated  areas makes you humble while at the same time angry! Humble because people with so little in terms of material possessions can offer so much to their students. Angry because those in authority living in urban areas may look down on rural dwellers with some disdain and limit their opportunities and restrict their development.

Floating school,Cambodia



We need to educate  those in authority that everyone has capacity to learn and develop and those in rural areas need a belief in themselves that they can learn well.


Ray Harris 2009