Friday, December 09, 2005

46] Narratives on Schooling in Albania

“Learning as a ‘Ping Pong’ Game: Narratives on Schooling in Albania using the Clinical Interview Method” by Azly Rahman Coumbia University Goal of the Interview Drawing partly from the research framework presented by Collingforth on the purpose of schooling in Cullingford (1991) and largely from Herbert Ginsburg’s framework for clinical interview for understanding cognitive development, the goal of the interview for this project is as follow:i) to collect qualitative data, i.e. in the form of interview responses on the most important thing learned in school that prepared the respondent with the work she has done and currently doingii) to collect data on how the respondent retrospectively perceived schooling and the skills taught in Albania, only several years ago transited from a communist political rule to one based upon democratic principleiii) to gain experience in conducting a clinical interview and writing up the report. Specifically the major questions asked in this interview are as follow: i) What is the most important thing you learned in school that prepared you for the work you do? ii) Are there important things you feel you should have learned in school, that you were not taught? iii) Are there important things in school that you wished you paid more attention to use for your future work? Background Information on Subject K is a Fulbright Masters student in the Teaching of English to speakers of Other Language Program (TESOL) at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. She is 29 years old (born 1969) and was born in Tirana, the capital city of Albania. Her father is a qualified electrician (called a “worker” in the Communist system) and received his education only up to Grade 8. Her mother is an office worker and received her education up to a baccalaureate (2-year) level at one of the Albanian universities. K graduated from an Albanian University with a degree in TESOL and then worked as an English teacher for seven years and at different ages: from five year-olds to fifty-year-olds. She has also worked as an independent interpreter or translator with The Institute for Pedagogical Research in Tirana and has also co-trained with other researchers in the teaching of English. She secured a Fulbright scholarship to study at Teachers College, Columbia University and is currently a second semester student in the program. Testing Condition and Subject’s Response The one-hour interview was conducted on Saturday April 11th. 1998 at 6:30 p.m. in the Ground Floor Lobby of the Main Hall at Teachers College. We were seated on the leather sofa and since it was a weekend there were not many people using the facility. The testing condition was thus a comfortable and conversational one because of the acquaintance I have established with the respondent.We talked about academic life in general before I started switching on the SONY microcassette place on a small table in between us. Mirela was relaxed and took the session as a dialogue between friends. The interview protocol I had prepared was on the table and throughout the interview I managed to ask the key questions in the most natural manner since I have had quite a wide experience in conducting open ended interviews and that the questions to be asked were relatively few. K responded to the question very well since the questions leading to the key ones gave her the necessary sensitization to the dependent variables being tested for. In other words, she had enough time and opportunities to talk about her schooling from the elementary to the post-secondary level. Her answers were rich and in-depth, given in good narrative forms with minimum interruptions from me. She spoke in a relaxed, confident and clearly understood manner occasionally laughing at some of her experiences in her Albanian school.The recording session ran for an hour but the conversation continued another hour, as I would say that K had more to talk about how schooling and working in a Communist state was. We talked about the condition of work, teacher pay and the problems associated with Albania’s transition to democratic political governance. Preliminary Protocol The nature of questions asked in the one-hour structured open-ended interview is as follow: i) How’s your semester (at TC) been? ii) Can you tell me a bit about your background; your early education, you parents’ education, and your schooling experience before coming to TC? iii) What did you do after you graduated from college in Albania? iv) What is the most important thing you learned in school that prepared you for the work you do? v) Are there important things you feel you should have learned in school that you were not taught? vi) Are there important things that you wished you paid more attention to use for you future work? Findings and Interpretations K's responses to the first major question ‘What is the most important thing that you learned in school that prepared you for the work you do?’ revealed that being ‘systematic’ or consistent in her studying as well as being very good in the English language which gave her the advantage over her peers in the very selective, demanding and meritocratic schooling system in Albania. To quote her response on being systematic: .. uhm as a person perhaps I.. something I learned.. if you were not.. you could not be successful unless you were systematic and working hard… it was as a ‘morale’.. in terms of my academic education perhaps.. I’d say that.. uh… like English worked for me because it was my major in both high school and university. Being systematic and good in the English language, for the respondent is a pre requisite for gaining a place in the university and success in life is measured by one getting a college education. She talked about friends who were “not consistent” and those who cheat in exams: … studying on a regular basis… say, everyday consistently perhaps… this is what I mean by systematic… uh… I remember friends of mine who would even cheatShe continued to narrate the consequence of not being consistent in studying with not being able to “make it in life” by getting a university education. Quoting the case of her friends: .. say if they got a grade one time [through cheating].. next time they would not [ ] they would not study for the next lesson.. and they were… coz’ there were no consistency in their.. uh.. studying and reading.. which of course created sort of gap in their knowledge and it was even difficult for them to make up for that thing in their future… if you want to go to university after graduation you have sort of “face the life” [made it in life]… because you’ve find a job which was.. well paid… and well paid would be about 6.50 dollars.. no, not 650 not six hundred fifty cents a months.. uh.. that’s what teachers are.. uh [paid].. in a month. Thus it can be interpreted that for K, her consistency and her good command of the English language worked well for her in the sense that they prepared her to become a university graduate, an English teacher, an interpreter and consequently secured her the prestigious Fulbright scholarship for graduate study at TC, Columbia.Her response to the question ‘Are there important things that you feel you should have learned in school, that you were not taught?’ revealed interesting information about the interconnectedness of learning is approached in her Albanian schooling experience. K first talked about how ‘reading for understanding’ is not in the pedagogical vocabulary and that rote-memorization or “parroting” is the dominant methodological approach. This training created difficulties for her at Teachers College: I remember when I first came to TC how much I struggled… uh.. and still remembered from our papers [laugh].. but anyway.. uh.. with my readings and writings.. and these are the things actually that I’m not taught, in my.. in our education system.. with reading I mean comprehensive reading [reading for understanding].. uh.. because we do not write papers.. or reflections.. or responses to what we read.. uhm… this is sort of uh… uh… not exactly parroting perhaps but sort of much of uh… memorization. As a consequence of her thinking that readings are to be memorized, she related how during her first semester at TC she almost had a nervous breakdown: I remember the first time I was trying to.. I would [ ] to stop and then I said ‘well… how can I memorize everything in here?” I’m going to forget everything… because there was like.. a minimum could be seventy pages a day.. so… how would I finish everything we read and then also memorize them?Mirela used an interesting expression to describe what she went through in learning as a ‘memorizing enterprise’:.. this is how school is in Albania.. like learn and memorize.. I’ve used a very funny expression.. It’s just like playing ping pong… like… the teacher says something.. the student receives it and tells it back… so it’s really like a ping pong [game]. Another aspect of learning she felt she should have learned was the interconnectedness of reading, writing and relating both to one’s personal experience. .. so these are the things [relating reading, writing to personal experience] that I really will… have appreciated if I have learned.. or I have felt more comfortable or find it more easier when I came to the United States… so doing comprehension reading or stretching beyond what you read, thinking metaphorically.. or… uh… critiquing.. and something which I didn’t learn at school was putting personal experience and feelings to.. everyone has his own understanding of the reading he or she does.. so it makes meaning when it relates to that person some way or another… Thus, K felt that she should have been taught how reading and writing relate to personal experience instead of the pedagogical approach being one which is predominantly of rote-memorization and disconnectedness of what is read to real-life experiences. As to the third question ‘Are there important things in school that you wished you paid more attention to use for your future work?,K could not find ways to answer it as she insisted that she has paid attention to them. She explained that she was a good student and considered one who studied hare enough to be able to graduate from high school, college, gotten a good job and then secured herself the Fulbright scholarship for a Masters program in TESOL. Discussion To a large extent this clinical interview achieved its objectives in that data generated gave me the insight into the main research questions. It also helps achieve the following: i) It helps me understand the value of the clinical interview as a powerful research methodology in ‘entering a person’s mind’ as importantly guided by Ginsburg (1997) as well as relate Piagetan approach to understanding cognitive development. The hour-long interview with Mirela has furthered my interest into researching not only what happened in the schooling of a child of a Communist system but also into looking at potential research areas such as the meaningfulness of schooling in capitalist America, Islamic republic of Iran, Iraq, Israel or any Third World countries released from the shackles of colonialism. Not only one can look at what went on in the process of indoctrination but also the relationship between school, curricular content, and their relationship with political and economic socialization – all these can be potentially fertile areas of investigation. ii) K’s retrospective insight into what went on in her schooling can be further understood by conducting more interviews which would generate data on other areas such as the ‘paradigmatic shift’ in her thinking after having been exposed to ideologies different from Communism.iii) Albania at present continues to be in turmoil with the recent massacre of ethnic Albanians in Kosova. My respondent would perhaps be a valuable source of information on what education and nation building mean in a nation-state undergoing a difficult transition. Self Criticism I have chosen to a less challenging subject for this clinical interview exercise as compared to for example an Albanian child. K’s fluency in the English language and well-articulated answers to my main research question has made this exercise an exciting and valuable one. Since I have had a valuable enough exposure to open-ended interviewing, especially in my study of 30 top Malaysian Chief Executive Officers conducted to find out about their Management Philosophy (Research done 1992-94) and one as recent as in November 1997 on narratives on schooling for creative and critical consciousness, my session with the Albanian respondent was largely a success. I followed closely Ginsburg’s (1997) guidelines to ensure that the respondent’s narratives would flow smoothly. Criticisms if any would be that more should be probed on specific teaching strategies used in a Communist state. In short, ‘in what ways are thinking encouraged? In what ways they are not?’ would be a good question to be explored, should time had permitted. Nonetheless, throughout the interview, the respondent perhaps spoke 90% of the time thus giving me enough information needed for the few main questions. Conclusion In this brief but valuable exercise, important insights on one’s schooling related retrospectively have been gathered. In this case it is the experience of one schooled in a once Communist state. The clinical interview method proved to be a valuable tool for my understanding of such experience. It has provided me the interest to explore further in depth similar fertile areas of research in the field of schooling, and learning, and indoctrination. Bibliography Cullingford, C. (1991). The inner world of the school: Children’s ideas about school.London:Cassell. Chapters 8 and 10. Ginsburg, H.P. (1997). Entering the child’s mind: The clinical interview in psychological research and practice. New York:Cambridge University Press

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Born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru; holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters in four areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication; pursuing fifth, MFA in Creative Writing; has taught more than 50 courses in six different departments; written more than 350 analyses on Malaysia; teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spanning over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education; has edited and authored seven books; Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), Dark Spring: Ideological Roots of Malaysia's GE-13 (2013), a first Malay publication Kalimah Allah Milik Siapa?: Renungan dan Nukilan Tentang Malaysia di Era Pancaroba (2014), Controlled Chaos: Essays on Mahathirism, Multimedia Super Corridor and Malaysia's 'New Politics' (2014), One Malaysia under God, Bipolar (2015); resides in the United States teaching courses in Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Political Science, and American Studies.