Monday, October 28, 2013

October 28th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Much as I have been told 'not to rock the boat', it is something that comes naturally to me. This week I am compelled to rock the boat again. Talking of boats, I often tell people that 'If you want to walk on the water, you have to get out of the boat' - sometimes you get wet, most times you learn something new, and achieve more than you imagined possible! I don't consider that life is supposed to be cosy and cuddly. Taking risks is the only way to ensure development - personal, corporate and social. If you want to do something amazing, you have to step out of your comfort zone - and take risks. Without risks, there are no rewards - nor is their learning! 

I am really concerned about the future of our young people. I see education being debased into a 'fact reciting frenzy', linked to the issue of certificates and bits of paper that have no value, but simply state 'this candidate could remember for one hour a bunch of facts and now feels good about it'. Many certificates just state 'course completed' which means that they were present in the room, and as far as the certificate is concerned, could have slept the entire time - making it an utterly worthless document. Most of the certificates I see have no transcript, no indication of the topics covered, no feedback on 'levels attained', no student specific comments and, therefore, no value. I no longer consider any of the school certificates worth the paper they are badly printed on. The JSS and SSS certificates shown to me by young applicants have not demonstrated any value whatsoever; in the vast majority of cases, they do not reflect the ability of the young person at all. It appears that something is seriously wrong. What scares me even more are those who claim to have completed further studies, and often claim to be teachers. They may have been given the opportunity to stand in front of a class, but that does not make them teachers. Real teachers KNOW their subjects, LIVE their subjects, LOVE their subjects, MAKE their subjects come ALIVE, and above all INSPIRE their students beyond recital, giving meaning and depth to the subject matter that remains in their students for life. 

In recent interviews we have had candidates who have 'studied' at higher levels. None were able to answer basic questions from their 'field of study'. They had certificates. Lots of certificates. All had been 'teaching'. If they are teachers, we are doomed. I cannot believe that so many young people BELIEVE that they are being educated, when, in reality they are being hoodwinked into thinking that a 'certificate' has value. They are being told that 'learn a fact off by heart and you will pass the exam' is what matters. We are deceiving ourselves, our children and our future if we continue in this vein. We need to step outside of this comfort zone and embrace a bigger understanding of learning.

What is 'an atmosphere'? Is a question often asked in meteorology. The expected answer is 'The gaseous envelope that surrounds a celestial body'. I have a young person who can give that answer whenever asked. She learned that within seconds of seeing it for the first time. She sounded intelligent when she said it. But when I asked her what 'gaseous', 'gaseous envelope' or 'celestial body' meant and she was stumped. Her smile turned into a downward gaze. She would pass the question in an exam, but without the underpinning knowledge. Of course, being at Kpong Airfield, she learned the hard way that 'blind repetition does not work in aviation'. Today she understands what it means, and can explain the terms. NOW she has knowledge - and it will remain in her head for life. 

When somebody comes to the airfield with a pilots licence from another country, on the whole it gives us an idea that they should be able to fly (there have been exceptions). What we are more interested in, is the number of hours, types and conditions flown in. Coming along with a shiny new licence with just 50 hours in the hot seat, principally in temperate climates and operating on long tarmac runways, tells us that 'they probably need more lessons to fly in the tropics'. Good pilots are always ready to learn more - and embrace the fact that they have more to learn. Such pilots view their licences as a 'licence to learn', not a 'passed the exam and can now forget it all because I have a piece of paper' document.

I have many thousands of hours of flying experience, I have flown in around 50 different aircraft types, in a wide range of conditions, yet I am still ACTIVELY learning. I enjoy when a qualified pilot from Europe or the USA arrives at the airfield and asks about a conversion to the Ghanaian National Licence. The regulations state that a 'minimum of five hours supervised flight instruction' is required. The best converters are those who do not care about how many hours it takes. Some continue to ask for an instructor to fly with them for more than three times the minimum required. Those are the pilots who are learning from the experience of others. They do not consider themselves 'complete', but rather 'a work in progress'. I also learn from them, since I know that I do not have the monopoly on knowledge.

Perhaps our issues in education are linked to understanding the concept of the 'life-long learner'. This was a major policy concept in the UK a few years back. Life is about coupling working with learning. The idea of 'going to school' in the local context seems to be about 'stopping working and sitting in the classroom'. I believe that 'in service training' has more value than 'a year out to do an MBA'. I believe that evening classes and day release has more value than 'quitting one job to go to school to look for another'.

Clearly, employers need to embrace the concept. Employees need to embrace the concept. Educational establishments and training centres need to embrace the concept. There are organisations that embrace these concepts, but there is far too great a gap between 'what is needed' and 'what is on offer'.

The group the most in need of 'in service training' is the teachers - for they offer the greatest multiplier effect. They need to spend days in industry to see the REAL need of employers. After all, the reason for an education is to get a job. The reason to increase knowledge is to do ones job better and open avenues for progression.

It is time for a change. A positive change. 

Any school interested in sending teachers on a day course in industry, aimed at improving their teaching and learning skills (particularly in STEM and health), please get in contact with me - perhaps we can set something up at Kpong Airfield.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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