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Local teacher helps improve education in the Caribbean

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Although she’s heading back to the classroom next week to educate students at Robert Moore School here, Grade 8 teacher Dana Kosowick got her own lesson this summer after participating in “Project Overseas.”

This project—a joint endeavour of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, and the Canadian International Development Agency—saw Kosowick off to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean for three weeks.

“I really feel like I made a difference,” she enthused, noting the primary purpose of “Project Overseas” is to improve the quality of education in developing countries.

From hundreds of applications, Kosowick was selected as one of 50 Canadians to volunteer her time and talent to help raise academic and professional qualifications of teachers there.

“No one from here has ever done this,” she explained. “I thought it would be an amazing opportunity and a great way to spend the summer.”

There were 14 different projects conducted in the developing nations of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. After some training in Ottawa, Kosowick and her five-member team were off on their adventure.

“I didn’t care where I was going—I knew we’d be well taken care of . . . even though the developing countries don’t have what we’re used to,” she remarked.

She explained the conditions in St. Vincent and the Grenadines were very poor. With limited resources and technology, even the teaching conditions were unlike anything in Canada.

And the temperature averaged in the mid-90s F every day.

But Kosowick was lucky. Her task was to conduct a two-week computer workshop for 37 Vincentian teachers in a computer lab that was air-conditioned.

But having a computer lab in St. Vincent and the Grenadine schools was not common.

“We toured a school that had just one computer, which was in the head master’s office, and they were so excited to show it to us,” Kosowick recalled, adding the top computers in the country were more than five years old.

Kosowick, who was partnered with a local co-tutor to share the teaching, had hoped to offer different computer lessons that could be used in the classrooms.

“But at least half hadn’t even turned on a computer before,” she exclaimed. “So we had to start right from the basics.

“They were eyeing the keys and didn’t know what to do. They had no idea how to access a program or use the toolbar—things we take for granted,” she added.

Kosowick taught the teachers about Microsoft word, Publisher, Excel, and the Internet.

“By the end, they were e-mailing each other,” Kosowick enthused. “They’d send a message to someone on the other side of the room and then rush over to see if they got it.

“It was funny to see because for us, that was at least 10 years ago. But it was new to them.”

She added they also were shopping online and researching topics on the Internet.

“It was really powerful knowing I opened up this world for the teachers,” she indicated. “It was really exciting, especially seeing their eyes light up.”

After returning the Canada, Kosowick even has received e-mails from some of those in her class.

Although the Vincentian teachers may not be able to use computers for lessons in their classrooms right away, Kosowick explained they now will have the skills to continue to develop as a teacher.

In addition to the computer class, Kosowick and her team led workshops on testing and evaluation, science and special education, and differentiated instruction for about 135 teachers.

Workshops about AIDS/HIV, gender equity, and workshop facilitation also were presented.

While in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Kosowick said they were treated like celebrities since education is held in very high regard there. For instance, she and her team were interviewed by the media and were able to visit with the minister of education.

She explained teachers there are not required to join the union, but many were encouraged to after seeing the benefits of being able to participate in workshops like the one Kosowick and her team held.

“I would go back in a heartbeat,” she stressed. “The Caribbean really does get in your blood.”

She did admit she missed having coffee and a glass of milk while she was away, as well as activities like golf.

“There’s not much to do there in the evening—no leisure,” she noted. “But they are the happiest, warm, and welcoming people you’ll ever meet.”

Aside from leading the workshops, Kosowick and her team also were able journey around parts of the country. They even hiked up a volcano and spent some time at the beach.

“The experience gives me a whole new perspective of what teaching in another culture is all about,” she stressed, noting the classes are large and the rooms are bare.

“And they have very few resources and books.”

Kosowick had the opportunity to distribute Canadian children’s books while there, which were donated by her ETFO local.

She also made a contribution to the Boys’ Grammar School (Grades 7-11) on behalf of the staff of Robert Moore School. The money will be used in the area of technology.

“I would definitely recommend this experience to other Canadian teachers,” Kosowick enthused. “You did hard work when you were there, but you also had time to enjoy the island—and you can help a lot of people.”

She added she also made many new friends—not just with her team, but also the teachers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Kosowick would like to participate in the program again, perhaps in another country, but isn’t sure whether she would be selected again.

This year marked the 45th anniversary of “Project Overseas.”

Since 1962, 1,882 Canadian teachers have participated in the program, working with close to 100,000 teachers around the world and enriching the lives of more than three million students.

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