September 21, 2017
Peter Sirois and Jim Skinner of the Business School recently returned from an assignment in Ethiopia where the year is 2010. Not only do Ethiopians have a different calendar from ours, (theirs has thirteen months) but the clock is different as well. In Ethiopia, 1:00 AM is what we’d call 7:00 AM, because their clock cycle starts at our 6:00 AM (which is around dawn) and goes to 6:00 PM (dusk) which is 12:00 for them. Confusing? “Not really,” says Skinner “because the Ethiopians are very accommodating to our customs and generally translate the time into one that makes sense for us.”
He and Sirois were delivering training workshops on “the teaching of entrepreneurship” for instructors in the Ethiopian college system. In an attempt to modernize the economy, the Ethiopian government wants all college graduates to be trained in starting up their own businesses. However, this is a huge challenge for the many instructors charged with this task, since they have little entrepreneurial training or experience themselves. As well, instructional materials are in short supply and many of the rural areas still lack reliable broad band service. But Sirois points out that “what they lack in resources, they more than make up for with enthusiasm and hard work.”
The Business School at Humber was a natural choice for this project since it has a long history of preparing colleges in developing countries to deliver entrepreneurship training. Humber has successfully conducted many of these programs in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. So, was Ethiopia different? “Yes and No,” Sirois and Skinner agree.
Instructors in Ethiopia are accustomed to using lecture-based teaching methods, often with instructors writing notes on the board and students copying. In the rural areas of Ethiopia, which, for the most part, contain a large portion of the population, teachers have limited I.T resources at their disposal. Sirois and Skinner’s challenge was to use the martials they had at their disposal, as well as using more interactive teaching techniques to engage the students.
In this regard, the two professors feel they were successful. They taught multi-layered workshops that combined lectures, lessons and discussions about teaching entrepreneurship with interactive instructional activities that engaged students. The enthusiasm of the students was very apparent, as they would frequently volunteer answers and comments and displayed great joy and humor during interactive activities.
Sirois and Skinner also discovered that returning to the year 2017 was an adventure in itself: "The environment is unique, partly because of the altitude,” says Skinner. “Addis Ababa is around 8,000 feet so you can get a direct flight in there from Toronto, but coming back, if the plane had enough fuel to get to Toronto, it would be too heavy to take off in the thin Addis air. So all flights home go through London or one of the European hubs, in order to refuel.”
On the other hand, Sirois points out, “The people of Ethiopia are pretty much the same as people everywhere else in the world.” Even if they are living in 2010.