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The programs are generally divided into three parts (1) the preparation period, (2) the international period, and (3) the follow-up period. The philosophy behind the training program is quite exciting and makes the individual the engine of his or her own education.
Knowledge and information, that for hundreds of years only belonged to the “elite” is now available for a more “common ownership”…the Internet allows information and knowledge to freely pass hands and cross boarders…The time is over for the Teacher that knows it all…So lets throw all the traditional teachers out of the schools, liberate the students and allow them to adapt to these new times and be allowed to start to learn! Some of the very best teachers that we know are called: Curiosity, eagerness, and thirst for knowledge & understanding….This Program is quite a brave attempt to release these forces and count on them as a basic training tool to provide well-trained Development Instructors for the TCE projects in Africa.
Thus, the training programs offered by the Teachers Group generally provides little in the form of formal training and rely on self-directed learning. While potential empowering it also has the effect of relieving the school of much of the responsibility of ensuring quality learning. If someone feels that they are not gaining enough knowledge it is largely cast as their failing. An obvious issue is, If learning is self-directed why need take place at the school? More on that later.
In practice time in the training program is broken down roughly between studies (20%), courses (25%), and experiences (55 %). The exact percentages will vary but all schools divide up the time in this manner. Let’s take a closer look at each.
This includes cultural studies and history of the country you are going. These are primarily self taught or based on another group member’s research and report. In addition one may encounter the Definition modern Means/methods of education (DmM) which is both a technique philosophy and a computer based educational tool.
In general reports on this aspect are not good. A volunteer at IICD-MI (2002) writes:
The DmM which is bragged about being a HUGE database of information which we can learn from, was a HUGE waste of time, EVERYBODY…had stopped doing the DmM system after the second week of training.
Another IICD-MA volunteer notes that some of the studies such as morning assemblies were of dubious value.
It was such a crazy experience. I remember some crazy talks where [the director of IICD-MA] promoted the glories of North Korea, presented a just plain bizarre history of rice cultivation, and argued that Pol Pot wasn’t so bad!! It would have been amusing accepted for the fact that he honestly believe what he was saying.
It is certainly possible to acquaint oneself with the culture and history of a country during this time but since much of the information comes from books or the computer it seems easily substitutable by visiting a public library. Of course there is the possibility of learning from other group members and TG members but there is no way of knowing the level of knowledge and experience that they will have.
According to the CCTG website, courses are things one does together with the group and include sports, group meetings, assemblies, and language training. Language classes are also conduct via the self-taught method and in my opinion present particular problems for people. The TG schools argue:
you cannot expect to become fluent in a language you have never studied before. The goal of language training is to provide you a strong foundation for immersion in the language once you are abroad so that you can quickly learn it through practice and daily interactions with native speakers. (IICD-MA website)
However, the feelings of a volunteer argue that such language training is spotty. As reported by an IICD-MA group in 1991:
The language training at the school was inadequate and poorly conducted. A beginning Spanish class of four members, that we attended, was taught by the leader of our group, …a non-native, non-fluent speaker with a poor grasp of grammatical rules. Often our instructor could not provide us with answers to questions regarding grammar, technique, or usage….We had class five days a week for a scheduled three hour period. Often, however this time was pre-empted by other activities so that the actual time spent in class was much less….If it weren't for one member of our group who is fluent in Spanish, having studied the language intensively and lived for some time in South America and in the Dominican Republic students requiring intermediate language training would not have even had an instructor….The sum total of the resources available for Spanish instruction were a few outdated Spanish textbooks, dog-eared photocopied booklets with dialogues and exercises, and a couple of unlabeled video tapes with newsclips in Spanish.
A similar assessment is made by the IICD-MI (2002) volunteer:
In my school we had nobody who had experience to teach tonga [language spoken in Zambia] and we were being taught by our own fellow volunteer who was learning straight out of the FEW books about tonga in the school…
Of course it is possible to acquire some language skills via this method and once you are immersed in another country it will happen more quickly. However, having studied five languages in a wide range of contexts I feel strongly that the TG model of self-study is the least productive way to acquire language skills, particularly for new speakers. As I’ll argue later, there are many opportunities to learn languages in a structured setting for as little as $100 per week including room and board.
A central part of the training period are experiences, a loosely defined concept that includes fundraising, sports, engaging in physical challenges. The IICD-MA site notes that:
Life experiences are rarely recognized in school's schedules or training. We, however, view experiences - activities and thoughts outside formal curriculum - as a valuable part of education. We encourage you to reflect upon the varied experiences you have at IICD as a means of preparing yourself to be open and alert, and ready to take in and interpret new impressions while you are abroad.
Again the stated purpose of this component is used in other fields, i.e., building self-confidence and team dynamics, it often takes over a lot of the time spent during the training period. As a volunteer from IICD-MI (2000) notes:
95 percent of my time…spent taking care of the building, fundraising, cooking, cleaning, organizing for special events like Family Weekend, a trip to Denmark to see the “real reason we were here”, and an Open House for the neighboring community.
Most of the time is spent on building projects, cooking/cleaning/maintaining the school, fundraising or other activities that don’t really address how to approach the development issue that volunteers face. The TG often argues that these activities build character and help people learn to take on difficult project. There is a point there but at the same time one can learn to work hard and persevere anywhere. There seems little reason to pay for this experience when you can get a job (requiring hard work and perseverance) which will also pay you to gain these life lessons.
One of the biggest realms of experience at TG schools is fundraising and the schools generate between 30 to 60 percent of their revenue from this source. (FINANCE LINK) Fundraising is not a pleasant activity and to their credit the TG schools are generally upfront about the fact that people will be fundraising for the schools. Although the exact figure may change, the amount appears to be between 6,000 and 7,000 dollars gathered largely during the preparation period. For example IICD-MI is quite upfront, “Fundraising is required of all IICD participants.” In addition to financing the organization and keeping tuitions low the IICD-MI websites argues:
Fundraising also enables us to share our message for the need for global action in development, and gives many North Americans the opportunity to contribute to such work in developing countries in a very direct way by telling others about the situation there.. .It also helps our participants to develop communication skills and to verbalize their goals / conviction for the work they will be doing abroad. At the same time you must be patient and endure in the times when reaching your goal is difficult. What makes Fundraising fun and achievable is that it is a "team effort", in which everyone contributes to reaching the goal.
This is actually a rather compelling argument that combines elements of outreach to a large community and the development of personal skills and self-confidence. Any organization needs to ensure its financial survival and while not fun it is a necessary part of many non-profit organizations. However, there are a couple of issues that are worth thinking about.
1. Time spent fund-raising
First, is the amount of time during the preparation period devoted to fundraising. CCTG lists seven weeks out a total of 24 weeks or in other words about 30 percent of the preparation period. The process of fund-raising is time away from studies and is very intense. A former TG member notes:
Everyday up to 10 hours of aggressive street solicitation or door to door canvassing… Everyone has a goal to reach and we are not quitting until all the money is raised. Each person on has to raise $5,600 in seven weeks [this amount varies]
None of is necessarily bad in and of itself but the fund-raising period does represent a considerable amount of the preparation period. A number of participants note that the fundraising overshadows the rest of the training:
The energy of the TG members was clearly on fund-raising and left little time for the…"training" offered and left us fairly unprepared.
This focus on fund-raising at the expense of other aspects of the programs is particularly forcibly evident in a recent case at IICD-MI. Although it is unclear how often this takes place a volunteer at IICD-MI (2002) reports:
My fellow volunteers on the Guatemala team found out that they didn't have a project to go to the DAY they came back from their FINAL fundraising trip…. a project completely crashes and burns that the training schools would at least have some idea that the project was in trouble
While this collapse of the Guatemala program was not directly due to IICD-MI’s actions it was the partner organization, Humana, selected by IICD-MI and staffed by TG members that bore the responsibility. Still IICD-MI did provide the volunteers with refunds of their fees although they kept the registration fees and all the funds raised by the participants.
2. Support of the Schools to the Fundraisers
Another question is the support provided by the TG schools to the students that are fundraising. Although it is not clear how often this is the case there are reports that these canvassing campaign are conducted without first getting permits from the local authorities.
One student was stopped by the police while canvassing for funds in a local town. She was told that IICD had not received authorization for solicitation in that town. When this was reported to the director of the Institute, he angrily told her she should not have stopped canvassing.
While perhaps not particularly serious, this negligence on the part of IICD-MA placed a volunteer in the uncomfortable encounter with the police. In addition, fundraising generally takes place in cities that are at least several hours away from the schools and accommodations consist of whatever the group can arrange for free.
3. What are you fund-raising for?
People may dislike fund-raising but it is clear that it is a good way to gather funds and many people feel that since they are raising money for a good cause it is justified. After all billions of people are living in poverty and millions are dying of AIDs so what are a few weeks of your own personal discomfort? But an important question to ask is…
…How is the money you are fundraising helping people in development countries?
This is less clear because the money raised during the preparation period covers the school's expenses including rent, salaries and expenses of the program including your air fare.
The tax returns filed by IICD-MA and IICD-MI in 1999 and 2000 outline both the source of the schools’ income and its expenses. (FINANCE LINK) Although the amount fluctuates yearly IICD-MA and IICD-MI have derived as much as 43% and 59% of their income from fundraising. The relevant point here is that almost all the expenses relate to running the schools and sending people abroad rather than direct aid to development projects. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this but one should be honest in that the end result of your fund-raising $6,000 is six months of your time in a developing country context where average annual incomes are measured in hundreds of dollars.
Let me be clear. I am NOT suggesting that there isn’t value in people from the US and industrialized countries going to Africa, Asia and Latin America and working on projects. However, two of the big and direct beneficiaries of the fund-raising is the person doing the fund-raising who gets to go abroad, and the TG schools which get to pay their mortgage and staff. As a fund-raiser you have a moral responsibility to the people from whom you are soliciting funds to ensure that something valuable comes from your six months abroad. Unfortunately, as I outline in the international section there are serious concerns with the viability and value of TG projects.
To conclude, I believe that one really does not gets much training or valuable experience in the preparation period at a TG school for the time spent and the money you pay and solicit from people on the street. As a former volunteer notes:
Volunteers need to bring $5,000 and fundraise another $6,000 because that’s what it costs to train, vaccinate, provide health insurance, purchase flights, feed, pay rent for a group of DIs. This is also a bunch of you-know-what. First of all they don’t train us. Second of all they have a budget of $3/day for food. This buys the lowest quality food. So why are we there? Why does IICD exist? Well, good question. If they don’t train us, why do we need to pay rent and eat lousy food for 5 ˝ months? Why don’t we just get vaccinated and go?
I think this argument is one of the strongest against not participating in the preparation period. As I outline in the alternatives section you can take the same amount of time, spend studying and preparing on your own, meet interesting folks and form tight friendships, travel to distant locations and find ways to make a difference without a TG school. It’s a lot easier than you think.
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