By Mark Payne, University of Sheffield
This was an amazing secondment that saw me hosted by Raul and his team at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB), in Medellín. Medellin is probably one of the most enchanting places you will visit, full of great people, modern infrastructure and a blend of Spanish and Latin American influences that make for a fascinating stay. Raul and his team had organized a full programme for me, with enough some days to fill a dozen blog posts! Here are some of the highlights:
The University campus at UPB is a beautiful oasis in the heart of the city, and the grounds are exquisite, with many protected trees sheltering the buildings and pathways. Moving from building to building is like walking through a well-kept botanical park. I had not really experienced working outside before, with a laptop, fresh fruit and coffee.. but I soon got into it! I was able to run some workshops on language teaching and learning with colleagues from the English Language Centre, and my thanks go to Ruben Cano Blandon for arranging those. And I gave a lecture to English Language teachers on Second Language Acquisition and related pedagogies as part of their continuous professional development, which was very enjoyable.
Raul and I had a number of meetings with various members of the the Literacies in Second Languages Project (LSLP) team, a vibrant body of young researchers: a mix of BA students training to become English Teachers, MA Education students and also practising teachers, all led by the energetic Raul! I was deeply impressed with this team of young scholars, all contributing to and leading on aspects of the various projects, from Makey pedagogies and gaming to multilingual Medellín and indigenous language issues, and all with the confidence to do so on an equal footing.
My visit to Marinilla was undoubtedly a high spot, I was guest of honour of the Mayor Édgar Augusto Villegas Ramírez and town’s Minister of Education, Carlos Mario Gómez, and I am grateful to them and the Town Hall staff for their generosity. The trip was arranged by the dynamic Natalia Salazar, English teacher and teacher trainer, who put together a program of seminars with English language teachers, school visits and an extended visit to Vermont school to visit the nascent Makerspace there (more below). My first day involved a press conference with the Mayor and Minister, TV and radio interviews and a welcome serenade!
This was followed by a guided tour of the town by a group of school pupils and their teacher, with the principal sites explained to me in English.
Marinilla is a traditional small town one hour to the east of Medellin. The centre of the town is a delightful square with a beautiful church, the mayor’s offices opposite and lined with shops and bars. It is a prime spot for relaxing, people watching and sampling the local food and beer!
On a personal level, my Spanish improved immensely. Those that know me know that in a former life I was a German and Spanish teacher. But as they say with languages ‘use it or lose it’ and, truth be told, Spanish has taken a back seat over the last 20 years. Anyway, I was delighted to be able to improve enough to be able to run a 5-hour teachers’ workshop in Marinilla with a mix of English and Spanish.
Vermont school was another highlight, a private school about 30 minutes from Marinilla. I was very well received by the Headteacher, Diego, who is justifiably proud of this lovely school in a lush green setting, with vistas over the valley below. This was my opportunity to visit the new Makerspace in the school and to run a MakEY workshop with the teachers. The Makerspace is well equipped with various hand tools, electronic bits and pieces and is supported by a member of staff with expertise in design and technology.
The staff seminar was very interesting with the main discussion centering on pedagogies of MakEY and various questions were posed: – how much structure should staff bring to the initiative? Is the product actually the most important part of the process? Or is it the process? How do we take regular classroom practices and ‘Makey-fiy’ them? Is Makey in the head – a mental process? Or is it something tangible – embodied in bits of wood, plastic and wire? And for a school like Vermont, that has fee-paying parents to please, how do we explain the seemingly ‘non-tangible’ value of Makey to those parents?
The last day of my stay in Marinilla was a day to remember – teachers’ celebration day! Why don’t we have these in England?! Lots of music, games, drinking and dancing- all in fancy dress representing world cup teams and all hosted by the Mayor, Edgar and the minister of Education, Carlos Mario!
I could write more.. about the cup final between Atlético Nacional of Medellín and Deportes Tolima that Nacional lost narrowly on penalties – take the atmosphere of the Kop end at Sheffield Wednesday and amplify it, and then add some… or the visit to Comuna 13, at one time the most dangerous district of the most dangerous city in the world, now regenerated by the installation of outdoor escalators and a cable car directly from the metro.. or the Medellín square full of statues dedicated to Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist…
I left Medellin with fond memories indeed and an admiration for Colombia and its people. I was deeply impressed with the research work of UPB around language, literacies, linguistics, education and migration and, of course, Makerspaces, and the work they do to address some of the Global North-South imbalances. I wish them all well and look forward to returning!
I returned to the UK in time to see England knock Colombia out of the world cup…!