Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Different Kind of Writing

Work and school kept me so busy last week that I didn’t have time to “percolate” or craft a new blog post—either for this blog or for the Union for Reform Judaism’s blog. Of course, just because I wasn’t writing for this venue doesn’t mean I wasn’t writing at all.

In fact, I spent quite a bit of time crafting, among other things, a one-page memo for my MPA graduate school class. This once-a-week course, Communications in Public Settings, focuses on the diffusion of innovation and the role of communications in social change. The professor, a young, energetic and enthusiastic rhetorician, jam packs a lecture, group work, public speaking and discussion and dialogue into each 150-minute session, expecting that we’ll complement it with a significant investment of time in reading, writing and thinking in preparation for the next week’s class. And, for the last few weeks I have been doing just that.

The assignment for this memo, the first written work of the semester, was to select an African country (any one would do) and, using Toulmin-style arguments (a specific, dry, just-the-facts format that includes claims, grounds and warrants), make a case for why this particular country is an ideal site for a pilot project to help it achieve United Nations Millennium Development Goal #2, universal primary education.

So, here’s my memo:

DATE: September 11, 2008
TO: Young, Energetic and Enthusiastic Rhetorician/Professor
FROM: JanetheWriter
SUBJECT: United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #2 pilot site
Since the end of its 11-year civil war in 2002, Sierra Leone (no, I didn't use Wikipedia as a reference for this memo) has been rebuilding its political, economic and educational infrastructure, and positive activity in each of these sectors plays a critical role in making the country an ideal location in which to pilot universal primary education initiatives.

Political stability is returning to Sierra Leone. Parliamentary elections in 2007—the first since the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers in 2005—brought Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People's Congress (APC) into the presidency and returned the country to a 1991 constitutionally-mandated constituency-based system (US Department of State). Local government elections held outside the Western Area in July 2008 were conducted largely without incident, furthering cooperation between local councils and chiefdom authorities that was begun after the first such elections in 2004 (United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone). Stability within a country’s government and support of its political system by citizens contribute significantly to its overall ability to provide services—including primary education—to its populace.

Sierra Leone is recovering from a severe economic collapse in the 1990s. In the mining sector, the economic foundation of the country, diamond exports have increased from $1.2 million in 1999 to $142 million in 2005 and that same year, exports of rutile and bauxite resumed after a 10-year suspension (US Department of State). On the agricultural front, where subsistence farming accounts for more than half of Sierra Leone’s national income, the government is working to provide skills training to farmers and to increase food and cash crops (US Department of State). Development initiatives with neighboring countries and passage of the Investment Promotion Act to attract foreign investors are among other economic-strengthening activities underway (US Department of State). Like political stability, a solid economic base is a key component in a country’s ability to provide adequate resources and education for its citizens.

Restoration of Sierra Leone’s educational system is ongoing, but much work remains. Although the government abolished school fees in 2001 and made primary education compulsory in 2004, 25 to 30% of children remain out of school and only 35% of the population is literate (http://www.actionaid.org/, CIA World Factbook). The student-teacher ratio is 66:1 but, because 40% of the country’s teachers have inadequate qualifications and training, the student to qualified teacher ratio is 112:1 (http://www.actionaid.org/, http://www.education-action.org/). In addition, during the war, 70% of the country’s schools were destroyed or closed; those that have reopened are badly damaged and lack such basic equipment as chairs or benches (http://www.education-action.org/). By further rebuilding its educational infrastructure, Sierra Leone will advance its recovery from civil war and reclaim its stature as a nation whose people are known for their educational attainments.
What do you think? Did I make a strong enough case? Would you select Sierra Leone as the pilot site for MDG #2? Why or why not?

Oy…that sounds like another assignment!