Friday, December 31, 2010

Momma Bean's 2011 Resolutions

Okay, so this year has been up and down. I'm closing out the old year with some commitments to my three dear readers (are all three of you even there anymore?!). So, here goes. I'm a fan of nice small numbers so I'm only going to have 3 resolutions:

  1. Blog one a week (ish): I have to leave a little wiggle room anyway...
  2. Say something that I love about Jordan in every post
  3. Count my blessings with all of my dear readers, not just in my heart!
That's got it. That's Momma Bean's plans for the new year. Here's hoping you all set manageable and realistic resolutions and keep them. And here's hoping I manage to keep mine!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I am SO embarrassed for Arab Bank

So, I just finished going to the bank. You rarely see me post anything about this because I avoid the banks in Jordan like the plague. For those outside Jordan, there are drive-up tellers or other things to make life easier. You actually have to go and sit at the branch to do teller functions. And when I say sit, I mean sit. Typically going to an Arab Bank branch takes between 30 and 45 minutes. I know, right? It takes 30 minutes to go to the bank. Oh, and add to that the fact that their luxuriously long hours occur only when people are working. So, in order to go to the bank, you have to take time off work. Imagine...

At any rate, today I had to go to the bank to get dollars. This isn't something that I can do at an ATM. I can get dinars, but not dollars (as is logical). El 3atal would have done it, but he discovered the need on the weekend... when the bank is closed. So, I get left to do it. So, I headed out just before 11 to take care of the matter. Expecting a short wait (I was hoping for 15 or 20 minutes as has occurred upon occasion), I took a number and sat... and sat... and sat. Today's extravaganza took an hour. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I waited 55 minutes and then took 5 minutes to get the cash I needed.

When I arrived and took a number, I got number 97. Exciting. When I sat down and look around, I realized they were on number 83. Uh-oh. I could see the trouble brewing. Now, ask me why it only took an hour... come on, ask me. It only took an hour because fully 50% of the people with numbers between 83 and 97 gave up and left. Really, half the folks went away. I don't know if they went to another branch, resolved to try again another day, or resorted to more extreme measures to get done what they needed to get done. So, I sat for an hour for them to cover 6 or so numbers.

Now, you may be wondering why they took so long. Is their process broken? Are they inefficient? Were they distracted? Were there too few tellers? Yes. Yes to all of the above. Their processes appear to have come out of the last century. You are required to swear in blood that you are who you say you are (slight exaggeration, but not a huge one). You have to sign the withdrawal slip 3 times. Literally 3 times. And they have to click on the computer for several minutes. But, that's only if you're doing the simple 5 minute withdrawal. Most of the people in the line required far more intervention. One fellow, a Saudi I'm fairly certain based on his dress, took at least 30 minutes. And when she finally finished processing his needs (you could tell by the relief and how anxious she was to push the button calling up the next customer), he asked for something else that took 10 more minutes.

Now, when I arrived in the bank and sat down, there were approximately 15 people sitting and waiting. To help those 15 people, they had 2 tellers. Yes, 2 tellers. There was a third who seemed to help when he wasn't processing large cash deposits from businesses. So, they had too few tellers given the 40 minute Saudi problem. In effect, there were 2 tellers who were trying their best and being stuck in molasses by customers with needs that actually should have a "going to take an hour" counter ;). They also had 3 people that you could see who were not serving customers at all. One eventually started helping the people with the other numbers (no idea what they were as it was in Arabic only and I have no idea what it said). But that wasn't until at least 25 minutes into my wait... She didn't handle a single number before that. I guess the attitude was sucks to be you?

Seriously, today's trip to the bank was beyond belief. As a result, in true MommaBean fashion, I asked to speak with the branch manager. I had to ask her if she was as embarrassed for her bank as I am. When I first asked after her, the girl at the information desk told me her office is on the first floor, you can go see her. I asked her to have the manager come down (duh). She did. Giving credit where it is due, the manager was absolutely as nice as she could be (as was the teller she was very friendly, smiling, and professional). I do think she was embarrassed as well. Maybe not at the wait, but at the fact that a customer would actually complain to her, teehee. She explained that they were a teller down because of an emergency situation and she had asked management for support and additional tellers. I presume they didn't come through. Management, you should definitely be embarrassed. And then she made the offer that those of us in Jordan are often familiar with... if you come again and are in a hurry, you can come to my office and I'll take care of it.

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, if how mediocrity is embraced. If you're the minor percentage of customers who actually expects decent and timely service, come to my office on an exception basis and we'll get you taken care of quickly. Now, really, is that any solution to fixing a broken set of processes and hiring more staff? Given Arab Bank's profits every year, I think they can hire another minimum age drone (not that there's a minimum wage, I wouldn't have any idea, but you get the point). So, for me, I'll continue to avoid the bank like the plague that it is. I rarely have the time to go and just sit and waste a day. And I'll dream of the day when mediocre isn't good enough, not because the customer complains but because inside ourselves we believe that we owe it to US to deliver the best. That's my dream for Jordan.

Happy waiting for quality!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Is America REALLY being out-taught? How valid is it to measure school performance based on math?

A friend posted this article today (today being more than a week ago now... sigh) to their Facebook account and the headline caught my eye: "Your Child Left Behind". Well, that says it all doesn't it? Or does it? Given the headline, I had to give it a look-see. It is actually quite an interesting article. It discusses a study undertaken to determine whether parents' claims that cross-country measurements are inaccurate because America is just so diverse. Basically, they looked at the percentages of top-performing students in math in various countries and ranked them.

Adding an unusual twist, the folks who did the study actually took each US state separately and ranked it against the countries of the world. For those of you who are not aware, US states each run their own educational system. There isn't common standardization about what is learned by whom at what age. There is also no standardization on who can teach and what qualifications they must have. And, given the size of the US (Jordan is about the same size as a smallish US state, say Indiana) and the fact that there are effectively 48 contiguous states the size of countries, you can't really compare all of the US to any other single country.

It's pretty interesting to see the states ranked against other countries. The first thing I noticed was that my home state, Alabama, outperformed only a small handful of states. This has been the story of life since I've been alive pretty much. Alabama is typically ranked number 47 with the other two jockeying for number 49... Sigh. It is sandwiched (along with Oklahoma) between Serbia and Bulgaria at the bottom of the overall list. If you'd like to see the graph, you can find it here.

Now, I was actually looking at the list while thinking about how much more focus Jordan places on pushing math. Using the national curriculum, the Beans are doing math that I didn't start until at least 2 years later. I've noticed that they have a strong focus on math and push, push, push. Having spent some time observing college graduates in Jordan, I have definite thoughts on the shortcomings of the educational system here. Much lamented by wide swathes of the community, Jordan fails to prepare students for using creativity, critical reasoning, thinking and applying concepts. So, the focus on math comes at the expense of other topics. So, this focus on math should translate into better overall performance on a math-based comparison like this one, right? Well, actually not really. Jordan was one of the countries noted as falling below the measurable percentage. So, all the focus apparently isn't translating into the desired results.

But I guess what I really spend time thinking about are the areas where America has traditionally NOT been out-taught. I mean, so much lip service is given to the fact that students in Japan are so far ahead (in math at least). Excellent, so that means that Japan's superior educational system (presumably) has turned out graduates who are taking the world by storm, right? Hmmm... not so much. Like the US, Japan has had wins and losses. However, while we see lots of operational or numerical leadership, we often see little creative leadership.

So, spending time in another country broadens horizons and shows me areas that need supplementing. In Jordan, the country needs a good dose of creative thinking. They need the opportunity to develop innovative skills. While societally people are good at copying, little true innovation goes on. I'd love to see more and more of this. My experience this year with NaNoWriMo has convinced me that it is an area ripe for integration into Jordan's school system. And, while some schools utilized the Young Writer's Program at the high school level, I'm thinking that we need to start at the elementary level. That's my next goal, spreading the power of the written word into schools across Jordan. How will I do that? Ah, I'll keep you posted!

Happy Teaching!