I’m really happy that Malala has won the peace prize, even if I had my money on Vladmir. Hey, when I was seventeen, all I could worry about was looking fat. Gendered problems all the same, but on the scale of feminism, more Emma Watson than Malala.
But I was fortunate enough to be born in a country where we shoot ourselves in the head so the Taliban don’t need to; where both girls and boys go to school, eat organic, have lovely teeth and get good enough marks to put Finland on top of the PISA education league tables, year on year. So as any mother would do, I’ve sold our things and moved to a country that has the poorest education out of all OECD countries, just behind Azerbaijan.
So is it a surprise that my first consultancy request is to run a mini workshop on the Finnish educational system. The request comes from Iquitos, Loreto, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest and one that you can reach only by air or boat. I know I was the one pretending to be busy whenever there was a risk of being sent on a consultancy somewhere you couldn’t access by the Northern Line, but that doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate to drop everything you’re doing and go WICKED WICKED JUNGLE IS MASSIVE. (Watching Ali G with your 6-year-old is. Unless it’s done to maintain your cultural links to the Commonwealth.)
In my response email, I caveated my experience like no-one in possession of a Y-chromosome ever would, and suggested an agenda for the workshop. They were thrilled. I was exactly what they were looking for in this region that suffers from the poorest quality education in the country. I was the one to change this and train 400 teachers in 100 hours over two months.
Either Mr Rainforest is in lala land or something in my management consultancy CV gave the impression that compressing the five year Finnish teacher training into a two month course in the middle of the rain forest was my special competency. Was it the bit about operationalising payment by results to maximise value for money and optimal yet measurable and demonstrable outcomes in an effective, efficient and transparent manner while engaging and empowering project stakeholders, at the baseline and going forward? Need to re-word that. Again.
Deploying the same rigorous due diligence methods known to bluechip consulting outfits, DP then googled the prospective client, which hadn’t occurred to me yet. It revealed that he had been on trial for paying for sex with an underaged girl. I started rewriting the agenda. Item 1: No sexual abusing of the pupils, paid or otherwise. Never. Item 2: the pillar of success of the Finnish educational system – all teachers are university educated with a post-graduate degree. Lunch.
But I decided to give it a benefit of a doubt – we’re after all in Peru, where it’s easier to buy the justice system than sugar free yogurt. Let’s be professional about it i.e. I need the money; and when before have I been promised “a team of psychologists to help because the atmosphere in Loreto is special,” despite the fact that in my experience the atmosphere is always a bit special from the moment management consultants arrive.
I email Mr Rainforest – so perhaps you are not looking for 100 hours introduction to the educational policy in Northern Europe, but a course in pedagogy. Which I’m not qualified to do, so best we meet or have a phone call to clarify the project objectives. In the meantime, if you could kindly tell me about the project…such as who it is funded and managed by?
To this email I didn’t get a response – and DP told me to forget it. But nearly a week later:
“It probably wasn’t a good idea to tell you about the reality of the educational level in Iquitos. But this is the truth and we want to change this little by little. We want to be taught to apply the Finnish educational system in our class rooms. Do not worry, we will find a specialist who is willing to do this. I profusely apologise for bothering you.”
Today I woke up convinced that I’d been in Peru a month longer than I actually have. I don’t think even a hundred hour workshop could have prepared me for all this insanity. To all my Facebook friends who are sick of seeing me wearing lycra at sunrise: running is no longer a hobby, it’s a lifeline. Because it really says something, if the sanest, most normal people I’ve met here are the ones who get up at 4am on a Saturday to drive 50km out of town to then run 7.5km uphill. And then for the fun of it, run it up all again. Booyaka booyaka.
If anyone is interested in an education consultancy, all expenses covered, a team of psychologists included and good prospects for a Nobel prize, send your CV and cover letter to the author.