When Nature Speaks … Wildlife. Be calm. Love an elephant. What everybody should know about these gentle giants.



That is … until you see them return to
the lands and vegetation we have
encroached into, when we settled in their habitat.

When elephants leave their habitats for
their watering holes, for however long,
it does not mean they have resettled.

And so, it becomes hard for us to
imagine the way a child intuitively
understands these gentle giants.  Instead, …

When we think of elephants, we conjure up
images of majesty and aggression!


  1. Introduction
  2. Basic Facts about elephants
    • The impact elephants have on the ecology
    • Historical reasons for the demise of elephants
    • What is fuelling human’s obsession for hunting?
    • Why men trophy hunt?
    • About the elephants
    • About the tusk
    • About the poachers and the trade
    • About the end consumer
  5. Beijing master ivory carvers cling to their trade
  6. Who is the silent voice and what does it say?

Population. At the turn of the 20th century, there were a few million African elephants and about 100,000 Asian elephants. Today, there are an estimated 450,000 – 700,000 African elephants and between 35,000 – 40,000 wild Asian elephants.  Most captives are endangered Asian elephants; African bush elephants and African forest elephants are less amenable to training.  Animal rights organizations estimate there are 15,000 to 20,000 elephants in captivity worldwide. That brings the total number of elephants today to about 500,000.   Half a million.

The real question is, what would you do if it had been the global human population that has been decimated by up to three quarters of its numbers by another species?  And you are left with a quarter of you!




Elephants are among the most intelligent of the creatures with whom we share the planet, with complex consciousnesses that are capable of strong emotions.  Across Africa they have inspired respect from the people that share the landscape with them, giving them a strong cultural significance.  As icons of the continent elephants are tourism magnets, attracting funding that helps protect wilderness areas.  They are also keystone species, playing an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live.

Attribution:  http://www.savetheelephants.org/about-elephants-2-3-2/importance-of-elephants/


What is the spiritual meaning of an elephant?

Symbolic Elephant Meaning. … Symbolic elephant meaning deals primarily with strength, honor, stability and tenacity, among other attributes.  To the Hindu way of thought, the elephant is found in the form of Ganesha who is the god of luck, fortune, protection and is a blessing upon all new projects.


What does elephant symbolize?

Many African cultures revere the African Elephant as a symbol of strength and power.  It is also praised for its size, longevity, stamina, mental faculties, cooperative spirit, and loyalty.  South Africa, uses elephant tusks in their coat of arms to represent wisdom, strength, moderation and eternity.



What hunts the elephant?

Elephants generally do not have predators (animals that eat them) due to their massive size. Newborn elephants are however vulnerable to attacks from lions,tigers, and hyenas. The biggest danger to elephants are humans; elephants have been hunted for their tusks to near extinction in some cases.Oct 8, 2015

Yet, today they stand at the brink on its way of being wiped out.  Paving the way for the last man standing.  The man.

Yet, did you know that ….


As you read the article, notice the elephant (what we know about them: the facts, the emotions, the money trail, the larger-than-life images this animal conjures in our minds) that this majestic animal has brought into the room … and then, notice what is the “elephant that is not in the room”?

What do you think that is?  There right there, is our leverage.



Habitat loss is one of the key threats facing elephants. Many climate change projections indicate that key portions of elephants’ habitat will become significantly hotter and drier, resulting in poorer foraging conditions and threatening calf survival. Increasing conflict with human populations taking over more and more elephant habitat and poaching for ivory are additional threats that are placing the elephant’s future at risk.

Elephant, © Geoff Hall


© Geoff Hall

Defenders of Wildlife is working through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to maintain a ban on the sale of ivory as well as on regulations that govern worldwide elephant protection.

Of the two species, African elephants are divided into two subspecies (savannah and forest), while the Asian elephant is divided into four subspecies (Sri Lankan, Indian, Sumatran and Borneo). Asian elephants have been very important to Asian culture for thousands of years – they have been domesticated and are used for religious festivals, transportation and to move heavy objects.


Staples: Grasses, leaves, bamboo, bark, roots. Elephants are also known to eat crops like banana and sugarcane which are grown by farmers. Adult elephants eat 300-400 lbs of food per day.


At the turn of the 20th century, there were a few million African elephants and about 100,000 Asian elephants. Today, there are an estimated 450,000 – 700,000 African elephants and between 35,000 – 40,000 wild Asian elephants.


African savannah elephants are found in savannah zones in 37 countries south of the Sahara Desert. African forest elephants inhabit the dense rainforests of west and central Africa. The Asian elephant is found in India, Sri Lanka, China and much of Southeast Asia.


Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups of related females called a herd. The herd is led by the oldest and often largest female in the herd, called a matriarch. Herds consist of 8-100 individuals depending on terrain and family size. When a calf is born, it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd. Males leave the family unit between the ages of 12-15 and may lead solitary lives or live temporarily with other males.

Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and have memories that span many years. It is this memory that serves matriarchs well during dry seasons when they need to guide their herds, sometimes for tens of miles, to watering holes that they remember from the past. They also display signs of grief, joy, anger and play.

Recent discoveries have shown that elephants can communicate over long distances by producing a sub-sonic rumble that can travel over the ground faster than sound through air. Other elephants receive the messages through the sensitive skin on their feet and trunks. It is believed that this is how potential mates and social groups communicate.


Mating Season: Mostly during the rainy season.

Gestation: 22 months.
Litter size: 1 calf (twins rare).
Calves weigh between 200-250 lbs at birth. At birth, a calf’s trunk has no muscle tone, therefore it will suckle through its mouth. It takes several months for a calf to gain full control of its trunk.

Abstract from: https://defenders.org/elephant/basic-facts


The Impact Elephants have on the Ecology

Elephants are the keystone species of their habitat.

The planet earth is inhabited by diverse array of living organisms such as microorganisms, plants, animals and human beings which collectively constitute the biodiversity.  Each and every element of the living component of the system has its own role, either positive or negative, to play as a system component. So preservation and conservation of living organisms, whether they are tiny or large, become immense important in playing beneficial role in maintaining biodiversity.

Mega-herbivorous animal such as elephant has major impact on the terrestrial ecosystems in which they live and thus on the animals that depend on these habitats.  Elephant can be referred as “keystone species” because it facilitates:

    • Feeding by other herbivores that disperse seeds and supports large assemblages of invertebrates, such as dung beetles, and


    • Lower plants such as algae and fungi apart from enriching soil nutrients through dung piles.


    • These algae and fungi are preferred nutrient plants for some reptiles such as monitor lizard and star tortoise in the semiarid tropical forests.


    • Dung beetle accumulation attracts many insectivorous birds.


    • Dung deposition into water holes is being benefited to the Pisces and amphibians.


  • Wherever they live, elephants leave dung that is full of seeds from the many plants they eat. When this dung is deposited the seeds are sown and grow into new grasses, bushes and trees, boosting the health of the savannah ecosystem.
  • Seed dispersal through alimentary canal induces germination and survival capacity of the seedlings to maintain the forest heterogeneity; some species rely entirely upon elephants for seed dispersal.

Elephant also does some of the silvicultural practices such as

  • Creation of paths in dense forest.  When forest elephants eat, they create gaps in the vegetation. These gaps allow new plants to grow and create pathways for other smaller animals to use.
  • On the savannahs, elephants feeding on tree sprouts and shrubs help to keep the plains open and able to support the plains game that inhabit these ecosystems.
  • Maintenance of grazing lawns and height of the trees and thinning in thick vegetation cover to keep the sustainable utility of the forest.
  • Identification of subsoil water and natural salt licks through elephants’ strong sense is also shared by the other animals especially the herbivores for which intake of minerals from the natural soil is most important for many physiological activities.
  • During the dry season, elephants use their tusks to dig for water. This not only allows the elephants to survive in dry environments and when droughts strike, but also provides water for other animals that share harsh habitats.

The pachyderm (a very large mammal with thick skin, especially an elephant, rhinoceros, or hippopotamus) is under severe threat due to various conservation problems such as loss of habitat (see example below that of forest cover in Sumatra), habitat quality and corridors, reduction of home range, population increase, impact of developmental activities, human-elephant conflict issues and poaching for ivory.  Among the factors, some of them may be responsible for major proportions, and some of them involve less proportion.  But these are the reasons listed as conservation problems for the long-run conservation of elephants.

Abstract from: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-10-6605-4_16




Historically, trade and capture are responsible for elephants’ demise

Since the Proboscidea originated 60 million years ago, the order has included some 10 families, 45 genera and 185 species and subspecies, in a spectacular diversity of forms.  The African (Loxodonta africana and Loxodonta cyclotis) and Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) existing today are the sole remnants of that remarkable evolutionary radiation.  Representing a tiny fraction of their former numbers, the living elephants survive in only small pockets of the land they once roamed.  In many areas elephant populations have already gone extinct or are highly endangered.

Over centuries legal and illegal hunting (“poaching”) for the commercial ivory trade and, in Asia, the capture of elephants for human use, have been largely responsible for the elephant’s demise.  The number of wild Asian elephants now comprise less than a tenth of all remaining elephants, and continue to decline in shrinking habitat.  In Africa, elephants once inhabited the entire continent, from the Mediterranean down to its southern tip, but the ivory trade coupled with human expansion caused a continental decline in their numbers.  By circa 1600 North Africa was devoid of elephants. In modern Africa, poaching for ivory has been fuelled by poverty, political instability and civil unrest coupled with the easy availability of arms.  In recent history, between 1979 and 1989, Africa’s elephants underwent a dramatic and devastating decline, falling from approximately 1.3 million animals to an estimated 609,000. Human greed and rising prices of ivory were responsible for the appalling slaughter.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are imperiled by poaching and habitat loss.  Despite global attention to the plight of elephants, their population sizes and trends are uncertain or unknown over much of Africa.  To conserve this iconic species, conservationists need timely, accurate data on elephant populations.

Abstract from: https://www.elephantvoices.org/threats-to-elephants/-killed-for-their-ivory.html

There is an estimated population of 352,271 savannah elephants on study sites in 18 countries, representing approximately 93% of all savannah elephants in those countries.  Elephant populations in survey areas with historical data show it has decreased by an estimated 144,000 from 2007 to 2014, and populations are currently shrinking by 8% per year continent-wide, primarily due to poaching.  Though 84% of elephants occurred in protected areas, many protected areas had carcass ratios that indicated high levels of elephant mortality.  Results of the GEC show the necessity of action to end the African elephants’ downward trajectory by preventing poaching and protecting habitat.

Abstract from: https://peerj.com/articles/2354/


What is fuelling the obsession of trophy hunting poaching?

Why are savagery and violence so omnipresent among humans?
We suggest that hunting behaviour is fascinating and attractive, a desire that makes temporary deprivation from physical needs, pain, sweat, blood, and ultimately the willingness to kill tolerable and even appetitive.
Evolutionary development into the “perversion” of the urge to hunt humans, that is to say the transfer of this hunt to members of one’s own species, has been nurtured by the resultant advantage of personal and social power and dominance.  While breakdown of the inhibition towards intra-specific killing would endanger any animal species, controlled inhibition was enabled in humans in that higher regulatory systems, such as frontal lobe-based executive functions, prevent the involuntary derailment of hunting behaviour.
If this control – such as in child soldiers for example – is not learnt, the brutality towards humans remains fascinating and appealing.  Blood must flow in order to kill.  It is hence an appetitive cue as is the struggling of the victim.
Hunting for men, more rarely for women, is fascinating and emotionally arousing with the parallel release of testosterone, serotonin and endorphins, which can produce feelings of euphoria and alleviate pain. Bonding and social rites (e.g. initiation) set up the contraints for both hunting and violent disputes.  Children learn which conditions legitimate aggressive behaviour and which not.  Big game hunting as well as attack of other communities is more successful in groups – men also perceive it as more pleasurable.  This may explain the fascination with gladiatorial combat, violent computer games but also ritualized forms like football.
(Blog Author’s Note:  And as such conjures notions such as the “last man standing”  must necessarily therefore mean someone is more strong or witty than the rest who did not stay around to remain standing as he could.  Therefore, as such (in conclusion) no one, not his mother or his wife say he is ‘therefore not man enough’ for her.)



Prominent evolutionary anthropologists (Brian Codding and Kristen Hawkes from the University of Utah) have studied hunter-gatherer populations for decades.

Interestingly, analyses of the types of animals hunter-gatherer men target are very similar in that they are often the largest animals in the landscape.  Importantly, they are also animals with high ‘failure rates’.  That is, men are likely to come home empty handed from hunting.  This is very different from women hunters, who target smaller animals that they are more assured to acquire and bring home as food.

On that hunt, on a lake outside Tampa, I met Jay, a hugely successful New York photographer and author, who said, “I watched Romancing The Stone as a kid. In the movie, Michael Douglas kills a crocodile and turns it into a pair of cowboy boots. That’s what I’m here. I want to wear a pair of cowboy boots and to be able to say to my friends, ‘I killed these’”.

And kill them he did, from a flat-bottomed boat after he first harpooned it with a buoy tied to a rope so it couldn’t swim away, making Jay holler “this is like something out of Jaws!”

Men who target these large, difficult-to-acquire animals, therefore, signal to others that they can absorb the costs of an inefficient behaviour.  It signals that they have high-quality underlying mental and physical characteristics to be able to absorb such costs.

This ‘costly signalling’ to which it’s referred in the evolutionary literature, provides a way for men to accrue status. And status is universally important for men to ward off competition and attract mates. (I’ll note here that hunter-gatherer populations consume the animals they kill, unlike most trophy hunters.  In no way do I advocate any opposition to the ways in which Indigenous peoples earn their livelihood).

What are your major messages?

We believe this ‘costly signalling’ model applies equally well to trophy hunters from the developed world. By paying big bucks to trophy hunt, or even forgoing smaller individuals within populations to wait for chances at the very biggest, imposes costs on trophy hunters. And it’s prestigious to signal that you can absorb these costs.  In other words, trophy hunters, whether they realize it or not, are likely hunting for status.  It’s like driving a luxury car, though in this case the lives of animals are taken.

How do your findings extend and differ from what others have written about trophy hunting?

People, including me, were confused as to why men do this.  Are they sick in the head? Bloodthirsty?  Some believe that these are appropriate terms.  For me, this evolutionary explanation goes deeper and asked, why did this behaviour evolve?  We think we offer a good explanation.

Some might argue, ‘Well, if this is natural behaviour, then it’s justified’.  I believe this is a dangerous argument referred to as the naturalistic fallacy.   My colleague and mentor, Dr. Paul Paquet of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, makes this abundantly clear by reminding us, “Trophy hunting can neither be justified for being natural nor as an aid to help populations, given the enormous costs paid by individual animals – their lives.”

How might one apply what you found to put a stop to this reprehensible practice that some claim they do “in the name of conservation”?

One interesting observation post-Cecil (the lion’s death by trophy hunting) is that demand for lion hunting has declined owing to prohibitions on transporting the remains on planes, etc.  If hunters cannot bring the trophies home to boast with, then they have no costly signal.




The Elephant

How many elephants are killed by poachers every year?

100 Elephants are killed per day.  The U.N. says up to 100 elephants are being slaughtered a day in Africa by poachers taking part in the illegal ivory trade.  Mar 19, 2015.

How many wild elephants are left in the world?

Population at the turn of the 20th century, there were a few million African elephants and about 100,000 Asian elephants.  Today, there are an estimated 450,000 – 700,000 African elephants and between 35,000 – 40,000 wild Asian elephants.  That is a third or less than a third or even by as much as a quarter of the population of elephants that existed at the turn of the last century.  Three-quarters of them have disappeared effectively.

Endangered Asian elephants

Asian elephants are even more endangered than African elephants — but the threat isn’t poaching so much as human encroachment. The Asian species is smaller than the African, and none of the females and only some of the males have tusks. While some are hunted for ivory or meat, most of the Asian elephants taken from the wild are not killed, but domesticated for zoos, safari tourism, or timber hauling. There are only about 30,000 remaining wild Asian elephants, while 15,000 live in captivity. The wild herds in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand are dwindling, too, as human development shrinks their habitat. Many populations are now cut off from migration routes and forced to inbreed.

Abstract from: http://theweek.com/articles/449437/tragic-price-ivory

The Tusk

What Exactly Is an Elephant Tusk?

An elephant’s tusk is a tooth. It’s an elongated incisor, one-third of which is embedded into the elephant’s skull. The tusk is made up of nerve endings and pulp matter, and removal is deadly.

Elephants use their tusks in a variety of ways. They are used to protect themselves and their herd from predators, and elephants can even use their tusks for digging water holes. However, elephants are also anintegral part of the environment. They are sometimes referred to as “mega gardeners,” and without them, hundreds of animal and plant species would cease to exist as well.

Why are Elephants Killed for Their Tusks?

Up to 70 percent of ivory poached goes to China, where half a kilogram of it can sell for as much as 1,000 U.S. dollars. This increase in demand has been fueled by the growth of a middle class in China.  People can now afford the material that they have grown up believing is better than diamonds.

Do Elephant Tusks fall off?

Tusks are specialized teeth and elephants have only one set that continue growing throughout the elephant’s life. They are sometimes broken off as a result of natural movements, such as digging and sparring with other elephants. If a tusk is not broken off at its root, then yes- the tusk will continue to grow.Feb 2, 2010

Can you cut off an Elephant’s Tusks without killing it?

A tusk can be removed without killing the elephant. … But poachers use darts, poison and high-powered automatic rifles with night scopes to take elephants down and, while they are dying, the tusks are gouged out of from the living elephant’s skull. Jul 30, 2014

The Poacher & The Trade

How much is a pound of Ivory worth?

Ivory fetched prices as much as $1,500 per pound due to demand in Asia, where elephant tusks are ornately carved into art.Jun 2, 2016

Poachers kill elephants for their valuable tusks — a single pound of ivory can sell for $1,500, and tusks can weigh 250 pounds.  That is USD375,000 (or just over a 1/3 million dollars) per tusk!  Nov 7, 2016

How extensive is the poaching?

Poachers are now slaughtering up to 35,000 of the estimated 500,000 African elephants every year for their tusks. A single male elephant’s two tusks can weigh more than 250 pounds, with a pound of ivory fetching as much as $1,500 on the black market. The ivory is so valuable because all across Asia — particularly in China — ivory figurines are given as traditional gifts, and ivory chopsticks, hair ornaments, and jewelry are highly prized luxuries. “China regards ivory as a cultural heritage; they are not going to ban it,” said Grace Gabriel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Many Chinese consumers don’t realize that elephants must be killed for their ivory; in one survey, more than two thirds of Chinese respondents said they thought tusks grew back like fingernails.

What impact has the slaughter had on the elephants?

Elephants are highly intelligent, social creatures that live in matriarchal groups, and poaching has ravaged much of their social structure. The biggest tusks are found on the largest breeding males and on the oldest females, who lead the elephant troops.  Where these animals are targeted and killed, elephant populations are reduced to leaderless groups of traumatized orphans huddling together. In the past year, even they are being wiped out, as some poachers have started dumping cyanide into watering holes, killing every animal that drinks there.  Last year, poachers killed an estimated 300 elephants in Zimbabwe’s largest park, Hwange, by lacing watering holes and salt licks with cyanide.  To read more about the impact poaching of elephants have had on Botswana, more here.

Who are the poachers?

Since the industry is illegal, those who run it largely come from criminal syndicates or terrorist organizations. Al-Shabab, the Somalia-based wing of al Qaida, raises $600,000 a month from poaching to fund its activities. Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, the rebel group notorious for enslaving children, also raises money through poaching. “Poaching has become one of the most profitable criminal activities there is,” says Peter Seligmann, the CEO of Conservation International. Chinese mafia organizations mostly do the purchasing and distribution of ivory after it’s been obtained, selling it mostly in China and Southeast Asia but sometimes to markets in the U.S.

Why is the price so high?

When ivory became contraband, the supply got scarcer, but demand remained strong.  In 1989, the international community passed a global ban on the trade in new ivory to stop the killing of elephants. Only ivory that had been harvested before 1989 could be sold, so the ivory carving industry in China crumbled, and with it the demand for tusks.  Elephant populations rebounded — so much so that in 1999 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a global organization, decided to allow a “one-off” sale of pre-ban, stockpiled ivory to Japan (what did we not say here?).

Then in 2008 it authorized another “one-off”sale, this time to Japanese and Chinesemarkets. The Chinese carving industry roared back to life, as the Chinese government licensed dozens of carving factories and retail outlets. Since there’s no way to distinguish between pre-ban and new ivory, the illegal ivory trade has accelerated to meet the demand, and poaching is now worse than before the global ban.

(REUTERS/James Akena)

What steps are being taken to stop poaching?

Under pressure from some member nations, CITES refuses to institute a complete ban on the ivory trade.  But the U.S. is taking its own measures. The U.S. is the second-biggest ivory market, after China.  In a symbolic gesture last fall, U.S. officials smashed 6 tons of contraband ivory, including tusks and carvings, that had been seized from smugglers or confiscated from unwitting tourists. And in February, the Obama administration announced it would change regulations to ban interstate sales of all ivory except certified antiques, limit elephant trophy imports to two per hunter, and end commercial imports of antique ivory.

Is China cooperating?

Following the U.S.’s ivory crush, the Chinese government destroyed 6 tons this January, and Hong Kong authorities say they will destroy their 30-ton stockpile, one of the largest in the world.  Chinese environmentalists have also begun educating the public about the dire consequences of buying ivory. But it’s a tough sell in a country where ivory has long symbolized wisdom and nobility.With more disposable income in mainland China, many people are flaunting their wealth, and ivory is seen as a luxury product that confers status,” says Tom Milliken of the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network.

Why is the ban so hard to enforce?

There is no reliable way to tell pre-ban from post-ban ivory, or a real antique from a fake — in any country.  “It’s not like you walk into a store and find someone selling cocaine, which is illegal on its face,” said Edward Grace, deputy assistant director for law enforcement at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. In Chinese and U.S. shops alike, consumers simply assume that ivory trinkets are legal, and there is no way for law enforcement to prove that any particular item was made after 1989. Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, says there’s only one real solution: “We need to learn from history and permanently shut down all ivory trade — international and domestic.

The End Consumer

Why is Ivory so popular in China?

A carved ivory ship model

Ivory is often used to make elaborate and expensive ornaments in China.

In China and Hong Kong, ivory is seen as precious material and is used in ornaments and jewelry. It’s also sometimes used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Some rich Chinese people think that owning ivory makes them look more successful. Others think that ivory will bring them good luck.

China has the biggest ivory trade in the world and wildlife experts believe that around 70 per cent of the world’s ivory ends up there.

It is said that buyers of ivory don’t understand they have blood on their hands. That notion is startling given where we are in the timeline of civilization and the increasingly global dissemination of knowledge.  Conservation efforts have never reached so far and wide through media as they do today.  So how can people not know about the tragedy behind their white gold trinkets? Accountability for this gross misconception seems to lie with the Chinese government.


But from uncovering this bizarre ignorance, change has been set into motion.  A variety of conservation campaigns have been aimed at educating the middle class — those most likely to purchase ivory.  People who have seen these campaigns, such as posters depicting how an elephant’s life is sacrificed to harvest their tusks, are far less likely to purchase ivory products.  Japan was previously the largest demander of ivory, before organizations and celebrities raised awareness and reduced the consumption by 99 percent.

“Elephant teeth” is the direct translation of the Chinese word for ivory, xiangya, and it’s possible this has contributed to the idea that elephants are not harmed during ivory harvesting — an IFAW survey revealed that 70 percent of Chinese polled did not know that ivory was plucked from murdered elephants.


Beijing’s master ivory carvers cling to a controversial art

Beijing (CNN)When Li Chunke started carving ivory in 1964, the number of elephants in Africa was still on the rise. Demand for ivory in China was practically non-existent and tusks could be bought for under $7 a kilogram.

Today, this figure is closer to $1,100 — according to research by Save the Elephants.

But while this marks a significant increase over the course of Li’s career, the price of coveted xiangya (elephant teeth) has almost halved over the last 18 months.

An endangered art form?

Conservationists have welcomed the recent drop in demand, attributing it to awareness campaigns and President Xi Jinping’s commitment to abolish the ivory trade in China.

But for 65-year-old Li, these changing attitudes threaten an ancient art form and the livelihoods of many carvers.  “Ivory carving represents Chinese traditional culture” he says, sipping green tea in his small apartment in Beijing. “Chinese people love it because it is an ancient skill — it’s a practice that belongs to the imperial arts.”

At the state-owned factory where he spent his five-decade career, Li would sculpt everything from small trinkets to full-length tusks adorned with classical scenes.

Hong Kong to phase out ivory trade

Alternative raw materials to ivory

Legal restrictions mean that he is rarely able to keep raw ivory at his home.  Nonetheless, on the far side of his living room I find a small workshop besieged by chisels, drill bits and tools.  Some are electronic, but the majority are simple hand tools — the sort he trained with. From the clutter, Li picks out figurines carved from a variety of different materials.

Ivory’s rare combination of density and smoothness makes it ideal for intricate carving, but there are alternatives. Hippo, narwhal and walrus tusks possess similar qualities.  “When we don’t have ivory, we also use beeswax and agarwood,” he explains.

Li shows me a small horse statuette and an ancient goddess fashioned from a piece of mammoth tusk — an ivory substitute excavated from the Siberian permafrost.

“When we made carvings for export [in the 1960s] the products had to represent Chinese traditional culture — it was merchandise,” he recalls. “Now I can carve on any theme, including religion and modern life.”

Hong Kong’s illegal ivory trade exposed

Legal vs. illegal ivory trade

Since retiring from the factory in 2013, Li estimates he makes fewer than 10 carvings a year, and can spend as long as two months on a single item.  He appears despondent about elephant poaching and the black market that are now associated with his industry.  “We are legal ivory-carving professionals,” he says. “The ivory we used was from natural deaths. We ought to protect wildlife. I like animals and I’ve kept a puppy as a pet.  I find it shocking that elephants are killed by men.”

With the worldwide ban on ivory in 1989, factories like Li’s were able to stay open, as China still permitted domestic trade. A licensing system allowed the continued import of tusks sourced from natural elephant deaths and police seizures.

But the distinction between legal and illegal trade is becoming blurred, say conservationists.  A 2011 investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found that almost 60% of licensed vendors and carving factories in China were involved in black market trade.

A high-profile campaign featuring former basketball star Yao Ming argues that all ivory consumption — even the licensed trade — feeds the cycle of killing.  “Yao Ming’s ‘no buying, no killing’ is only partly right — we still have to think about the inheritance of traditional Chinese culture,” Li says.  “Of course, the raw material can be replaced by alternatives, which is why my students also use woods and jade. But some of the nuances of carving — ones that can only be reflected in ivory — are at risk.”

Carvers are turning to ivory substitutes including beeswax, agarwood and even mammoth tusk dug up from Siberian permafrost.

Carvers are turning to ivory substitutes including beeswax, agarwood and even mammoth tusk dug up from Siberian permafrost.

Rise in demand for mammoth tusks

On the other side of central Beijing, one of Li’s students, Li Jiulong (no relation), leads me into his small, dusty workshop. The 26-year-old shares the space with four other apprentices. A fellow carver sits practicing her technique on a small block of wood, her engravings guided by ink markings.

Work surfaces are arranged in a square, each littered with hand tools for breaking down large chunks of tusk and more accurate electronic ones for finer details.  While his master is old enough to ignore the diminishing demand for ivory, the younger Li must keep his options open.

In addition to his apprenticeship he is also undertaking a master’s degree which sees him working with lacquer — a traditional colored finish applied to wood.  He can obtain ivory through “the proper channels,” but Li spends much of his time carving other materials, including mammoth tusks.

“These tusks have been buried underground for a long time, which can cause cracks and change their color,” he explains, sketching out their differing patterns of grain on a piece of paper. “They would [originally have been] white like the elephant tusks, but they’re also more compact than normal ivory.”

Imports of mammoth tusks from Hong Kong (the main route bringing them in from Russia) has more than tripled since 2000. But the young apprentice retains some hope for traditional ivory carving, despite the recent drop in demand.

“It’s true that ivory won’t be huge business in the future but it won’t vanish. It is part of our cultural heritage,” he says.  “It will survive and keep its place,” he argues.

Abstract from: 




What is the “elephant” that is not in the room? Literally.

We can see what they do.  Can we see why it happens?
What do we not understand as yet?

What would that silent voice say to us?

When The Economy Speaks … Cracking the Botswana Productivity Code. Short Notes.




30 Oct 2017

In its 2015 survey of African workers, South Africa’s Rand Merchant Bank found Batswana to be the laziest on the continent.  The problem is actually more acute than that.

In the 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Report, Botswana scores the worst among the 137 countries that are tracked by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) on 12 pillars of economic competitiveness.  From a list of 16 factors, respondents to the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey were asked to select the five most problematic factors for doing business in their country and to rank them between 1 (most problematic) and 5.  The results were then tabulated and weighted according to the ranking assigned by respondents.  One of those factors is “Poor work ethic in national labour force.”

With a score of 19, Botswana’s national workforce (which would include those in the public and private sector as well as NGOs) emerge as standard bearers of the poorest work ethic in the world survey.  Also doing poorly are Trinidad & Tobago (15.9), Brunei (14.4), Sri Lanka (11.1), Liberia (10.8), Bhutan (10.5), Seychelles (10.1), Malta (9.8), Georgia (9.7), Mauritius and Vietnam (9.5), Namibia (9.3), Bahrain (9.0), Kuwait (8.7) and United Arab Emirates and Jamaica (8.6).

WEF’s interest in labour productivity has to do with the fact that it impacts on business. A University of Botswana study by Professor John Makgala and Dr. Phenyo Thebe (“There is no Hurry in Botswana”: Scholarship and Stereotypes on “African time” Syndrome in Botswana, 1895-2011”) found that this lack of productivity has frustrated effort to attract foreign direct investment. Interestingly, there was a time when, according to literature that the authors quote, Botswana’s civil service “was generally believed to be the most efficient in the whole of the African continent.”

On a past trip to Singapore, former and late President Sir Ketumile Masire gained an appreciation on the efficiency of the country’s workers. Where a Motswana factory worker would produce one shirt within a given period of time, a Singaporean counterpart would produce six within the same period.

“This was productivity not in theory but in demonstrable terms.  When we say we are not productive, this is what we meant,” Masire recalled to Sunday Standard in 2015 of this experience which would lead to Botswana benchmarking with Singapore and delegations from the two countries travelling back and forth.

As one of the Four Asian Tigers, Singapore would provide one quarter of the inspiration to establish the Botswana National Productivity Centre (BNPC). The tigers are Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Along the way, however, the late president appears to have given up on ever inculcating the right work ethic in Batswana. On assessing the apparent resistance, he determined that Batswana’s poor work ethic was a result of their pastoralism.

“If you look at the life of pastoralists, they don’t have a good work ethic,” he had said.  The example he had cited was that beyond sinking a borehole for their livestock, letting out cattle to pasture and doing some other undemanding work, most of the time pastoralists are just lazing about as their cattle graze untended in the bush.  By Masire’s analysis, this is the work ethic that has been bequeathed to modern-day Botswana.

As a University of Botswana study shows, not one productivity intervention scheme by the government has produced the desired results. In his 2015/16 budget speech, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo, lamented the low levels of labour productivity in Botswana.  The best performers in terms of work ethic in the national labor force are from Zimbabwe and Venezuela underpinned by a perfect score.

Source: Sunday Standard.  http://www.sundaystandard.info/batswana-have-worst-work-ethic-world-%E2%80%93-report Retrieved May 23, 2018

Productivity Systemic Story by Ranking

Table 1:  Comparison of Botswana with 2017’s Best Global Labour Productivity Data




  1. An economic system defines the mechanism of production, distribution and allocation of goods, services and resources in a society/country with defined rules and policies about ownership and administration.
  2. The most commonly followed economic system is modern-day capitalism.  It was based on a framework to secure supply of the key elements required for industry – land, machinery and labor.  A disruption in any of these would lead to increased risk and loss for the venture.


  1. Socialists viewed this commoditization of labor as an inhuman practice.  I am of the view, that those words are distinctively that of the female voice possibly lending itself from Marx’s known instances of showing great sympathy for peasants, and especially women, as important forces for change within Marx’s theory (and quite possibly marks the genesis of a matriarchal society – even so where women leads quietly from behind the scenes often as a response to survive in the face of absent males who  have needed to travel long distances to work in the agriculture and mining industries – and so have become increasingly ‘masculinized’).
  2. These, I believe, led to the birth of Karl Marx’s idealism on socialism and socialist economies across a few countries.

    • How does a socialist economy work?
    • The starting point to this form of economy is three-fold typically:
      • The country has substantial access to wealth generated by mining underground mineral and fossil fuel resources and which is demanded by other world economies and is traded in exchange for income;
      • Or it has traditionally enjoyed a monarchy and/or a pastoral economy and access to substantive land spaces that allows it to multiply livestock and warm crops (that does not require as much attention compared to cold crops) at rates faster than the rate at which the human population multiples with relative ease.  The monarchy supports its people when they ask for help and assist in distributing the wealth in the form of  shared resources (such as land) or meat and food as needed.
      • Either ways, the population therefore, has a tradition and work ethics unlike that of the farmers in parts of Asia, such as southern China where rice cultivation can be an intricate, laborious, multi-seasonal in a year and since the majority of whom have limited resources, they have learned to improve the returns on their labor by “becoming smarter, being collaborative, by being better managers of their own time, and by making better choices.”  In other words, more than simply working hard, they worked intelligently and strategically.  Cultures “shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work” tend to produce students with the fortitude to “sit still long enough” to find solutions to time-consuming and complex math problems, for instance.  As such hard work given this context, can easily be perceived as more difficult than usual and therefore quite possibly regarded as inhumane.
        Source: “Rice Paddies and Math Tests,” Malcolm Gladwell
    • There are three prominent characteristics of the socialist economy:
      • That the goods and services are produced based on usage value or for their usefulness (subject to the needs of the society, and so preventing under-production and over-production).  Therefore, it eliminates the need for a demand-based market for products to be sold at a profit.   This is completely different from the common capitalist economic system, where goods and services are produced by economies of scale to generate profit and capital accumulation.  In this way, it discourages accumulation, which is assumed to be the root cause of wealth imbalance across the society.
      • It is a financial system based on the public or cooperative ownership of production.  Socialism, similar to communism, advocates that the means of production be owned by the people, either through a state-controlled agency or worker cooperative; or else property/capital might be commonly owned by the society as a whole, with delegation to representatives.  Socialist economies discourage private ownership.  For example, this includes having a mostly state-run economy, subsistence farming on lands purposed for shared or communal use, a national health-care program, government- paid (i.e. free) education at all levels, subsidized housing, utilities, entertainment and even subsidized food programs.   These subsidies compensate for the low salaries of workers, making them better off than their international counterparts in many other countries.
      • Socialism also believes that wealth and income should be shared more equally among people.  Therefore, perceiving the receipt of income as an entitlement rather than merit is acceptable within all levels of society.  “If you have it, then I should have it too.”  Taken to an extreme, that would not bode well for productivity, would it?  It therefore becomes a misnomer to say that socialism and free market economies can realistically co-exist. However, the main goal of socialism is to narrow, but not totally remove, the gap between the rich and the poor.  The government, through its agencies and policies, takes the responsibility to redistribute production and wealth, making the society fairer and leveled.
    • The consequences of the above, are as follows:
      • The economy relies on sectors whose productive practices are not apparent to the masses or there is heavy reliance on machinery and technology such as in mineral extraction and processing, real-estate and passive income business practices such as multi-level marketing. The social environment makes it difficult for the general masses to imbibe productive work ethics and practices, to a point of shunning and even dismissing those who may display such practices;
      • The dominant trade offered by the masses to foreigners and professional include domestic maid services and guard duty security services.  Neither of these services train the individual learn to generate income but rather protect and consume resources that are already there.  The element of hard work is for the most part, removed.
      • Significant masses of citizens make purchases primarily do so, not to support entrepreneurial growth but to ensure redistribution of wealth, i.e. flows from professionals, foreign investors or expatriates operating within the system to the citizens;
      • The system works on ‘forces’ that facilitate the flow of money from those who have to those who do not and who are then, in turn, amply rewarded, even if with kind words.  The following are used intentionally or otherwise, to draw special notice to it to facilitate the flow to:
        • The informal business sector with standard essential products the masses use such as airtime, sweets, fat cakes, essential foods such as vegetables, meat and milk, drinks, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol.  A significant part of the income from the sector is used with a view to make ends meet rather than necessarily to grow an enterprise.  Growing large enterprises is shunned unintentionally or perceived as too difficult and would cause the ‘flow’ within the system to slow down to accumulate or even stop.  Most therefore stay as self-employees for life which makes for ‘things’ to be easier.
        • Citizen businesses rotate two monthly to allow more to gain access to government purchase schemes (catering, uniforms, supplies, etc.) before relinquishing the turn to the next ‘business’ in the queue.  We shame or shun who otherwise overstay their dues or are engaged in sales (who are too active and over the top and are perceived as being impatient and rude to wait their turn and is therefore callous and uncultured) or even make claims they are engaged in corrupt ways.
        • Young women who have young children often present subtle pressures as to one is more deserving than others to receive help and to come to one’s aid by virtue of the number of children one has mothered or the shanty standards of living one has unfortunately fallen into.
        • Women who are open to offering sexual favours in return
        • The youth or the orphaned child
        • The disabled
        • The disenfranchised or the ostracized
        • The man who has fathered large numbers of children and is unemployed or is a self-employee.
        • The royalty and therefore are naturally privileged to entitlements
        • When left untreated, these creates the perfect conditions for the growth of beggary as an acceptable occupation on the streets during the day and crime by night.


  1. Botswana’s real labour productivity per capita (when measuring the employed population’s output excluding value added by mining and real-estate sectors, against the total population of the country for a truer reflection of real per capita income of the country) is USD 2.2 per hour or USD 18 per day, and that is, before deducting costs of operations.  Luxembourg sets the pace as the global labour productivity leader at USD 93.4 per hour or USD 747 per day (or USD 16,437 per month).  At this rate, Botswana’s productivity (and therefore wealth) lags (falls behind by) at 30-40x behind that of Luxembourg.
  2. It makes one wonder, that in our efforts to avoid capitalism, apparent inhuman labour practices, wealth accumulation, and for that perfect equality in the distribution of income, at what cost have we done so?  Will our efforts to transform the manufacturing and industrialization sectors OR efforts to diversify the economy (from the tried and tested) gain traction without understanding the underlying forces that detract us from such efforts?
  3. The Question Is.
    • Would we rather continue this way as business as usual and dragging a burgeoning burden on the state in the process?
    • Would citizens know how big that burden is or what that would become of and cause to the state?
    • Would it help citizens of the country, see and learn what these distinctions stand for and what that would mean for them?
      Gaining such understanding in our mind would mean gaining the power in our hands.  If you can imagine it, then you can create it.


  1. However, this would deter organizations from worlds that practice capitalism, wanting to be a part of such an economic system.  These are organizations that grew their wealth by virtue of merits of their performance, have withstood the test of time being measured by defined standards and rates of growth of income and wealth and believed in reducing costs of production to accumulate business wealth so as to grow the economy.
  2. Interestingly, no pure socialist, pure capitalist or pure communist economy exists in the world today.  All economic system changes were introduced with a big bang approach and had to make “adjustments” to allow appropriate modifications as the situation developed.
  3. Eventually most state-run subsidies without high productivity standards, become insufficient to support the numerous social programs.  Despite perhaps, enormous aid received from outside itself, high poverty levels continues to persist, widening the gap of rich and poor, and becoming a massive burden on social programs.
  4. A reform will often aim to shift towards a mixed economy that would allow free-market mechanisms, remove government control of small businesses, lay off unnecessary state workers and make self-employment easier allowing up to 40% of the government workforce to move into the private sector, enabling the inception of income tax payment, which in turn will lead to more self-reliance.
  5. In the short-run, to relieve the income pressures of the economy, policies may be aimed at bringing in higher foreign investment. Tax-free special development zones are introduced for foreign companies to conduct business freely and allow transfer of tariff-free profits abroad, among other benefits. This may cause a significant change from the central “socialist” planning.  However, this cannot act as a substitute for it.
  6. Fundamental changes, however, will call for reforms (yes, even if it is aimed at our own citizens), designed to allocate wages based on  citizen or worker productivity.  Not rank.  Not seniority.  Till citizens see the direct link between their productivity and the national and personal incomes, the transformation will not be complete.


Socialist economies across the globe have existed and continue to progress. However, there may not be any standard pure socialist economy remaining.  Timely, fundamental shifts in programs and policies have allowed such economies to thrive and flourish – China being the world leader among them.  The ones taking a rigid stand are facing severe problems or developing parallel markets.

Source: Socialist Economies: How China, Cuba And North Korea Work | Investopedia https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/081514/socialist-economies-how-china-cuba-and-north-korea-work.asp#ixzz5GKkjPmXQ
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When The Community Speaks … When learning is more important than education. Short Notes.

Without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all.

World Development Report 2018 calls for greater measurement, action on evidence

WASHINGTON, September 26, 2017 – Millions of young students in low and middle-income countries face the prospect of lost opportunity and lower wages in later life because their primary and secondary schools are failing to educate them to succeed in life. Warning of ‘a learning crisis’ in global education, a new Bank report said schooling without learning was not just a wasted development opportunity, but also a great injustice to children and young people worldwide.

The World Development Report 2018: ‘Learning to Realize Education’s Promise’ argues that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all. Even after several years in school, millions of children cannot read, write or do basic math. This learning crisis is widening social gaps instead of narrowing them. Young students who are already disadvantaged by poverty, conflict, gender or disability reach young adulthood without even the most basic life skills.

“This learning crisis is a moral and economic crisis,”World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “When delivered well, education promises young people employment, better earnings, good health, and a life without poverty. For communities, education spurs innovation, strengthens institutions, and fosters social cohesion. But these benefits depend on learning, and schooling without learning is a wasted opportunity. More than that, it’s a great injustice: the children whom societies fail the most are the ones who are most in need of a good education to succeed in life.

Download the World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise.

The report recommends concrete policy steps to help developing countries resolve this dire learning crisis in the areas of stronger learning assessments, using evidence of what works and what doesn’t to guide education decision-making; and mobilizing a strong social movement to push for education changes that champion ‘learning for all.’

According to the report, when third grade students in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda were asked recently to read a sentence such as “The name of the dog is Puppy” in English or Kiswahili, three-quarters did not understand what it said. In rural India, nearly three-quarters of students in grade 3 could not solve a two-digit subtraction such as “46 – 17”—and by grade 5, half still could not do so. Although the skills of Brazilian 15-year-olds have improved, at their current rate of improvement they will not reach the rich-country average score in math for 75 years. In reading, it will take 263 years.

These statistics do not account for 260 million children who, for reasons of conflict, discrimination, disability, and other obstacles, are not enrolled in primary or secondary school.

While not all developing countries suffer from such extreme learning gaps, many fall far short of levels they aspire to. Leading international assessments on literacy and numeracy show that the average student in poor countries performs worse than 95 percent of the students in high-income countries—meaning such a student would be singled out for remedial attention in a class in those countries. Many high-performing students in middle-income countries—young men and women who achieve in the top quarter of their groups—would rank in the bottom quarter in a wealthier country.

The report, written by a team directed by World Bank Lead Economists, Deon Filmer and Halsey Rogers, identifies what drives these learning shortfalls—not only the ways in which teaching and learning breaks down in too many schools, but also the deeper political forces that cause these problems to persist.

Source: Phillip Hay, Patricia da Camara, Huma Imtiaz  (2018). World Bank warns of ‘learning crisis’ in global education. World Bank. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2017/09/26/world-bank-warns-of-learning-crisis-in-global-education [Retrieved on 19 May 2018].


  1. To not assume that if there is education, there will be learning.
  2. Learning is not the same as teaching.  Learning happens when the learner makes the action of learning the primary responsibility of the learner, just as  teaching is the primary responsibility of the teacher.
  3. You can have teaching and no learning as the article above here illustrates.  We need to accept that is possible.
  4. Yet one could have learning in the absence of teaching.
  5. Learning takes the student much farther along, with less resources, than any amount of teaching can do for the the learner.  School and principals and student grades improve at the rate the learner seeks out learning.  Infrastructure is not the primary driver of learning.  Curiosity and the willingness to learn is.
  6. In the world of learning, we stop using the word ‘student’ and switches its reference to ‘the learner’.
  7. The student goes much farther in their journey of learning when they have piqued their curiosity about what they are learning.  That is an almost mesmerized attention to learning.  They are learning because they want to rather than they have to.
  8. All children have this innate capacity to be curious.  Often it goes unnoticed by the parent as it typically happens in their absence and not in their presence or is picked up when the child does something ‘wrong’.   And so as adults, most of us miss seeing it as it happens.  We have all gone through it ourselves but we abandoned the notion of what it is, when we got what we had wanted as a result of that process or were punished for exercising it.
  9. What is the true nature of a child’s mind that piques their interest and become mesmerized (be they clean (or unclean) interests) to want to learn?  Totto-Chan is a book written in modern times set within the context of World War II in Japan, that explores classic ideals such as curiosity, innocence, shyness, inquisitiveness, confusion, happiness and sorrow that represent some of these traits (all of which are emotional, and less mental, spiritual and physical) in nature) that promotes the mind of the child to want to learn.
  10. A learner then soon discovers that being on the journey of discovering and learning is far more exciting to be on than arriving at their destination (having learned and scored grades).  The learner then can’t wait to get on to the next big journey and it did not matter to him whether his scored grades or he did not.  That is not relevant to the learner.
  11. Once a learner discovers the joys of learning for its own sake (as opposed to ‘not wanting to fail’ or not making the grades for advancing to the next stage), the systems begins to realize it is becoming difficult for it to keep up with the pace at which learning is happening for the learner.  The learner will keep exceeding the expectations that the teachers have set for them.  The learner reaches his grades only by as far as he or she is willing to learn.  Anyone else who believes that the effort to improve grades lies elsewhere, or with the teacher, is sorely mistaken and does so at the expense of incurring huge costs to the state (as highlighted by the article above here).
  12. Now, the question is:  Where would a child imbibe the values of learning?  Or, where could the child lose such values?  What would allow or encourage the mind of the child to become mesmerized by learning?  True childhood means the curiosity that piques a child’s interest for learning.  Would that be at the school or be at the home?



Article 2: Setting goals is the easy part. Reaching them is not!


It is a management question.

Are you there yet?  What are you doing to get there?  Have you set goals for you and your team?

Yet, setting of goals is really the easy part.  And there are tons of research and help on how we may do so and even on how to manage the settings.  Making out a list of “Things to do today” is one such everyday activity and we are pretty good at it.

However, reaching them is another story.  And there is not as much research on why it does not happen or how it may happen for our organizations.  And not to say, much help.

It is an area that we stay quiet on.  Sometimes, even a undiscussable.


And we learn over time with experience that using charisma, meeting of heads, efforts at cascading, seeking to agree, cajole, counsel and sometimes even assuming punitive stances does not realistically make that much of a difference in reaching those goals or implementing programmes as an institution or as a nation in a sustainable way.

And we may carry out various activities to do so.  Be it implementing performance management systems, setting of directives, designing project management, re-engineering business processes, coaching, mentoring, going for corporate retreats, organizing seminars, conferences, district and village meetings and signing of memorandums, monitoring and evaluation and so on.  The list of work required to reach those goals is seemingly endless and appears necessary.  But the price we pay as a nation is heavy (including for our attorneys).

We all know this deeply; though we may not necessarily say it out aloud.  We do lead ourselves to believe they work, and yet sometimes we would rather choose to continue to lower our standards in reality to meet realistic levels of achievement over time and not understand what’s getting in the way of reaching those goals.   The former is easier.  The latter is harder.  And we are sometimes not aware that such things may be happening to us.  Often we assume the reason is the fault of the employee, or of the team manager or of the market or of the citizens or even the global recession.  And we get away by blaming “them out there”.  We get away with crime!

However, the bottom line is the ability of the organization and / or of the nation to sustain itself.

When we do not do so, it usually shows up in our balance sheets as deficits.  Eventually.  Sometimes sooner than we expect leading us to make call outs to government for bailouts, bank loans or grants and aids.  Nevertheless, we would start the same rigmarole all over again when given a second chance.


What are we not learning?

The reasons cited above are what we see on the tip.  The obvious reasons.

The ones the problems present to us if we are not careful in search for the reasons more deeply.  Those are usually not the real ones.

If you have come this far, I am sure you are not surprised by this conclusion.  The real reasons are less obvious because they have become what we call cyclical in nature or assumes a systemic quality.   Systemic because of key interrelationships (vicious circles) that have taken on a quality of recurrent influence / causality over time.

When they assume that recurrent influence, they also tend to worsen in each iteration of the cycle and therefore these cycles grows deeper and away from our everyday perceptions of reality (underlying).  These structures do also one more thing.  They typically learn to defy any efforts on our part to ‘correct’ the situation or a problem with the programmes or initiatives institutions come up with.  Therefore programme or activity implementation efforts tend to stand to fail or do not reach the goals set for them.

Identifying these vicious circles require investigation and a tactic that is very different from the straight-line approaches we are used to when dealing with them.  One that requires the mind ‘to bend’.  The causality is not that much different from one nation to another (and so much less differences exist between institutions), nevertheless, rather than leave participants with the solution, I prefer participants learn to discover the reasons jointly with each other whilst with the facilitator.  This is strategic.

In this way, the participants learn to leave the sessions carrying with them in their minds and hearts ways to continue to deepen their practice with each other over time to get to the bottom of the issue, and eventually to reach there by themselves.

Sectoral Article 22: Not enough manpower! Where did all the good men go?

National Article 14: What is the right answer?

Focussing on how one teaches or how one learns?  Can one exclude the other?  Which would lead the other within the school system?

When a student shows he has understood (by his grades) what the teacher has taught him, would that mean he is learning?

Would that mean should the teacher stop teaching (such as when the child leaves school), what would happen to its learning?

Should the student or the child lead the learning instead i.e. when the child seeks it out or is curious to learn (even before the teachers teaches), what would we call that?  Do we have a name for that?  Often we usually do not even go there, because we say we are straying away from the syllabus (the point, the agenda, the plan, the meeting).  Sounds familiar?

An adorably curious kittyyay its adorable, i l...

Image via Wikipedia

It has fascinated me to watch, that should I google for the word “curiosity”, there are two (well three) images that would typically return from the search.

The first is it shows images of cats and their curiosity almost leading the foregone proverb, ‘Curiosity killed the cat’.  I am not sure which one we see more of.  The image or the proverb in our head.

The other often shows pictures of children looking cheekily up the skirt of a woman.  I am not sure whether to frown or to smile with this one.

And the third shows rows of children standing in a straight line within buildings that houses institutions of learning, I mean education.

But I could not easily find any other image to illustrate that word.   Try it out yourself.  Do let us know what you see.

But images and suggestions aside, what would inspire a child to want to be curious to learn?
Because should the child be curious to learn (anything), is there anything that could stop the education decline?

I say inspires because this is different from feeling desperation, meaning should I not learn, the school and eventually the society would leave me behind.  But I do not want to be left behind.  So, I’ll do anything to be number one.  Even if it means having to study under the lights of the street!

We sometimes carry such thoughts into the workplaces, often leading to corruption, underhanded work tactics becoming a way of life and these in turn create a general sense of lethargy and impasse among workmates (because no one wants to be left behind)!  So the consequences of that desperation would often show up as a stalemate.

So what today is killing the willingness of the child to want to be curious to learn?  Where did it start?  The child or the home?

What would encourage it to turn it around for the child?  Is it the child or the adult?

What if what we thought was right is wrong?   Then again, learning is not about arriving at the destination (concluding something is right or wrong) but being willing to be part of a journey.

I have found these two resources inspiring in trying to understand the answers to this question.

  • One is a quaint little book on Toto Chan.  One of the few books in my adult years that I could not put down until I had finished it.  It is touted as a must-read for all educators.Totto Chan: The Little Girl At The Window is a memoir by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi about her childhood, mostly about her days as a student at a unique school called Tomoe Gakuen.  Tomoe is a school for ‘special children’, and Tomoe was taken there by her mother because she was expelled from her first school in the first grade itself, for being a distraction to the rest of the class.  Her mother realizes that what Totto-chan needs is a school where more freedom of expression is permitted.  So she takes Totto-chan to meet the headmaster of the new school, Mr. Kobayashi.  From that moment a friendship is formed between master and pupil.Totto Chan, the name by which Tetsuko was fondly called, took to Tomoe instantly. Which child would not – when the classrooms are made of old railroad cars that are no longer in use? Tomoe is run by an exceptional headmaster, Mr. Kobayashi, who had extensively studied the imparting of ‘knowledge’ to children, rather than the imparting of ‘education’.The book goes on to describe the times that Totto-chan has, the friends she makes, the lessons she learns, and the vibrant atmosphere that she imbibes.  All of these are presented to the reader through the eyes of a child. Thus the reader sees how the normal world is transformed into a beautiful, exciting place full of joy and enthusiasm.  The reader also sees in their role as adults, how Mr. Kobayashi introduces new activities to interest the pupils. One sees in Mr. Kobayashi a man who understands children and strives to develop their qualities of mind, body and heart. His concern for the physically handicapped and his emphasis on the equality of all children are remarkable. In the school, the children lead happy lives, unaware of the things going on in the world.  World War 2 has started, yet in this school, no signs of it are seen.  But one day, the school is bombed, and was never rebuilt, even though the headmaster claimed that he looked forward to building an even better school the next time round. It was never done and this ends Totto-chan’s years as a pupil at Tomoe Gakuen.Tomoe was criticised by many for not being a conventional kind of school. Children were encouraged to study whatever subjects they liked first, they were taken to ‘field kitchens’ and ‘farming lessons’ to learn the practical aspects of cooking food and farming, first hand. The headmaster personally saw to it that the meals of all the kids was nutritious and balanced.  The headmaster knew the children in and out, and the children were so comfortable with him that they fought with each other for a chance to get on to his lap and climb on his back!  The headmaster personally saw to it that no child developed complexes, and no child felt any different from the rest.  This and much more was special at Tomoe.  If you are always one for practical education, you would like this book, which is all about ’free teaching” and ‘practical learning’?It was Tomoe that brought out the best in Totto Chan, as it did in a lot of other children. It was Tomoe that made Totto Chan what she bacame – an eminent TV personality in Japan. Tomoe was indeed a special school, and Mr. Kobayashi was indeed a gifted headmaster.

    Sounds impossible? It might, but it was not. Such a school actually existed in Japan before it met a rather sad end. The famous TV personality of Japan, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, actually studied in Tomoe. The epitome of kindnes, love for children – Mr. Kobayashi – was really the headmsater of Tomoe.

  • The other must be this.  It is a publication by Dr Sandra Seagal called Human Dynamics: A New Framework for Understanding people and Realizing the Potential on Our Organizations presents a new body of work that identifies fundamental distinctions in people’s functioning — including distinctions in how people communicate, learn, problem-solving, exercise leadership, function on teams, become stressed, maintain wellness, and develop, personal, interpersonal and trans-personal.  The insights and tools that the book offers for enhancing the quality and efficiency of organizations are equally applicable in the context of family life. The book also indicates the significance of this new body for the fields of education, health care, and cross-cultural bridge-building.  The short of it.  She basically says that our personality distinctions (and our learning styles) are hard-wired at birth centred as either as physical, emotional or mental functioning.  In total there are nine distinct types of which five are dominant across the world.  Three in the western hemisphere an up to parts of Central Asia and two in the eastern hemisphere (and including Africa).  These distinctions play out differently in the ways we learn from and / or teach to others.

Human Dynamic Book

Love to hear your reactions to these publications!

National Article 5: Is life one big party … and then four days of study? When do we learn? Or did the dead cat just killed our curiosity?

“What would it take to see the levels of education in the country rise without having the need to set standards (and the government having to invest in) for it?”

Hmm …. have we thought of this question?  As a country?


education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

To appreciate the question, first we will need to find out what is causing the standards of education to go down persistently!  Or did we choose not to ask (or think about) the question, because we thought it was a non-starter?  Or we just did not go “there” to think?

That is to stand back and wonder that us and perhaps generations before us had worked hard to set up whole institutions (in the adult world) and invested resources  just so to remind us and if not, to correct falling standards of education.  To do so we would have put in place measurements to make sure standards stay up.

This is different from what we would otherwise like to see happen for our children (in the child world), i.e. to see our child reach out for  rising levels of educational standards.  Yes?

So we (the adult) work hard to teach, but they (the child) are not learning?

So, what causes standards of education to go down despite having had measures, standards, resources, infrastructure to prop it up for these years?  Has anyone counted how much we have already spent?  Within the country?  As a globe?  Since post WWII?  That is 50-60 years.  How many dropped out of school compared to those who have acquired PhD?


How has levels of education compare with the investments placed into it.  Did you say, it has gone down not as expected?  How does the trend of resources compare?  It has gone up?  Hmm … that does not make sense, does it?

So what went wrong?

What would instead cause things to turn around to see levels of education go up?

But if we asked that question, then our attention would shift to the teachers (the adults).  Yes?  It is one adult world (parents) talking to another (the teachers).

Then if so, what is the question we should ask, so that our attention is on where it matters?   The learners (or the minds of the learners (the child)).

So what is stopping or preventing the child from wanting to / being willing to learn?

Because once we have figured that out, there would be no stopping in the standards of education reached by the children.  They would easily outstrip and standards we set for the teachers.  Yes?

Except which is easier to manage?  The motivations of the teacher or that of the student?

But taking the easy way out would usually leads us back into the problem.

It would be great to transpose the following trends showing revenues and numbers gained at (indicative of where the adults’ attention may have been) over the years:
  • Brewery and prescription drug industry (it would have been great to learn also the number of school going persons who consume (regardless that they buy) alcohol)
  • Contributions to and attendance at religious groups
  • Participation at sports and recreation
  • Level of livestock births and consumption (+sales)
  • Level of petroleum / gasoline / transport / construction industry growth
  • Level of litigation cases filed at courts around the country (divorces, land issues, crime, property, business contracts, corruption, etc.)
  • Level of population level changes (by districts) = Births (showers), deaths (funerals), marriages (weddings, engagements, showers)
  • teacher number changes (we can see the student number changes are going down – that’s interesting! – where are they going?)
I suspect the trends in these areas will not be heading downwards (like the school grades).  Instead it may even show a strong positive trends.  What happens or consumes the adult in the adult world and takes him or her away from the child has an impact on the child learning world!
It is almost like saying, Reality No. 2 is growing at the price of Reality No. 1.
Students do however need adults (parents, older brothers and sisters) around them, to help them understand the subjects (of the adult world: Chemistry, Development Studies, Mathematics, Accounts, etc. ) they are learning (including the teachers but not limited to them) and not merely focus on grades.  Teacher at times (especially in the developing world) defer her success exclusively to the commitment by student almost to a fault.  Yet the child is learning from and about the adult world.   A world she did not come from.  One cannot say that the student should learn because the course objectives have been laid out for the child.   Adults need to also take it as their responsibility to make success happen for their child  with the child.  Rather than say, if she does not pull up her sock, she will just end up like me.  And then leave it.
And if parents are busy dealing with reality 2, it gets in the way of the child’s learning.  Learning is systemic.  But I am sure we would still hear our (parents) voices in the media and in parliament blaming everyone else for the downfall of our child’s grades.
This interrelationship points to an important element to bring a systemic awareness of what helps a child learn in totality.  The child is not here to fend the family only.  This is I suspect is perhaps the reason where most male students may end up in when they drop out of school early.  In the developing world they would move into to herd livestock or in the developed world, they may succumb to addiction of substances (e.g. alcohol).  These boys are now lost to the growth of the nation.  We may also see more female students compared to male students graduate the school system, which means more teachers in the teaching system would eventually become women.  This can have an effect to crowd out the male students even further.
Well, we can almost “throw in the towel” and say we can’t have everything.  But “You can have your cake and eat it too, but not at once”.  There is an order in which causality happens.  Not all Ministry can vie to be #1 at the same time.  The easy way out  will then try to prevail.  There is an order in which it needs to happen.
A thought going forward
It would be interesting to see if we bring together parents and community across the school grades:
  • Take parents of students with Grade A* and have them have conversations side-by-side with typical teachers as well as parents of  students with Grade C or D or E.  For the latter, take parents who went through their experience a few years back – as their emotions would have flared down and they are better able to see what has been happening for their child.
  • Keep these conversations running for several months, if not years.  No media.  Just understanding.  Listening, asking questions and understanding.  Keep repeating the exercise.  That’s all you’d need to do.
  • This is different from meetings at the Community Hall between the Ministry and the community leaving the Ministry or the parent to defend their side.  This will otherwise encourage defensiveness on both sides, but no systemic learning by the parents, children and the Ministry.  The only result?  Just defensiveness and more pushing of the Ministry of Education, school heads, teachers and another round of Performance Management Systems.  The former conversation is an opportunity for learning by the country.  But keep it quiet.  Do not push it.  Otherwise, if not done carefully, it can agitate the system.  Slower is faster so we can understand how our cures do not make the disease worse.
  • Do not link this activity directly with these results.  I am sure the Ministry will figure that out.  That calls for creativity.

Not the fireman!

How much will this action cost us?  I suspect it would cost us almost next to nothing to bring about a systemic change!
How much would it have otherwise cost us?  As a nation?  As a globe?

I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on.  Life was meant to be lived. Curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.

Eleanor Roosevelt

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