Madtes takes biology, faith to students in Africa
“The notion that folks in other cultures are different from you is false. People around the world have the same dreams, hopes and wishes. They also have the same fears, weaknesses and challenges. While they may look different, dress differently, and talk differently, they are all the same at the core.” ~Dr. Paul Madtes
MVNU Biology Department Chair Dr. Paul Madtes is taking the vision to “Shine Forth” overseas this semester. Madtes is currently teaching at Africa Nazarene University (ANU) in Kenya, Africa.
Through the venture, Madtes has the opportunity to reach out to a culture different from his own — to learn cultural norms and values while striving to build relationships with his students as he guides them into a personal relationship with their Savior.
“What matters in teaching is helping the students grasp the fact that they have been placed here by God to make a difference in their world,” Madtes said. “When that becomes clear to them, their lives are changed.”
Madtes currently teaches four courses at ANU, two face-to-face and two online. He also consults for the department and picks up extra responsibilities when needed. Madtes expects to take on even more responsibilities before he finishes his time at ANU.
Living and working in Kenya, Madtes has had to adjust to many cultural differences. The universal concept of time has even presented an obstacle. The saying, “Americans have watches, but Africans have time” has proven to be true, Madtes said.
Students may arrive for class when it starts but might also appear just a few minutes before it is scheduled to end, he said. “For someone who is very time-oriented, this is an ongoing adjustment.”
Teaching overseas in a developing country has presented many professional obstacles for Madtes as well, forcing him to be creative and innovative in the classroom.
Before arriving, Madtes was warned that many students could not purchase the required textbook.
The University offered some resources, but “when I looked at the books for my area [science, especially biology], the number of books was less than what I have in my personal library in my office at home,” Madtes said.
He also noticed that most of the textbooks were at least a decade old, meaning “the students’ link to the course [content] depends almost exclusively on what is delivered in class,” he said.
The limited resources also impact scientific demonstrations in the classroom. Without prepared laboratory space and equipment, Madtes located three microscopes, prepared slides and glassware so students could have hands-on experience.
“It was quite clear that demonstration would be minimal at best,” said Madtes. So, Madtes decided to use animation and virtual experiments with the students.
Though this fixed one problem it led to another. The power in the area is very unreliable, Madtes said.
“We do not know when the power will go out,” and, therefore, when the internet will be down, he said.
Each Thursday, maintenance is done on the Kenyan power system, knocking out all electricity for hours, sometimes all day.“When that happens, the
normalcy that might have been there is gone and new activities are quickly selected,” Madtes said.
With consistent power and internet problems, students and faculty struggle to use online software and programs. To compensate, Madtes often records himself performing the experiments to play during class times.
“While this is better, it still means the students are mostly watching and listening,” instead of actually performing experiments themselves, Madtes said.
Regardless of these obstacles, Madtes remains intentional about preparing the students for their future.
“I talk with students about being people who will make a difference,” he said. “To do that, they must be well-prepared in all areas of their lives, including their professional life.”
Madtes says the rewards of watching students understand the material, connect with one another, dive into a relationship with God and enter the professional field ready to impact the world are the same in every culture.
“I challenge them to be ready to impact their world in ways that bring others into relationship with God and improve their culture and lives,” he said.