Thursday, 30 August 2012

Hope, aspirations, attitudes, perceptions and long-gone memories

The yellow piece of paper with its big fat black letters printed in bold is neatly laminated. Stuck on the side of the classroom cupboard it is meant to be seen as students walk into the class. But they barely do, since they are too busy with their own lives. The yellow poster proclaims our current president's words:

"Children should be in class, on time, learning, being respectful of their teachers and each other, and DO THEIR HOMEWORK" - President Jacob Zuma (7 August 2009)

Hmmm... sounds like presidential support for what teachers are trying to achieve day in and day out, lesson after lesson... Alas, with little success it seems. My Grade 11s wrote a cycle test three days ago. Yesterday I started marking. The first paper I opened screamed at me! The student wrote "useless dupless" all over the question paper. I could not help but take it personally.  The president's words brought some relief. Or did it really? Indeed, can it? The president is far-removed from reality, and so are his ministers and the officials further down the food chain. In the end it is me and the direct, face-to-face interaction with each and every individual learner, including the scores of students who do not want to learn. Its actually laughable to what lengths they will go to find ways of avoiding being taught.

This is starkly juxtaposed by the remarkable story of Martin Pistorius (distant family of Oscar Pistorius who himself is world-wide inspiration). Martin's story, told in 'Ghost Boy', is one of an intelligent mind trapped in an unresponsive body. Ive ordered a few copies (I like paper -- epubs have their place) and can't wait to start reading the story of his remarkable journey. I also can't wait to give a few away as worthwhile reading to those whom I know need to read a story like this.

So, here we sit with two extremes. On the one hand we use money, energy, effort, resources, talent, time, knowledge, insight, experience, etc in an effort to raise the next generation that must stand tall among nations... Sadly, the sea of ignorance that meets me is overwhelming. What I see on a daily basis is that the majority of the current student corps at the institution where I currently (try to) teach shows a complete lack of work ethic, morals, (self)-discipline and above all respect. Wires have become crossed somewhere and things are going haywire. Instead, what have become prevalent at my educational institution where no child is challenged in a physical or mental way are random drug tests, suspensions (week long, few days), disciplinary hearings, books left at home, and so forth. This ought to have been a place where minds come together, where engagement leads to learning. I cannot help but think of the complete and utter waste... and that we are doing something wrong somewhere.

And the other extreme? To me people like Martin represent that which I thought ought to be a universal characteristic of the human spirit: People who must overcome the most incredible odds in order to live a meaningful life (in their terms) -- and in fact excel in what they aim to achieve.

Thank you Martin Pistorius... Thank you for being!

Tomorrow, like all other mornings, I will take to the highway at sunrise, and drive halfway around Johannesburg to go and teach, inspire, and help develop young minds. I will look beyond the lost souls, the wondering minds, the frustration, and the archaic school system that is out of pace with the real world... I will take care of every child in front of me, for they are not mine. I promise to leave none of them behind.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Yes I can... we can, you can too!

With the amount of work to be completed by the end of term heaping up like a mountain it seems impossible to accomplish. 'A bridge too far', 'A mountain too high'... Given the fact that I am a student too, it means that my term as teacher more or less coincides with my term as student. Assessment, marking, writing exams, marking others' cycle tests, and so forth... Im sure you get the picture.

... and then there is the prospect of new plans... new challenges for the year ahead -- all in the name of reviving school-based education. It was particularly apt then that I started to look for inspiration. It takes a lot of energy and will power to mark a stack of papers... all while I am thinking of my own examination that is looming. It takes even more guts and raw courage to put a bold plan on the table in the hope that management will accept it as a way to move forward. See, I have a deep-seated belief that education -- throughout the whole spectrum in South Africa -- is in deep trouble. At least at secondary school level we need a revival and renewal. We cannot carry on teaching the way that we have been taught. Neither can I merely add more expensive toys and still carry on in the same way... Education needs to be reloaded / refreshed / rebooted ... hence the journey to introduce Moodle as a framework to deliver content and assessment, and above-all to create a community of learners and teachers that will hopefully stretch beyond the borders of our school.

So, just when I thought that too much is going on at once and that I have little chance of getting things done on time I turned to YouTube; by chance I came across Oscar Pistorius' Nike Advertisement... Ive forgotten about it...

If Oscar can do this -- with no legs -- can I also, in my own way get to those learners in my class who refuse to learn? Is it possible to connect with them in a way that will speak of trust and not distrust? Can I help facilitate and rekindle curiosity and an eagerness to learn amongst all my students, especially those who are 'switched off' and bent on causing as much disruption as possible? I don't know. To you Oscar... I sure am going to try... You see, I also know all about trying!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

What happened to the will to learn? ... And the right to teach?

During the past week or so I have become acutely aware of the lack of a culture of learning amongst some of the pupils I teach. Still continuing with my journey of discovery into the state of Government-school education in an urban school in Johannesburg (South Africa), I am completely taken aback by the range of excuses I must listen to:

  • My textbook is too heavy and I don't want to carry it around the whole day
  • I don't have my books here today
  • Why must I take my bag off my table or open any books?
  • Sir, the exercise you have given us to complete for marks is unfair. Why must I now learn MovieMaker? I thought we will only write a cycle test and a class test. This is really unfair. (This is so strange, considering Sir Ken Robinson's views that schools are killing creativity.)

and so the list goes on... (I feel compelled to have video cameras installed in my classroom since this is the kind of footage that parents need to see). I think, once I have collected enough evidence, I can show it to our President. President Zuma said emphatically at the beginning of this academic year that learners must be in class, on time, learning. (My next letter will be to the President...)

I cannot help but be very very worried about the future of our country if the attitude of these students at secondary school level (ages 12-18) is anything to go by. (I feel even more sorry for the future employers) As I have stated in my previous posts, there is surely something seriously wrong with South African's educational system. Systems are, however, driven by people. We can have the most perfect educational system on paper, yet fail dismally since the attitudes of those we wish to serve are all screwed up. I fail to understand what the reasons are for a complete lack of interest in new knowledge or the absence of an eagerness to learn. I truly do.

In the meantime this camel's back is starting to bend in the wake of events such as:

  • The cable of my PC's mouse got cut (despite being an old computer, at least I have one...)
  •  A female student starts to abuse me verbally after I request her to pay attention to the lesson. I am covering work that will be in the up-coming test, after all.
  • Two female students, after I have spoken to them about their lack of attention in class and not doing any work, have now embarked upon a complete 'ignore the teacher' attitude

I cannot help but wonder what is going on at these students' homes and whether there is any form of discipline or respect. I wonder what morals and ethics are taught and whether the parents (or guardians) are actively instilling a work ethic. I cannot, however, take the place of parents and teach their children manners and respect. My thoughts go further... are these students' attitudes a reflection of South Africa's new growing culture that is characterised by widespread corruption, fraud and a general disrespect for the law?

Despite all these negative experiences, I refuse to become a typical disciplinarian that shouts, screams etc... I will remain the dedicated teacher that I think I am... and focus on teaching. After all, my country's constitution protects me and my right to dignified work. Perhaps its time to test our country's constitution and see if it lives up to its promise. All I truly want to do is teach my subject matter with dedication and in ways that are inspiring and creative. I get my inspiration from others like Sir Ken Robinson. Like him, I truly believe its time for a paradigm shift in education.

Thursday, 02 August 2012

On throwing back sea stars and finding lost pupils

We all know the story of the guy who, in an effort to save them, was walking on the beach and kept on throwing back sea stars that washed ashore. On seeing how many there were, a passer-by commented on the 'lost effort', upon which the guy answered that 'even saving one' would made a difference, even then if only to that 'one that was saved'...

And so my quest to experience secondary education 'first-hand' carries on at an urban school in Johannesburg, South Africa. The profile of learners vary, with a predominant number of them being black -- other races are well represented too. What this means is that in a decade's time a predominant 'white' school has become a 'predominant black school'. This in itself merely reflects the changes currently taking place within South Africa itself -- a school being a mirror of what's happening in the communities it serves. The racial shift is accompanied by a class-shift as well, as economic power in the country is starting to change hands too. A wealthier class of black families is now in a position to escape life in the townships, which includes sending their children to suburban schools located in Johannesburg's various suburbs. The tipping point has therefore been reached.

However, these changes require an ability to adapt, but above all for an 'understanding of what change means'. From a school management perspective, including what's happening inside each classroom, the culture shift is more complex than mere 'numbers according to race and gender'. Far from being an expert on cultural agents shaping schools and/or change management in schools, the observations I have come to make by my third week of teaching can be summarised as follows:

  • Teachers have very little power left in terms of managing ill-disciplined learners
  • The parent-teacher-learner triangle is broken in a number of cases where 'difficult' learners (mostly from neighboring townships) live their lives according to sets of rules that differ from those that are considered to be the norm by teachers
  • Teachers are inadequately equipped to deal with, make sense of or know how to manage large-scale cultural shifts at school level in a complex society that is still trying to heal itself from its racial past
  • From a purely personal experience: Some black and coloured pupils seem to play the race card very well, especially when they fail or struggle to cope with the work
  • Support from district officials and the Provincial Department of Education seems lacking
  • The long-term damaging effects of failed experiments with a new educational dispensation after 1994 have resulted in learners being inadequately equipped to participate in a globalised world characterised by fierce competition for work
And the star fishes -- the lost ones? Going through every pupils' books, looking for evidence of 'work' have left me with that 'sinking' feeling, especially in those cases where pupils who are troublemakers in class also can't really produce anything substantial. The questions that I have are, amongst others: What forces are at play that currently shape these pupils' worlds and lives? What kind of relationships need to be formed in order for trust to be (re-)established in teachers, 'the school' and 'education' itself. Can the Parent-Teacher-Pupil triangle in this particular community be healed if there is a lack of trust and understanding among all parties involved due to our troubled past? Can 'education' itself once again become a worthwhile endevour? There are enough examples in South African society which 'prove' to pupils that 'crime pays' or that 'wealth can be attained without academic qualifications'. Tender fraud, theft, and corrupt politicians throughout the whole system unfortunately don't bode well for teachers who are trying to teach morals, ethics and instill a sound academic basis from which pupils can develop their potential.

So, does the star fish want to be saved? State schools surely don't have the resources or political will behind them to achieve any measure of success similar to that which we witness at private schools. Nevertheless, every learner in my class -- the lazy ones, the hard-working ones, the confused ones, the hopeful ones, even the hopeless ones -- all will get my undivided attention. So, in every 45 minute lesson I have the privilege to engage with pupils, something that I cherish since I am working with our future... at the very least then, 'a possible future'. Perhaps, just maybe perhaps, the one saved star fish will positively impact the universe somewhere. After all, as explained by Christakis & Fowler in 'Connected' everything is interconnected through complex sets of relationships. For me it means that my efforts are not in vain.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

One week into the new term... being back at a school

My journey to (re)discover what is currently the state of secondary education in a typical urban school in the Johannesburg area has surely started off with a rude awakening. A week into the third term and I am left with enough proof of a number of things that are completely out of place.

Although the new ANC-led government has since it came into power in 1994 failed to transform education (amongst an array of other failures, especially broad-based service delivery), we are faced with another reality: in a growing economy with wide-spread unemployment, the disconnect between what the workforce has to offer and what the market requires obviously starts at secondary education level.

The ANC-government's inadequacies surely amplify many of the structural problems with the educational system. However, the very model which they try to perfect is a completely outdated one. The government prior to 1994, and surely the one after 1994 failed to redefine the educational system in the wake of a changing world -- a globalised one that requires different skills sets. Instead, the 19th century model with distinct subject areas, taught to pupils divided along age groups in classrooms filled with (more or less straight) rows of desk and hard chairs still characterise the typical South African school. Alas, neither the national Department of Education, nor the provincial government departments of education even attempt to offer basic ICT infrastructure. ICT support staff at schools can hardly be afforded by affluent schools, let alone state schools serving poor communities. Few schools have internet access, let alone computers for every teacher in their classrooms. The result is that teachers still believe that they are the only source of information and knowledge to their textbook-bound pupils. Pupils on the other hand more or less all have cellphones (probably mostly Blackberries due to cheap internet access and BBM capabilities), yet these powerful devices may not be used.

My quest is a simple one: get the private sector involved by devising a model that will provide schools with the necessary ICT infrastructure, especially a sustainable ICT support model. Like any modern-day organisation reliant on ICT, schools too require continuous ICT support staff. In fact, more than organisations, teachers who wish to use ICT solutions in their classrooms require immediate assistance if something goes wrong. The reasons is simple: lessons are more or less 45 minutes long before 'the bell' rings; if a teacher can't use their computer-based material as planned, chances are good that they will revert back to their tried and tested model of teaching that stems from the 19th century.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

An Educational Journey -- the reality of School education in a South African School

Having spent most of my career in educational environments fulfilling various roles, a year and a half at the Innovation Agency inspired me to get back into the game. Being away from an educational environment has surely given me some food for thought. The invaluable lessons I have learned while at the Innovation Agency have equipped me to look for opportunities in education... and to be an active innovator!

Innovation in education... an interesting concept indeed, and one that often focuses on technology. In fact, educational technology is often on agendas around the world -- also in South Africa. Linked to innovation, it was a topic of discussion at an event organised by SAINE and hosted at Gijima on 26 July 2012. Under discussion was the Action Plan for 2025, aimed at realising education in 2025.

Like other countries, considerable attention is given to education. This is especially true in the South African educational system, since we expected so much from our educational system after the democratisation in 1994. Alas, the one blunder after the next in our educational system meant that dreams and aspiration were shattered. For example, a whole 12 years -- a complete school career -- has been lost to an experiment with OBE.

A number of questions are constantly in my mind: Are we anywhere near where we should be -- or could be? Do South African schools in any way manage to equip pupils to be responsible 21st century citizens? Are South African school leavers in a position to face the world and realise their potential? Are our pupils taught in a way that will also instill the skills they require to compete in a highly competitive global economy?

This then is my journey. I am adjusting my relationship with the Innovation Agency so that I can go back to a former school where I have once worked: Allen Glen High School. I have a five-year plan to bring about change from within. My aim is simple: Find a way for an ordinary government school to introduce a blended learning approach to teaching by incorporating appropriate technological solutions. This sounds simple enough, but of course will require a considerable effort - and a mindshift.

I will continue to chart my journey, share my thoughts and experiences, and above all ask for guidance, ideas and ways to solve the to-be-expected problems. It surely is not the first time a govenment school embarks upon a journey to embrace ICT. We can therefore avoid unnecessary mistakes. The realisation that we are dealing with pupils and their expectations is an underlaying course for action. This also serves as a reminder that we may not leave anyone behind. One child lost, is one too many. My personal view, however, is that one unsupported, ill-equipped teacher is a recipe for disaster, since one teacher affects numerous pupils. The ripple effect becomes immense, as is evident in the current South African educational landscape.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Infographics & Data Visualizations |

This is surely worth a try... Data visualisation made as easy as child's play... so, lets try it out...

Infographics' Data Visualizations |

How Google + is changing news; a powerful tool for immediate stories « Social Wisdom: Digital Strategy Musings

And the convergence of all the media channels are continuing... this time from Google+ Hangouts... Maybe I must consider a Hangout for the planned Workshop at Innovation Agency.... there's an Idea...

Surely this opens up all kinds of possiblities, especially for businesses relying on Social Media to get the message out... and of course journalists.

How Google + is changing news; a powerful tool for immediate stories « Social Wisdom: Digital Strategy Musings

Friday, 20 April 2012

The hidden workplace: What's your OQ? - July 23, 2007

The academic findings of those working with Social networks in organisations are all bearing fruit... the insights we start to derive from studying organisational networks are phenomenal...

Yet, managers must learn to use SNA and the many measures that interpret sociograms / social maps, and social network analysis reports. Based on these findings teams can for example become more effective, or in the wake of organisational lay-offs, what-if analysis can be done beforehand to understand how relationships will be affected. Fractured networks more than the actual talent leaving have a far greater negative impact on productivity... something Im set to prove empiracally.

The hidden workplace: What's your OQ? - July 23, 2007

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Google Enterprise - Google+

Cloud computing taken to a whole new level... but what intrigues me are the possibilities for collaboration with others inside and outside the organisation...

Can employees ANY longer afford to work in isolation? Can any organisation carry on working they way they have? Can managers even consider NOT paying attention to these developments? Organisational IT departments and the CIO and CTO surely have to sit up and take notice...

Google Enterprise - Google+

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

What’s Mine is Yours: CC Pioneers & Protagonists

Collaborative Consumerism

A truly great idea with many examples, high- and low tech... however, poor communities or resource-challenged ones like those found in Africa all offer outstanding examples of how people have always been sharing and co-operating in order to survive.

I wonder if its just a case of (spoilt, wealthy) Westerners also waking up to the idea of sharing resources and using it more optimally. And now we have a found a word for it: Collaborative Consumerism.

Living in South Africa and travelling through the city center of Johannesburg offer countless examples of people making a living by sharing what little they have. South Africa's so-called 'Black taxis' industry is a great example of a system that works... for those who understand and rely on it... of course... and it works because of sharing routes, co-operating, etc -- all within a framework that the industry created for itself... (Simplistic view... granted)

Perhaps US citizens will recall how African-Americans shared rides with those 'brothers' who had cars, when they boycotted the racial laws that segregated busses?

But from the little that Ive read, Cuba perhaps offers the best example of the perfect recycling society... Thankfully, perhaps, the USA and consumerism stayed OUT of Cuba... I surely don't hope consumerism catches up with the Cubans when the US lifts its trade sanctions and other bans.

What’s Mine is Yours: CC Pioneers & Protagonists