Our final few days in Cape Town were a whirlwind of school visits and meetings with teachers and facilitators. We were invited to Vulkani Primary School on Thursday and Friday to get down and dirty setting up two computer labs. Their two labs of computers had been stolen a few months ago, breaking the heart of the principal. Before the installation of the replacement computers, Edunova and the school community realized they needed to make some improvements to the building structure in order to prevent thefts in the future. Gates, new doors, and other renovations were made to the building before the equipment arrived.
On several occasions we were invited to drop by for visits to schools without understanding clearly the purpose for the visit. On one such occasion, we arrived at an elementary school so that we could be their guests for the assembly to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday. What a celebration! Local politicians and passionate young learners made speeches, songs were sung, and two of the older learners dressed up as Mandela and Winnie to pay us a visit! We felt somewhat conspicuous as the visiting foreigners snapping photos, but were very warmly welcomed later in the teachers’ staff room where we had some great conversations with other teachers. Again, I was struck by the friendliness and senses of humour the teachers shared.
On Friday, after setting up another computer lab, we headed out to Somerset College – an independent boarding school set in vineyards and horse pastures – where an “ICT Bootcamp” for 20 township principals was being hosted. The headmaster graciously agreed to host the principals for the weekend while the students were on break. John Thole, of Edunova, was the facilitator for the event. We were invited to share our ideas and experiences on ICT implementation in schools. During one breakout session, I joined a group of principals who were discussing the challenges of implementing ICT in their schools. In many of their school situations, computer labs were set up or mostly set up, but the schools had been waiting months for the promised Internet connections to be established. Many of the schools lacked an educator who understood how to use computers effectively. Much of their attention was focused on the logistics of a timetable for access to the lab and maintenance of the computer lab, as well as the constant issue of maintaining security from theft. When I suggested that use of computer software and Internet applications required a shift in pedagogical approaches as well, I was told that they had never thought of that or considered that as a factor in ICT implementation. I could see that this issue made an impact on them as we spoke.
The bootcamp approach seemed to resonate well with the principals; these are typically the people who find it very difficult to find time to meet together, but who are such critical stakeholders in the overall implementation of any new system. A few days earlier, we had demonstrated to John Thole and his team how a ning environment might be an appropriate online space where the principals could build an online community. We helped them set up a ning, showed off some of the features, and then let the team continue from there. The Edunova team later showed the ning to the principals and hopefully it will continue to be a place where they can share ideas, concerns, and approaches.
My colleagues initially had been alarmed when I had loaned out the four XOs and two video cameras to some of the learners at Fezeka High School over the week before we moved on to Kenya. They were concerned that the equipment might be stolen or not returned. To my delight, each item was returned to me with video and audio footage of the lives of Gugulethu learners and teachers. The learners pleaded with me to leave behind the XOs, saying they had really fallen in love with the machines and that they were using the “Pippy” application to help with their understanding of Python programming (which is quite similar to java – a language they are learning in their computer courses). In the end, I left two of the XOs for the use of Fezeka HS learners.
On Saturday, we said goodbye to two of our teammates who were on their way home to Canada, packed our bags, bought our few last souvenirs, did a bit more photocopying for Kenya, and held our breaths as they weighed our luggage at the airport. After 12 hours of flights and making connections, Noble, Konrad and I arrived in Nairobi early Sunday morning.
Overall, I consider the TWB South Africa experience to be very successful for all who were involved. This was a ground-breaking initiative for TWB Canada and it was important for the future of such initiatives that some positive relationships were established. Noble’s vision for TWB Canada is that these visits not be one-off experiences, but that the connections be sustained to build capacity. Each of our team members has indicated interest in returning for next year’s team or sets of teams. It is my hope to return to South Africa with TWB in the not-so-distant future and to maintain the relationships that I have established. We have a particularly strong connection to Fezeka high school where the principal so warmly welcomed us and stated his desire to make certain the computer labs were fully utilized by all the staff. I have already received emails from a few of the learners with whom I interacted as well as a couple of the teachers. We also spent a good deal of time with the folks at Edunova and we both agree that we make a good partnership. The ministry organization Khanya has also shown gratitude for what we were able to share. We also spent some time with Education Without Borders volunteers who were happy to share their knowledge about the culture and system with us.
Most importantly, I have learned that the “on-the-ground” support from other NGOs (i.e. Edunova, Education Without Borders, and to some extent, Khanya), is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL to the success of an initiative such as TWB. These groups, though cautious of us at first, were the groups who did so much of the ground work before we arrived to clear the decks for the workshops and visits. We are so thankful for their hard work and support. More than that, I must say that I was very very much touched by their vision, sacrifice and dedication to support the much-needed changes to the education system of the townships schools of South Africa. I have been humbled and awed with what I have seen.