30,000 Km later

Filed Under (Education, Education Beyond Borders, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 26-08-2008

Tagged Under : , , , , , , ,

Acacia Tree in Maasai Mara

I am trying to catch up on blog posts….

Here is a letter I wrote to my colleagues upon my return two weeks ago. It contains a fairly good overview of my experiences in Africa.

The original was written on Aug. 14th:

30,000 Km later….

Hi all,

After an uneventful 44 hours of traveling, I returned home yesterday from an incredible and intense 6+ weeks of experiencing education firsthand in South Africa and Kenya.

It was a privilege to be a member of the two Teachers Without Borders CANADA (now known as Education BEyond Borders) teams – the very first teams to go abroad from Canada. My team members were first class educators from across the country. Due to a prior commitment, I left the Kenyan team a week early; this week, they are presenting workshops to about 70 elementary teachers in the rural Naivasha district (about an hour outside of Nairobi). I am feeling as though I am going through withdrawal from being a part of “the collective”.

Our visits to South Africa and Kenya exceeded our expectations. Not only did we meet with hundreds of teachers in large and small groups for workshops, meetings and school visits (where we met thousands of students), we also formally met with District Education Officers, officials from the ministries of education (in both countries), principals and heads of schools, heads and members of various NGOs, the Kenyan Institute of Ed. curricula advisors, and the representatives of CIDA at the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi. We were warmly greeted by all. The content and delivery of our workshops made quite an impression on all the educators (phew! this was a big concern) and we laid an important foundation for many, many return visits in the future. Our goal is to invite South African and Kenyan educators to be on the teams presenting workshops next year. Our vision is to build both sustainability and capacity as we move forward.

Of course, I also went on safari and had a good deal of time to have fun along the way. My team members had extraordinary senses of humour and I laughed my way across half a continent.

In the next few days, I will upload some videos for those of you who would like to hear singing and watch dancing of the African students. (That is done and you can find them here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1Ckf8B2MMQ, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBnIrJu1kiI&feature=related, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSAu-yPoLq0&feature=related )  Some awesome Maasai dancing there!!

I was the team member known for her enthusiasm about technology – and was teased almost relentlessly about the XOs. I do tend to get a bit passionate about their potential in developing nations…. :-)

The two XOs donated from LEARN were gratefully received by Fezeka High School in Gugulethu township, Cape Town (a Xhosa school) and by Longonot High School in Naivasha District of Kenya. I brought with me a total of four XOs which had been donated. Each of the schools mentioned received two XOs. Once again, a very sincere thanks to LEARN!

The Flip camera was given to an inspirational principal I met on our recon mission to the Laikipia District (Mt. Kenya region) who is connecting with a school in Canada with an organization called Kenyan Sister Schools Project. Next year, we will be offering workshops to teachers in that district as well.

Overall, I have been very humbled by the exceptional individuals from the NGOs (Edunova, Comfort the Children, Khanya) and talented educators who I met along the way.

As for what’s next, it is very likely that I will be one of the leaders of a team returning to at least South Africa next year – and I am looking for willing recruits to be on my team! Let me know if you are interested….

I hope you are all enjoying your last few weeks of summer….

cheers,

Sharon

Tectonic Shift in Thinking

Filed Under (Education, Education Beyond Borders, ICT issues, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 14-07-2008

Tagged Under : , , , , , ,

It has been a difficult day as I learned of the tragic death of one of the two leaders of my daughter’s experience trip here in South Africa. After many hours of waiting, I was finally able to contact her and share her grief for a young man whose life had held so much promise. The teenagers in the experience group have decided to continue on with the trip. My daughter told me she loves the country and people of South Africa and Sephira would only want the group to move forward with the trip.

Meg was awarded a bursary by her school to join in on the trip and, of the choices offered to her, South Africa was her top choice. I was able to meet with her a couple of times when she was in Cape Town almost two weeks ago. How special for two of us to enjoy this beautiful country together.

A few of you have asked for Konrad and I to post a podcast, and we would have done it, except for the throat infection I have acquired which has left me without a voice (not a bad thing, some of you would think!).

Our workshops ended last Thursday. I think I could say that they exceeded everyone’s expectations – the participants, the people from the NGOs who have assisted us, and ourselves. John Thole, the head of Edunova, one of the NGOs, said that he had never seen a set of workshops where there were more participants at the end than at the beginning! When one considers that the educator participants gave up a week of their holiday in order to attend – in the worst of the winter weather, without incentives, it is truly amazing. They gave us very positive feedback as well.

We were at Fezeka High School in Gugulethu Township last week for these workshops. At first, the educators, most of whom were from a Xhosa background, were very subdued and seemed shy. By the end of the week, I knew a different group of men and women. Many of the 25 or so participants did not have an email address and knew very little about computers. The school has a fully functional computer lab with Internet access at their disposal – however, with 25 computers serving a school with 1700 students, one is staggered at how little REAL access the educators and students have to computer technology. A home personal computer is unthinkable for most of the students.

The principal at Fezeka, Mr. Bobi, has only been at Fezeka since April. He attended the workshops faithfully every day – what a model for his staff! One of the first outcomes of the workshops was that he asked that a new timetable be assigned for computer access for all of the teachers and students. Before that, only certain classes had had access to the lab.

While we have been afforded some terrific opportunities to sight-see in Cape Town and nearby places, it has been the conversations with people at the schools and in the NGOs (Education Without Borders, Edunova and Khanya) that has struck me most. The South Africans are very self-conscious about their young democratic state and the need to further their educational system. They are very self-conscious about their “lack” of skills (particularly ICT skills in our situation). And so I have found them to be very open about change – I have stated on more than one occasion that if only those of us in North America could be so aware of our own “lack” and of our need to change!

We covered a lot of ground in four days of workshops both weeks – moving the educators from signing up for an email account to file management to collaborative sharing through wikis and blogs. Every morning we began with a short keynote, then teachers went into break-out groups to discuss amongst themselves how change could be negotiated in their own contexts. I was amazed at their passion and creativity as they discussed how to move forward to integrate ICT into their own school situations. This gave them an opportunity to take ownership of their school’s progress. It was during the breakout sessions that I witnessed the educators articulate a vision for where technology could augment the teaching and learning at their schools. Teachers were empowered. Light bulbs went off….

During all four days, three students, with whom I had earlier made contact over skype and email, showed up and acted as aids for some of the time of the hands-on workshops. Lwando, Tobago and Bomi would also videotape part of our sessions. Some of the time I let them experiment with the four XOs that I had brought with me. Over the weekend, they each had a video camera to take footage of their lives in Gugulethu Township – footage that I hope I can return to Canada with so that Canadian students can edit. I had some great conversations with the students – they have touched my heart.

On the final day, we were given an amazing performance by the award-winning Fezeka choir. Would you believe that over thirty of the student choir members showed up to sing for us during their vacation? Their performance was incredible – African gospel to local folk songs – even with a bit of dancing thrown in! We were moved beyond description. I hope to gain permission to podcast what I was able to record. It will send shivers down your spine.

One of the most touching moments for me personally was when were handing out certificates to the educators at the final ceremony.

She made her way through our line-up, shaking her hands with the five Canadian teachers from TWB, and stopped at me. In her wonderful Xhosa accent, she said, “I must give you a hug – you must be very strong to be a woman with all of these men!”

I laughed and gave her a big hug.

Like many other areas of the world, I observed that men made up the ranks of the management teams and leaders – particularly in the area of ICT. It was important for me, as the only woman on the TWB team, to be a model to the many educators who were women. Competency and confidence with ICT is not reliant upon gender.

I realized the other day that over the past two weeks I have undergone a tectonic shift in thinking – about educational equity in the face of great odds, about cultural differences, and about my own race and gender. I have a great deal yet to learn and to understand. Without a doubt, this has been the most profoundly gratifying initiative that I have experienced.

This week we will visit schools and classrooms with the students and teachers. I hope we can continue to have meaningful conversations that have only just begun.

Our wiki for the presentations

Fezeka Workshop Blog (please note all the blog comments contributed by the new edubloggers of South Africa!)

Teacher in Africa asks, “How can ICT make me a better teacher?”

Filed Under (Education, Education Beyond Borders, educational technology, ICT issues, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 25-06-2008

Tagged Under : , , , , , , , , , ,

I have been a bit shy about sharing the news about my trip to Africa with Teachers Without Borders, but so many of you have been asking that it is about time that I share more of what we have been planning.

The last few months I have been quietly gathering resources that will be coming with me – somehow squeezing into my luggage allowance of about 100 lbs. Thank goodness I can put a lot of resources either online or on a CD or flash drive!

Below is my itinerary – in a nutshell and from what I know so far:

June 26 – departure for Cape Town, via London UK (meet with Terry and Elaine Freedman for the day, June 27)

June 28- arrival in Cape Town, work for two days with team members David Dallman, John Ehinger and Noble Kelly on workshops

June 30 – meet with ICT Ministry of Ed folks in Cape Town

July 1 – begin workshops for about 35 teachers on implementation of ICT in the curric. – I will be presenting the info lit workshop – Internet search (for beginners)

July 2 – continue with workshops; Konrad Glogowski, our fifth team member, arrives straight from attending NECC in San Antonio; my daughter Meg arrives for a 5 week program with World Learning: Experiment in International Living

July 7 – second week of workshops for a different school

July 14 – class visits at Fezeka High School – we get to meet real students!!

July 19- panel discussion at principals’ conference

We are partnering with NGOs Edunova and Education Without Borders. The people from those organizations have been incredibly wonderful in arranging these opportunities for us. Emails have flown back and forth for a few months now – as well as a few audio and video conferences.

On July 19th, Konrad, Noble and I overnight to Nairobi Kenya and then drive to the Lake Naivasha region. We will catch up with the rest of our team of ten teachers from across Canada who will be delivering workshops to about 120 teachers in that region. Again, we have been partnering with an NGO, Comfort the Children. I have had a chance to videoconference with teachers and a few students from a school already.

Our first few days, we will have the opportunity to do classroom observations as we finalize our workshops for the teachers. We will be providing resources in the area of math, science and English (I will be helping out with the workshops for the English teachers). I am hoping we will also have ample opportunity to meet students.

On July 25th, we will begin the presentation of workshops.

On August 10th, I will fly home a week earlier than the rest of the team so that I can collaboratively present a workshop with my long-time Internet project partner, Reuven Werber (whom I have never met f2f) at CAJE in Vermont on August 14th.

Here is a list of some of the resources I plan to take (some of which I plan to leave behind):

  • 4 XOs – (all generously donated! Two donated by LEARN, two others by indiv)
  • 25 1 GB flash drives with portableapps installed on them
  • 6 manuals on ICT in education (some generously donated by a certain USask prof)
  • 1 lightweight LCD projector + set of laptop speakers
  • 2 webcams
  • 3 digital videocams (including one Flip Camera)
  • Various books and manuals for English
  • CDs and DVDs with more resources and content on them

Konrad and I also have a dream about taking as much video footage as possible of our discussions with teachers and students AS WELL AS putting the cameras in the hands of the students and having them take their own footage which we can then take back to Canada and have students edit.

Three of my own personal goals for the trip:

  • Find teachers willing to enter into a long-term mentoring relationship – North American-Africa – using the tools and environments of the Internet to foster and sustain the relationship
  • Match classrooms for collaborative learning projects – there has been much interest in both South Africa and Kenya for this!
  • Develop relationships between students through the video footage – having students “tell their story” – one group of students taking video footage – the next group editing it -

In August, when I return, I am very delighted to share that I will be returning to the classroom at The Study in Montréal, teaching English and Computer Studies – a great blend for me! They have been very warm in welcoming me on staff and supportive of my trip to Africa.

You can imagine how I already have some ideas about global collaborative projects…. :-)

One of the schools where we will be in Cape Town solicited questions and issues they would like for us to address during our workshops. The questions gave us a good idea at the level of understanding that ICT can play in the overall curricula, but most compelling was this question: “How can ICT make me a better teacher?”

I think I would need more than just even one blog post to tackle that one! It has been on my mind for weeks now and probably a good question all of us in educational technology should be asking ourselves regularly. Behind that question, I think I sense a certain disbelief that ICT really can “make better teachers”. And perhaps that person is right! I realize that I will need to keep focused on “why ICT in education”and be prepared to justify its use in education. I would love to hear your thoughts on that!

My hope is to be regularly updating my blog throughout my trip, although I may be going off the grid when I am in Kenya due to limited access to the Internet. You are welcome to join me on our adventure!