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!)