Time is weird concept for me when I am travelling; weeks fly by. I have been in South Africa over a month now, and I settled in quicker than anticipated. As a teaching assistant at AIMS School Enrichment Centre, my work has highlighted the issues and challenges the education system faces in South Africa from a high level perspective as well as from the classroom level. Learning about the complexities and political history of South Africa’s educational structure has been extremely interesting, fast-paced, and full of new challenges that keep me busy and involved. Some highlights have been attending an Education Conference, a workshop visit to Ukyanou School in Masiphumelele with Lucy Hawking, and hosting Africa Code Week (ACW). During ACW, we hosted five different schools to attend ‘learn to code’ workshops; this experience highlighted the gap in education levels amongst schools in the Western Cape.
The Education Week Conference in Cape Town I attended was geared towards targeting education development in the Western Cape, and the crowd was a mix between government officials and policy makers, teachers, and technology developers. I sat in on various discussions that highlighted some of the shortcomings of the education system, one of which centred around Digital Disruption in the classroom. The focus was on how to integrate technology in classrooms effectively, and the gap between the government, teachers and policy makers became incredibly apparent. In short, the vast inequality amongst South Africans makes it immensely difficult to have any sort of province wide technology/e-learning policy. School infrastructure and social-economic status varies greatly: developed schools could easily be mistaken for a school in the Silicon Valley, in comparison to schools in townships, where one would be hard pressed to find a chalkboard. The shadows of apartheid are still looming over classrooms in the Western Cape, impacting the quality of education for students.
Now back to using technology in the classroom. On one hand the use of tablets or smartphones is one of the best resources to provide unlimited access to information, and offers an introduction to one of the most applicable skills in the current job market. In wealthier school districts the teachers are equipped to utilize the benefits of technology and deliver lessons with the aid of e-learning devices. However, in township schools specifically, many of the teachers have little experience using e-learning aids and have not had any development courses on how to teach using these devices. This environment results in phones ultimately being utilized as a source of distraction, and a tool for cyber bullying, inappropriate websites and videos. Further, and of utmost concern is the tendency for these phones to be the target of violent robberies and crimes. The common solution for many of the schools has been to ban cell phones/tablets. Although this strategy has its grounds, it hardly reaches the root of the issue, and limits students from a potentially invaluable resource.
This brings me back to AIMSSEC. The premise of the School Enrichment Centre is focused on enabling underqualified teachers from disadvantaged communities to do a professional development course. Although the initial focus is mathematics, an IT development course has been added to address the need for teaching skills regarding technology in the classroom. Training teachers to utilize technology in the classroom is a necessary step in the right direction for education in Western Cape. However, the Education Department of Western Cape, policy officials, teachers, and NGO’s such as AIMSSEC must unify and function collectively, in order to properly address the gap in education amongst its schools; easier said than done.
After adjusting to a heightened sense of safety and security, life in muizenberg has been superb. The locals I have met share my love for surfing, hiking/trail running, and occasional beers, which is easily supported by the beautiful mountains, incredible waves, and breweries. I couldn’t have found a place that suited me better if I tried!