Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Teaching in Masks!

As schools in South Africa begin a phased re-opening, those of us who have been teaching remotely for the last two months, will need to get used to teaching some of our students on campus, and some remotely. South Africa has decided to send our matriculation and grade 7 students back first on 1 June, with other grades following in a staggered manner. But the situation is complicated by the fact that some students may elect to stay at home rather than come in to school, some may be ill and are advised to stay at home, and some may be fragile and attend school intermittently. To be frank, as teachers we do not know what to expect. How many of our students in any class will be on campus? How many at home? But we must be prepared to teach them one way or another.

When schools closed as the lockdown was announced I think we had a fairly good idea as EdTech champions as to how to help teachers prepare for teaching remotely. We were able to train those staff who needed help using the school Learning Management System. Were able to suggest software options for recording lessons, adding whiteboards, setting up online assignments, launching meetings, and so on. I do not feel as confident in any advice we can give for teaching half your class face to face, and simultaneously half of it online! This is completely uncharted territory!

Some teachers have explored Flipped Classroom models in which students watch or read instructional materials at home and then do worked activities in the classroom with the support of the teacher. This flips the traditional model where the teacher introduces concepts at school, and students do exercises which explore and consolidate the concepts at home. It seems to me that the only viable way of teaching simultaneously face-to-face and online needs to take this model as a starting point. If a classroom has an interactive whiteboard, the teacher can use the IWB and display their Learning Managment System, be it Google Classroom, Teams or Moodle on the board so that it can be seen by students in the classroom and by students at home. The teacher can then help both students in the classroom and those at home complete whatever tasks have been set. If the teacher themselves has to be at home, they can broadcast to the classroom in the same way, with a substitute teacher on site to manage the classroom. Having a web camera installed on your IWB to capture the classroom would help here as well.

This forms a very general infrastructure which could allow for a variety of pedagogical approaches to be explored by teachers. Teachers are used to adapting to changing circumstances, and will find ways of making it work. In larger departments it might be possible for teachers to team teach, one on site and one at home. Likewise I believe that it would be beneficial to use students’ personal devices in the classroom to pair up students on site and those at home to help work through activities that combine classroom and home-based activities. For example one student on site and one remote could discuss a text, or work on a shared Google doc, communicating via the LMS chat or apps such as whatsapp.

I do not think any of this will be easy, and will be open to all kinds of technological glitches, but I do believe that we will find ways of working that not only make the best of a bad situation, but also open up ways of working that will add tools to our armoury as teachers that we can use once things return to normal.

If they ever do.


Confessions of a Hair Rebel

I am not black and I am not a woman, so I feel hesitant to comment about the hair protests which have swept through girl’s schools in South Africa over the last year or so. But as a hair rebel when I was at school, I do feel qualified to add some of my own perspectives, not to attempt to co-opt the brave voices of the girls who are asserting their identities through these protests, but to set the current debate against some kind of context. In David Sherwin’s brilliant script for the Lindsay Anderson film IF (1968), a stinging satire of English Public Schools, the headmaster remarks: “So often I’ve noticed that… it’s the hair rebels who step into the breach when there’s a crisis… whether it be a fire in the house… or to sacrifice a week’s holiday… in order to give a party of slum children seven days in the country.”

When I was at school, not an English Public School, I hasten to add, the hair code was simple. Boy’s hair had to be off the collar and off the ears: short back and sides! How much you left on top was what defined you. Hair rebels were those whose hair length endangered both ears and collars and who exploited the lack of clarity about how much of a fringe you were allowed to the maximum. My own reaction to hair codes was shaped by my perception that short hair, linked to the military conscription which faced all white males in South Africa under Apartheid, symbolized Apartheid itself. The Afrikaans phrase min hare baie dae [short hair, many days] indicated how long one still had left to serve in the army!

The 1979 film Hair, of course, established an alternative vision of hirsute freedom, social liberation and the kind of laissez-faire abandon with which I preferred to identify. In the Afros and braids on the front line of the current hair revolt we can discern similar rallying cries against cultural hegemony, and a South Africa which has undergone change, but no real transformation. Containing black hair, policing black hair is, in many schools, still an issue. Let me say that I don’t think it is an issue of racism primarily. Many of the teachers most vocal in condemning some of the extravagantly provocative Afros we see these days are themselves black. Few of the former Model C or private schools actually ban Afros. But the Afro represents a strident call for the recognition for the need for transformation in a society which saw social transformation surrendered in favour of a neo-liberal agenda which allowed South Africa to remain in the good books of the bankers, but saw inequality widen, and the interests of workers in general, and the black working class in particular sacrificed for the rise of a small black elite.

As teachers we need to support, absolutely the rights of students and parents to regulate their hair as they see fit. Reasonable school rules usually reference neatness alone, and I have no problem with that. We need to recognise that hair rebels, while perhaps not so saintly as to rescue babies from burning buildings, are often at the forefront of challenging what is wrong at the roots of our society!

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Posted by on September 7, 2016 in Miscellaneous, Uncategorized


#NationalShutDown #FeesMustFall

I don’t usually blog about overtly political issues, not because I am not a political animal, but because I believe that my approach is implicitly political, and does not require overstatement. It is hard to remain silent, though, amid scenes of South African students protesting against fee increases, and exclusions from Universities. The Freedom Charter, the founding document of our democracy, was quite explicit on the matter. The doors of learning and culture shall be opened. There’s no real room for ambiguity there, and yet our government has done precious little in its power to promote education, or access to education. It has allowed the bursaries fund to become bankrupt, and is falling far short of its obligations in terms of subsidising Universities, forcing Universities to raise fees well above the rate of inflation. Indeed its failures in higher education are mirrored in a failure to address educational issues across the board. Faced with the manifest short-comings and iniquities of Apartheid education, it chose to implement an arcane and unnecessarily behaviourist interpretation of Outcomes Based Education, which left even good teachers scratching their heads and poorly trained teachers totally at sea. And when the short-comings of this approach were plain to all, it tinkered with the system rather than change it!

South Africa is not alone in seeing University fee increases used as a weapon of exclusion, and our students are not alone in taking to the streets to protest the burden of debt that is placed upon their shoulders by this, but as South African teachers we need to add our voices to the reasonable demand that education, at all levels, should be kept affordable and accessible to all regardless of gender, class or race. The protests this week are re-affirming our commitment as South Africans to the principles of the Freedom Charter, and to freedom of access to a quality education.

As a teacher of ICTs I have found the way twitter was used by the protesters as inspirational. A succession of hashtags was used to organise and publicise protest – #WitsFeesMustFall became #WitsFeesWillFall as students smelled victory, and now #NationalShutDown has been employed as the protest spreads nationally. Pictures and video was used skillfully to document events and challenge the narrative being promoted on national media. When celebrities tried to hijack the protests, selfies were banned!

Education has been allowed to slide into such crisis, and it is time for us all, teachers, students and administrators to take ownership of what is way too important to leave in the hands of politicians. It is time to #OccupyOurClassrooms! Within our classrooms we have the power to be inclusive rather than exclusive; to ensure that we engage with our students rather than merely process them through the sausage machine.

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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Miscellaneous

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