13 posts categorized "Africa"

October 28, 2010

[ #msief ]: Use stumbling blocks as stepping stones: Moliehi Sekese, Lesotho

Moliehi Sekese wakes up in the morning, packs up her laptop, fully charged, and heads of to teach her students at Mamoeketsi Government Primary School, Lesotho. From the minute class begins that morning, students crowd around her PC, exploring maths, science and other concepts through the glowing rectangle for as long as the charge lasts and then, when it's done, it's done.

Battery life is a perennial laptops-in-schools issue - give the students enough power to get through the day because charging up is so problematic. Cables everywhere, children having to work at the edges of the classroom where the sockets are…

But until last month, Moliehi's battery life issue was critical - she had no electricity at her school at all. Battery life isn't, for her, a mere inconvenience. It is the difference between further entrenching "the way it's always been done" and engaging children in the skills and global view that they can aspire to, given the tools to discover it.

Students have taken their parents' mobile phones to track their research into endangered plant life in their community, sending their teacher reports and updates up to midnight. They have sold sweets and oranges to raise money. What for? A school trip to the internet cafe 15 miles away. They used Moliehe's laptop - fully charged - and a borrowed scanner to grab jpgs of the hand drawn illustrations of the plants they were studying, making campaign flyers in Microsoft Publisher. The locals paid attention, where they hadn't before. Why? They had never seen flyers with ink so bright.

Moliehe is passionate about learning, and technology has engaged her students and the rest of the community in the projects students have undertaken. But it's her attitude to what she and her students don't have that presents a lesson many Western educators, complaining about technology provision or technology policy being a barrier to getting things done:

"It was a joyful experience to experience the unexpected. When the mind is prepared, the moment we are given the opportunity to integrate technology into the classroom. It's not about having 100 computers in the class. We have limited resources and we can do a lot.

"It's all about passion, love of what we are doing and also, we need to share whatever we have.

"Stop blaming the challenges. Use a stumbling block as a stepping stone to success."

See part of my interview with Moliehe in the video, above, or on YouTube.

October 27, 2010

[ #msief ]: Sue Redelinghuys, St Cyprian's School, on Creative Buildings, Spaces, Learning and Teaching

When schools talk about "innovation labs" or "creativity centres", it's normally a sign that the mavericks have been sent off to their own corner so as not to get in the way of the serious learning going on in the rest of the establishment. Not so in Sue Redelinghuys' school.

Sue heads up Cape Town's St Cyprian's school, an independent school for girls in the city, that's just become on of Microsoft's global pathfinder schools. Innovation in pedagogy and school building is constant - the building and rebuilding doesn't stop on this hillside patch of learning in the shadow of Table Mountain.

The 'burbs have grown around the school in the hundreds of years it's been there, originally as a homestead and, when the farms moved out to the countryside, as a school. The result is a school that's hemmed in on all sides, presenting a constant struggle to the school as it rebuilds and renovates its older buildings while trying not to disrupt the learning of the students on what is, relatively speaking, a cramped campus.

This means that as new buildings are built or old ones renovated, they somewhat reflect the pedagogical push of that moment. Injecting the creativity one might see in the art and music classrooms at the bottom of the hill into the learning that takes place elsewhere in the school has resulted in the recent completion of a "creativity centre", but its style and student-centred thinking has already infected other parts of the school in small, meaningful ways.

St Cyprian's feels like it's worked out how to hothouse creativity and innovation in physical space, without sidelining those working in more traditional areas of the school. In my video, above, Head of School Sue Redelinghuys explains how.

The library area feels like the hub of the school and really capitalises on many of those spaces of learning I've tried to mark out in the sand:

  • Secret spaces abound, with soft, personal reading areas scattered under stairwells and up in the attic space, away from the prying eyes of adults.

    IMG_1696


  • Group spaces, such as the three self-enclosed discussion hubs, remind us of Roman baths or fora, where students can talk without disturbing those around them - electricity points are available, as is wifi and laptops for loan. The Head of Technology at the school feels it's only a matter of time that some of these students, admittedly better off than most of their counterparts elsewhere in the country, start using the internet-enabled smartphones they have, and will be getting more of this Christmas.

    Learning Hubs

  • Participation is encouraged through shared communal space, where work is put on show next to the spaces where students can hang out. The steps to the attic are more reminiscent of an Italian marketplace, where young people hang out and share stories, than a library where young folk are expected to belt up and be quiet. The nursery, as you'd expect, is nothing but participation space, outdoors for the nine months of good weather.

    IMG_1690


  • Watching spaces are celebrated, including the inclusion of a small outdoor amphitheatre.

    IMG_1717


  • All the senses are included - the consistent smell of lavender around the school is genuinely relaxing. If we planted more of it I wonder what the effect would be on some of our more challenging students.

See more photos from St Cyprian's on Flickr, and the video of its Head on creative spaces and creativity in learning on YouTube.

October 25, 2010

[ #msief ]: In the land where 90% of schools don't have the net

Ewan McIntosh msief And 70% have no access to information technology at all.

I'll be in South Africa all week, visiting schools in some of Cape Town's townships tomorrow, and on Wednesday meeting and interviewing the Vice Presidents at Microsoft responsible for making a truly global impact for their company, and for the country's 12million learners' futures in the years to come.

I'll wrap up the week with some of the most innovative technology stories emerging from around the globe as 400 educators converge on the Cape for a jamboree of teaching and learning as South Africa hosts Microsoft Partners in Learning's Worldwide Innovative Education Forum, the first time it's set foot on the continent, and 18 years after Microsoft set up its first office here.

This country does, without doubt, quickly present the digital divide in stark terms. Hotel internet is available at a good rate (about $15 a night), and it's fast. But only 70% of schools have access to any form of technology, and only a third of them have access to the web. Reza Bardien, the education lead at Microsoft South Africa sees the imperative to prepare the 12million learners here for the digital workplaces that await those who make there - everything from the restaurant to the shop where I bought my power adaptor runs of PCs with SQL databases.

But her admission that "it is a daunting task" is understatement to say the least.

Here's what I'm hoping to find: in a rapidly growing city in the global region fastest recovering from the global financial crisis with a population of whom 40% are under 18 years old, we will find creative approaches to engaging learners on their terms, looking at content that really matters to them, learning that is going to help them survive in the world they have around them. It will be a learning that we recognise in some ways - much in the same way as we recognise Chinese food in Chinese restaurants we've never been to before - but it certainly won't be in consistent and unwavering praise of that education heaven, Finland, and it won't be promoting the ideal model of learning as a North American one, the vision which, for the past month of charter school mayhem, assessment and standards groaning and Education Nation soundbites, one might feel is the only system worth discussing on the most common "international education" blogs and magazine sites.

I'm thinking that learning at these kind of extremes, as Charles Leadbeater has shown this past year in his report for Cisco (pdf) and subsequent TED Talk, offers some direction to those of us in Europe, North America and well-off Middle East and Far East countries. Seeing how learning has adapted here to be productive, I hope to be able to better envision what Scotland's learning might look like if we were to strip it back to its students' real, authentic needs, the needs that we might see pulling on us if we seek it hard enough, and not those that are pushed to them by curriculum, strategy and policy.

I can't wait to share my video (on my Vimeo channel and YouTube channel), photographs, tweets (#mseif) and reflections here on the blog and on the Huffington Post, about how learning from the extremes might offer some inspiration for troubled education systems on the other side of the equator.

If you have questions of your own that you'd like me to ask students, teachers or education leaders in the townships, or Microsoft's most senior education VPs, let me know straightaway, and I'll post their answers.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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