11 posts categorized "Africa"

June 19, 2012

#NeverSeconds: Students can change the world - when we get out of the way

When I was at school, I wrote an article in the student newspaper (the Pupils' View) about how fresh, healthy food was disproportionately overpriced compared to the "yellow food" on offer in the school canteen. The result was that the Catering Director for the Local Authority actually left her job. And I got into a fair bit of trouble.

This all happened in Dunoon Grammar School, part of the Local Authority Argyll and Bute who, with similar sense of grievance and bullying last week attempted to silence one nine-year-old Martha Payne with a brutal, long-winded press release and ban of Martha's online activities.

Martha First Meal
Since the end of the Easter holidays, Martha has been writing a daily food blog about her school lunches, with the support of her dad, as a self-initiated writing project. It also set out in the noble aim to fund the building of kitchens for less fortunate children in Malawi, through the Mary's Meals charity.

Her first posts revealed the tiny portions (hence the name of her blog: NeverSeconds) and, yes, the rather yellow fried nature of her food. But things improved within barely weeks, and most meals were absolutely fine (a summary average of the scores she gave to each meal results in something over 7.5 - not bad for mass-produced school meals, but with room for improvement, a point which was very much Martha's).

Where Martha forgot her camera, she took to drawing her meal. She scored not just out of ten, but also on a health rating, how many mouthfuls it took to get through and, disturbingly, how many pieces of hair were found in it (I've yet to spot the post where there is some hair; again, a good sign).

Within weeks, her notoriety was such that school kids from elsewhere around the world were sharing their meals for Martha to publish on her blog on their behalf. 

TV chefs Jamie Oliver and Nick Nairn championed her and invited Martha over to learn how to cook herself.

Nick Nairn

Vitally, her food portions became bigger, so that a "growing girl" like her had half a chance.

So far, so good, so much a passionate kid with a passion for food, and a good way with words. And a nine-year-old changing her school's approach to food. 

Until last week:

This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today. 

I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either. 

Argyll and Bute, the school district rather than the otherwise very supportive school itself, issued a damning edict, preventing Martha from taking any more photos, writing any more blog posts about her lunches. Dinner ladies were, said the illiterate press release (we serve "deserts" to our children, really?), "afraid for their jobs". It was, according to one legal journalist, "one of the most piss-poor justifications of a ban of anything from any public authority".

Martha Payne legal tweet

Celeb chef Jamie Oliver, known globally for his crusade against poor school food, waded in to get people to lend their support with a simple retweet of his "Stay strong, Martha".

Martha Payne Jamie Oliver Tweet

Mary's Meals, for whom Martha's blog had raised £2000 by Thursday night, the day of the ban, issued a statement outlining the consequences of the ban on her efforts to build kitchens in schools in Malawi, a country with whom Scotland has a long-standing official partnership.

Martha's "Goodbye" post earned over 2000 comments and Twitter's #neverseconds tag went into meltdown. #NeverSeconds, the girl Martha Payne and, excruciatingly, Argyll and Bute council all hit the top trending terms in the UK. Her blog, having reached 2m hits in just over a month already, now saw its blog counter unable to keep up as she broke through 3m in one day.

And I was livid for her. How dare councils, and this council in particular, once more attempt to bully those in its learning community. I sent a quick tweet to the Education Minister, who is also the member of the Scottish Parliament for the area, requesting he do something in what had already been established a ridiculous and illegal abuse of power. He tweet back that he agreed, having requested the Head of the Council to lift the ban immediately.

Martha Payne Mike Russell to EM

Within 20 minutes the Head of the Council was on the radio, announcing a change of tack.

Argyll and Bute finally managed a new statement, the politicians showing more sense than their feckless faceless bureaucrats and lifting the ban.

As a result of the debacle, Argyll and Bute has gained a global reputation for awful PR, a tortoise-like reaction time on Twitter and, potentially, an interesting place to go on holiday. Was it all a tourism ploy? Given the repeated mess they get themselves into, they're almost certainly not not that clever.

But, on a positive note, Martha's long-term goal of raising £7000 for a new kitchen in a Malawi school was rather superseded: she was at nearly £50,000 ($100,000) at the weekend just past, now at £100,000 ($200,000) with more rushing in every day

She has also created the beginnings of, hopefully, lasting change: she will head up a council summit on school meals and work with them longer term on improving the quality of food for every child in the district. Happily, she's back to blogging it all once more with the support of her school and, reluctantly or not, her Local Authority. She has now had her first kitchen in Malawi named in her honour.

Martha shows every facet of great learning: real world change, making the environment around her better, sharing her thinking with the world, having a conscious for the world beyond her immediate horizons, and robustness in the face of incredible media and social media pressure. She is another 'Caine', with a supportive parent and facilitating adults around her. She'll go far.

Donate to Martha's campaign through her blog: http://neverseconds.blogspot.co.uk/

October 20, 2011

Our class of 10,000 students from 127 countries lasting 21 days

ITUWorld11kids - image

How many creativity gurus have you heard this past year talking about the overarching potential of our young people to solve the problems of tomorrow? Well, we thought we'd see just how good they are at solving those problems.

The photograph at the top of this post is just one example of how young people care about other people many thousands of miles away and want to make their lives better - produced in the last period of a long day in Iowa. You can read more of them on the world2011.us site.

Sure, it's just a piece of marketing. But it sums up weeks of work they've put in to harnessing design thinking to explore, synthesise and hone down problems they believe they could solve. And this past week, they've been prototyping their ideas for solving them.

Over the past 21 days, with the immense support of the UN agency for ICT, the International Telecommuncations Union (ITU), m'colleague Tom Barrett and I have been trying to make good our promise that we could bring 10,000 young people along, virtually, to "the most important ICT event in the world".

ITU Telecom World 11 gathers nearly 2500 of the world's Heads of State, CEOs of all the global telecommunications firms and policy wonks from South America to South Africa, Southampton to the Hamptons. We set up a campaign site to involve over four times the number of delegates (at perhaps four times less their average age ;-) to see whether their ideas collided or parted at their very roots. The goals were several:

  • provoke the speakers into speaking in 'normal', jargon-free language, conscious that 10,000 young people were trying to get a grasp on the issues that will affect them more, perhaps, than said experts on stage;
  • see if young people genuinely cared about solving what the UN has outlined as its key challenges, such as decreasing poverty and hunger, increasing access to education for all, improving gender equality and so on...
  • see if they cared enough and if their teachers, increasingly confined by State requirements to "cover the curriculum", were fired up enough to break through the pedagogical red tape and create opportunities for their students to find real problems that need solving, and then go on to propose genuine, workable solutions.

Within 21 days I can confirm one thing: never underestimate what young people are capable of.

As we head into the conference week (follow on the Twitter hashtag of #world11kids for all things young-people-related, and #ituworld11 for the wider conference coverage) I'm thrilled at what we're going to be revealing to delegates through plasma screens and projections, revealing what our class of 10,000 has achieved this past three weeks.

We're also going to see hundreds of them now participating live on the podium through Twitter as Secretary-Generals, CEOs, Heads of State and inventors of the switches that make the web work seek out the concerns and ideas of 8-18 year olds around the globe.

You want problem-based learning? This kinda fits the bill. I can't wait to unpack with our teachers and schools how on earth they've managed to achieve so much with so little time and such epic challenges to solve. It's not too late to get involved... what's holding you back?

October 03, 2011

Can your students join 10,000 others designing our future?

Problem finders
At TEDxLondon, BLC, Naace and a few other events this summer I asked if people wanted to join me in trying to encourage more curricula that were based less on students solving the irrelevant, contrived pseudo problems given to them in textbooks, and based more on finding great, real world problems that need solved.

A superb opportunity for action has come along.

Ever wondered what 10,000 young people could do to solve some of the world’s greatest problems? We want to know for the world’s most important ICT event, ITU Telecom World 11, by gathering young people's vision for the future on world2011.us.

The October 24-27 event is the flagship meeting of the world’s telecoms industries, brought together by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the specialised United Nations agency responsible for information and communication technologies. In the run up to the event, and during it, we’ll be showcasing the ideas of young people, aged 8-18, alongside the debates, panels and corridor discussions of these influential delegates.

I've been at so many events recently that have either totally lacked the student voice, or made third party reference to it through second-hand reportag from their teachers. This is a real chance for your students to make a global impact on problems that matter, wherever they are.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime real world project-based learning opportunity, that ties into most teachers’ curriculum at any given point in the year.

We’re providing some brief points of inspiration to get you started, over the seven key themes, and will open up a wiki space today where teachers can collaborate and add to each other’s resources on the areas.

By October 24, we hope to have videos, photos, blogs and examples or prototypes of what young people believe might help solve challenges on their own doorstep. Sign up your class, school or district to begin sharing the ideas of your students. We want you to tell us how technology could be harnessed to:

To take part, you just have to sign up your interest, and from there you’re able to submit posts to the project.

Pic: some problem finders in one of our schools in Ormeau, Brisbane, Australia.

January 19, 2011

Sugata Mitra: The Granny Cloud

You can have places where you cannot build a school. More commonly you can have schools in places where good teachers do not want to go. So what do you do? You still have children there who need and want to learn. That is the issue that Sugata Mitra is trying to solve with his latest experiment, the Granny Cloud.

He is building on the Hole In The Wall learning experiment, where children autonomously access an 'ATM' computer on the streets of India and South America and, with their peers, learn through the activities and experiences in front of them. Not just that, but given most of the content they are accessing on the web is in English, they're also having to learn English. All this without a teacher, without a school building in sight.

On one trip to see how the Hole In The Wall experiment was working he asked a girl to take on the role of the grandmother, standing in the background and applauding the self-directed learning going on with the "My goodness, I couldn't have done that" empathy that all our grandmothers, or grannies, take on.

The Granny Cloud was born. This is a group of grandmothers all over the UK who log on once a week to Skype with youngsters in India, and take on that appraising role that all grannies do so well, to tell stories, to stimulate fresh ideas and new ways of looking at the same old things. Mitra hopes to see a 25% increase in attainment thanks to this coaching/feedback mechanism.

This type of 'learning from the extremes' is working in schools in the UK now, too. By splitting up into groups of four, children answer 'impossible' questions simply through going to find out. For example, "Where does language come from?". In the video above you can see how the answers reached - without the aid of a teacher - are just as 'correct' as those that might have been 'delivered' by a teacher, but reached through some other mechanic, something other than the way we've traditionally thought children learn. It also throws into question the assumption that we always need a specialist teacher in front of kids in order that they learn.

When I was talking with Sudhir Ghodke at The Education Project last year, captured in the video below, he made a terrifying point: that in India there are not even enough bodies, skilled teachers or otherwise, to put in front of a growing child population, for the notion of traditional schooling to work at all. It's understandible in a country holding 25% of the world's under-25s, or 135m new people entering the workforce:

The Hole In The Wall was a product that benefitted those who had access to it. The Granny Cloud, or at least the findings of this experiment in reinforcing self-directed learning from outside the classroom, offer us a set of techniques and approaches that can be used wherever you are in the world. You might need Skype to harness the British Grannies themselves, but adults can change their approach to learning and teaching and have just as profound an impact: again, it's about getting out of the way of learning as much as possible.

Thanks to Peter Hirst from Every1speaks for bringing the Granny Cloud to my attention in the comments to my post, If you truly want to engage pupils, relinquish the reins and give them the chance to learn by doing.

Sugata Mitra joins me this March at the Naace Annual Strategic Conference in Reading.

November 28, 2010

[ #msief ] Thanksgiving 2010: Educators in the U.S. have a lot to be grateful for (VIDEO)

I know that given the education humdrum Stateside for the past few months, and the ensuing train wreck of the English education system, it might seem a patronising to suggest teachers might just take a moment to pause and reflect on what it is they do have, what they can be grateful for.

But when I returned from South Africa a couple of weeks ago, I had some video I had shot in a school on my first morning out and about. My suitcase was lost in transit, with the microphone, so the audio's not great, but the day-to-day struggles of Principal Juan Julius at Hout Bay High School, the struggle to provide his students the best education he and his staff feel they deserve, are enough to make compelling viewing this Thanksgiving:

We have a feeding scheme in the school. During the break I have to go up to the kitchen and assist the lady there, dishing and serving plates of food so that they can concentrate in class. I think sometimes the father-mother figure must come stronger than the teacher figure in this school environment. Because when you show love and you give love and show you understand their problems -- not that you say "yes I understand", but that you really sit down and listen and you grapple with the problems that they experience and you come up with actual solutions...
It's so complicated. Most teachers are just not interested in that. They're interested in the new house, a bigger house, the money in the bank, the nice house, nice clothes, the overseas trip, whatever.
I can't say that.
I had a holiday last in Scotland and that was more than 27 years back, because my money is not my money any more. My money, and my family's money, is the students' money. And that means a lot to me. We really, really make a difference. Everywhere else, it's about money, having enough money. If you need something you go and buy it.
But here, you appreciate what you have and look after it. The little bit we have we plough back into the community.

Food for thought the next time we concern ourselves with one less interactive whiteboard than we wished, or a laptop that takes too long to get repaired. Happy Thanksgiving.

This post was originally published in the Huffington Post.

November 05, 2010

#HuffPost No. 2: Inspiring Learners with Technology... and No Electricity


I'm delighted to see some great interest in my latest Huffington Post, the inspiring story of Moliehe Sekese of Lesotho who has in the past year become a globally acclaimed educator for her work harnessing technology, despite not having had electricity in her school until last month.

The video included in the post would make an interesting stimulus for discussion with students, just at the time when they're gearing up to ask Santa Claus for the latest tech tools, or with teachers as budgets get clamped down and technology becomes harder to resource. If you do use it with either group, let me know how it goes. You can use ZamZar.com to grab the video onto a USB stick at home if YouTube is blocked in your school, or try the Vimeo version of Moliehe's discussion with me.

Read more of my thoughts on the Huffington Post.

November 02, 2010

The real digital divide: time zones kill truly global thinking

I've returned from an exhilarating week in South Africa with Microsoft's Innovative Education Forum showcasing hundreds of fascinating teachers and schools from across the world. The passion of the township kids in the video above sums up the passion and hospitality we were shown, and the hardest work their educators put in to bring joy and learning to them every day.

But most of those teaching in the Western world won't know or care about students cracking cancer cells through vector diagrams in India, the five Arab states that pooled their learning to create a new understanding (and scooped the main award) or the inspirational learning happening in a country where 40% of people live below the poverty line, despite it being one of the world's principal diamond exporters.

I say this based on a personal, unscientific and flawed set of stats gleaned from this site, but one I feel compelled to share. And it was in discussion with Vicki Davis, also with me in South Africa, that we both felt the impact of something outside the control of most classroom teachers and young people: time zones.

Both of us realised quickly that no-one was reading the posts we had started to share from South Africa (my South Africa insights and videos have started here with more to follow; Vicki's thoughts and videos are here).

We were posting the minute we had discovered a new tale, at anything between 10am and 5pm South African time, or 8am-3pm GMT. It was only after one day of seeing no-one was reading her posts, compared to normal, that Vicki started to repost and set new blog entries to post around midnight, to catch the US East Coast's sweet spot. The result? People started to read and watch the videos there, and the viewing spread across to the US West Coast. The same effect was visible on my own blog (and is visible whenever I post too early in the day here in Scotland).

Vicki, I hope she won't mind me saying, was perturbed by such a "rookie error" of posting outside her normal time zones, but I don't think it's that rookie at all. When we're working with young people and they publish their work there is a definite thrill in pressing that publish button and seeing it hit the web now. There is much less thrill in pressing the "Pubish on..." button and seeing it published six hours later so that an American audience can catch it and, with their retweet button, decide whether a thought from outside their timezone is spreadable or not.

And in that, you have the main reason for which I, at least, feel conversations in education have become more parochial than global in the past two years. The subject matter is often the same, but the information and experiences feeding into the conversations feel remarkably segmented by time zone. The loudest conversations at the moment are those about a documentary most of the world don't care about on a local level (and which isn't showing in most of the world's cinemas):

No cinemas showing Waiting For Superman

Why is this so? My stats would suggest it's the Twitterification of thought-creation and thought-leading.

Twitterfication - the fast food of education thinking

Twitter has, for most folk, become their aggregator of choice. No longer do blog posts have a half-life of 24 hours, happily resting in your Google Reader until you launch it in the morning (your morning). Instead, your blog post has to hit a sweet spot where the maximum number of connectors and spreaders are awake, at their machine and ready to press "Retweet". That means hitting "Publish" at a time convenient to the mass of educators on the East Coast US, with a half-life of minutes before it is lost in the stream of other thoughts, resources and locker-room banter about baseball.

The conversations have also disappeared from most of the blogs that I, at least, read from outside the US and Canada. They're maybe happening on Twitter, but are now dislocated from their origins, impossible to trace back, and even more impregnable to those coming in 24 hours late.

So, is the media literacy lesson here that we need to teach children the world over that, to make their point they have to make it at East Coast time? Or is the media literacy point here that educators and decision-makers Stateside mustn't down all their slow-food style aggregators just yet, and make a point of reading things published outside the hours of 9am-8pm East Coast?

(And, yes, I've written a provocative post at 10:39am GMT - let's see who can prove me wrong ;-) See video of the kids dancing over on my Flickr page, or below. Catch up on all my videos from schools in South Africa by subscribing to my YouTube channel)

October 30, 2010

[ #msief ]: John West-Burnham's Seven Questions for Leaders of Learning

John West-Burnham
John West-Burnham ended the Partners in Excellence Worldwide Innovative Education Forum with a set of conversations. What would your conversations be around these questions?

Are we just about Improvement or are we truly trying to move to transformation in learning?
Are we becoming immune to improvement, in that there's a limit to how much we can approve? If that's the case then what we really need is innovation that transforms where we are, that moves what we're doing into a new space where we can further improve.

"We cannot restructure a structure that is splintered at its roots. Adding wings to caterpillars does not create butterflies - it creates awkward and dysfunctional caterpillars. Butterflies are creating through transformation." (McLuhan, 1995)

But why move off into new ground? Is it a given that change is good, that where we have improved to is not good enough? We innovate because opportunity, well-being success, learning, inclusion and excellence are not available to all.

It comes with its challenges. When I was introducing a totally project-based, product-based curriculum in my French classroom in 2002, to when I propose it to teachers all over the world now, the loaded response is: "That's great, really engaging, but at the end of the day we've got to pass exams." The implication is that different = worse. If we've managed to get 80% of students (or 99%) succeeding with these, splintered methods then how could any change improve on that?

What is the reason for our change and evolving projects? What is its Moral Purpose?
Equality and equity of provision is a fusion that leads us to true social justice. Any strategy focusing on innovation has to promote social justice to be long-term sustainability.

"The high quality and performance of Finland's education system cannot be divorced from the clarity, characteristics of, and broad consensus about the country's broader social vision. There is compelling clarity about and commitment to inclusive, equitable, and innovative social values beyond as well as within the education system." (Pont et al 2008:80)

And what future is it leading us to? What future are we creating?
If you were to ask students what their criteria of success were for the schooling process they would almost all say "fairness". They have a strong sense of justice, of social justice even. If you ask teachers, they'll use the word "consistency". Leaders have to translate policy, words, into practice. They have to tell stories that capture imagination and provide a guiding light for everyone that hears and uses those stories - these stories are what management consultants call 'vision'.

Allowing people just to dream about what they would like as a future for learning is hugely powerful. Giving permission to believe the unbelievable can create a path which people can end up working towards. Building scenarios, pictures of a preferred joint future are vital in helping paint a target around the arrow.

This process is vital - we need a moral destination for our work to make the journey to its achievement possible, and easier. What is it we're trying to do, where does it lead us, why are we taking this journey and why are we going to that destination?

What trust networks have we been able to gather, and how are we going to use them?

"We don't come fully former into the world. We learn how to think, how to walk, how to speak, how to behave, indeed how to be human from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. We are made for togetherness… to exist in a tender network of interdependence. That is how you have ubuntu - you care, you are hospitable, you're gentle, you're compassionate and concerned."
Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

"We-Think emerges when diverse groups of independent individuals collaborate effectively. It is not group-think - submersion in a homogeneous, unthinking mass. Crowds and mobs are as stupid as they are wise. It all depends on how the individual members combine participation and collaboration, diversity, and shared values, independence of thought and community."
Charles Leadbeater.

"That leaves us with just two main sets of factors behind Easter [Island]'s collapse: human environmental impacts, especially deforestation… and the political, social and religious factors behind the impacts… competition between clans and chiefs driving the erection of bigger statues requiring more wood, rope and food.
Jared Diamond

One of the challenges is the extent to which we are going to sustain innovation through sharing. How do we build communities of learning for students, moving schools from places of learning to places of communities. Professional generosity is one of the most powerful means of raising the whole educational game. Part of this, in a virtual sense, is to do with the defaults of systems: all too often the virtual learning environment is set to default sharing with just the class or the school, and not the world. But collaborating with a school 6000 miles away is probably easier and more common than collaborating with the school just down the road - how many secondaries / high schools regularly collaborate, whole school, with another neighbouring high school.


"When trust is high, the dividend you receive is like a performance multiplier… In a company, high trust materially improves communication, collaboration, execution, innovation… In your personal life, high trust significantly improves your excitement, energy, passion, creativity and joy in your relationships…"
Stephen Covey

If you want me, as a teacher, to really let hog of my habituated practice, to work in different ways, then I've got to trust you.


Children in schools go through all phases of trusting within just one school day. When you're a 12 year old boy you live in a control culture ("In by 8pm or else"). By 16 there's some delegation and negotiation ("How about 11pm? Hmmm, how about 10pm?"). By 18 you're legally empowered to do what you want ("What time might we see you"). As a 32 year old you are bound by family but not  ("Who are you?").

Is what we're doing a vocation or just a job?

"When people are in their Element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose and well-being. Being there provides a sense of self-revelation, of defining who they really are and what they are meant to be doing with their lives."
Ken Robinson

When faced with 350 Head Teachers deemed by a national accountability agency as "Outstanding", John asked "Why are you outstanding?" Two thirds responded: "A sense of calling."

And when we face a huge range of pressure, where are our reservoirs of hope?

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without words
And never stops… at all.
   Emily Dickinson

Long-term sustainable innovation, leadership and creativity depends on a sense of hope. The most creative and innovative heroes we have all seemed to have this deep well of hope.

"The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wider than the sum of its parts. Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; freqneutn coffee houses and other liquid networks; follow the links, let others build...
Steven Johnson

The connection that we aspire to make is shared by all educators: the neural pathway. The child and the family connecting and interdependent. The community connecting. Then get connectivity between communities.

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.


  • 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.


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


  • 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.

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.

Recent Posts