SGB’s in court & 4.4 million kids in large classes

I don’t know whether anyone saw this piece of news on Friday or not. I would have missed it, except that my hubby pointed me to it. However, a primary school SGB is going to court over whether they, or the DBE, have the final say on whether the school is full or not.

The school had decided on its intake, and then a local resident applied for their child to attend. They were put onto a waiting list, which they decided to appeal with the Dept. The Dept then forced the school to take the child, although they did not have the space. So the SGB has taken the Dept to court.

This is quite a big deal. Just thinking of my own classroom, or of some of the classrooms in our school. (Yes, I know that secondary is very different to primary, but I think the principle remains.) For my subject, which is practical in nature, there are physically a limited number I can accommodate in my room. If the DBE now says I must accommodate an extra one (or four) that has serious implications. Not only will it make my teaching a LOT more difficult, but it will mean I have insufficient resources (from desks and chairs to lab equipment) to effectively deliver the curriculum – so there is a cost implied for the school. If this is the same for most subjects, that cost could be significant.

Moreover, I think it’s unsafe to have more than the maximum number of people in the space. In the event of a genuine emergency, will we be able to get out of the building in time? (Yes, I know that many schools sit with up to 65 people in one classroom at a time (I think we all accept that that situation is unsafe, as well as being completely undesirable for teaching!) and that in reality I will never have more than 40 in my class, but I think the principle is one worth considering.

In the light of a recent press release by the DA Shadow Minister of DBE, Annette Lovemore, the ANC has failed to meet 53% of its own targets. One of these includes ensuring that less than 70% of children sit in a class with fewer than 45 children. Granted, the ANC has reached the benchmark of 65%. However, when translated to reality, this still means that there are nearly 4.4 MILLION children in SA who are sitting in classes bigger than 45. I don’t know what you call that, but I call it a travesty. There is no way that any child can have effective education in that scenario.

I understand that in an effort to get more children into school, the DBE sometimes has to force schools to take children they don’t want, but a better solution would be to build more schools and hire more teachers. Trying to force more schools to take more pupils only does a disservice to the kids already in that school.

When we look at the basic infrastructre schools need to function properly (and here I mean toilets, classrooms, desks, security, etc.) the dear Angie STILL hasn’t told us what schools need (not that I expect she would know anyway…). I taught at a winter school for a local primary school during the Jun/ Jul hols, and I was AGHAST at the standard of the toilets the kids have to put up with – no doors, no seats, cracked & leaking toilet bowls, broken windows so that the interior of the toilet block was exposed to the Cape Town winter elements…. How can girls be expected to go to the toilet with any measure of privacy or respect when anyone (including boys OUTSIDE) walking past can see them? According to Mazlow, you can’t expect children to be ready to learn if they’re having to deal with safety and security issues – food, warmth, love.

There’s no doubt that our education system is in crisis. And no wonder. If the DBE can’t even deal with basic infrastucture, how do we expect it to be able to deal with the higher order thinking stuff – like a means for effectively reducing that ghastly number of 4.4 million who are sitting in classes so large they will never be heard, let alone seen, or helped – because there’s no way a teacher in a class that large can even walk over to to look at a child’s book! They’ll be sitting 3 to a desk and all the aisles will be full too. (God help them if there’s a fire!)

At the end of the day, I still say that there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution. Treating schools fairly doesn’t mean treating them equally. Those schools that are functional should be left alone to get on with what they do best – which means allowing them to have the final decision on whether or not they’re full. Those schools that aren’t functioning, or where the pass rate is less than 80% (in my humble opinion) should be the ones that are being dealt with. Even then, 80% pass rate is acceptable compared with schools where the pass rate is 20% or 40%.

So – how do we get more quality schools? Pay a better salary to teachers, and demand a higher level of education from them. In many countries around the world you may not teach unless you have a Masters degree. (Of course, that would exclude me from the list! I don’t even have my Hons!!) If you don’t know your subject, or how to teach effectively, you shouldn’t be in the classroom.

Then again, when I look at the results of one of our current grades… eish! I feel like I might as well not have been in the classroom for all the good it did them – and not just my class: right across the grade. These kids just don’t study. There is NO excuse for the sort of lack of work ethic I see. The kids at my school have EVERY opportunity to do well…. particularly in light of the conditions the 44 million have to face on a daily basis. Yet, they still choose not to make use of them. I would love to do do an enforced swap – let the entire grade spend a week living in the shoes of children from Limpopo. Let them live in a shack, have to walk miles to get to school, sit in a classroom with 65 others, where the teacher might/ might not show up, might/ might not know the subject well enough to teach, and go without food for a meal or two.

What I find particularly tragic is that the whole point of The Struggle was to get equal education for all. Not only has that NOT been achieved, but the majority of those who have the privilege of a good education fail to appreciate the price at which it was accomplished for them. They have this air of entitlement… sometimes it makes me sick to my stomach.

You know what? If the government wants to force schools to take more children, fine. But then let the school decide WHICH children to take – based purely on effort – not results or location. Those kids who TRY, who give it their all, who behave, who follow instructions, who respect their community and environment, who participate – THOSE are the kids who should be given an education. The ones who are merely carbon dioxide contributors should be kicked out. Let them go contribute to global warming from their homes. (Yes, I know – pipe dream, because all that will accomplish is an increase in crime as bored kids sit at home with nothing to do, and no education to learn how to reason…. It’s just that I’m really sick and tired of pouring my energies down the drain.)

Which brings me back to the point – how does one decide, fairly and equitably, how many children a school can accommodate, and which children should be accommodated at each school? It’s a tough issue, but maybe this court case will bring a bit of clarity.

Wibbly Pig is bouncy

I had a fascinating meeting this morning with a student from Denmark who is doing his thesis on e-learning. It was fabulous to hear about what other schools are doing – or not doing, more likely. It was inspiring to talk about the possibilities for using IT in schools, and for e-learning. It was so nice to be affirmed, to be told that what I’m doing, what I’m thinking, what I’m passionate about is not only on the right track, but is even ahead of what is happening in many First-world schools.

We ran out of time, so we’re going to be meeting again next week. I’m already excited about that meeting. One of the things we’re going to be talking about is a possible collaboration project. He has 4 smart phones to donate, and we’re going to look at ways to make use of them, or to trial their use here. Depending on what happens, we might get to keep them at the end of that project.

I think the nicest thing though, was to be able to share my frustrations with someone who really understands and who was amazed by the problems we face. It was so nice to walk away feeling like, despite the size of this project, it is possible to achieve my dreams – with a little help from my friends.

So Wibbly Pig is bouncy, and definitely NOT ready for sleep.

Meeting the experts

My other half is also an IT type. He’s given me some contacts in schools around us who are doing something similar to my post. So far, I’ve been to meet two of them. It’s been fabulous meeting others and talking with them about more than just the nitty gritty, but about their vision and dreams and hopes and aspirations.

Of course, the nitty gritty stuff has been interesting too. I’ve already been exposed to a few nice little applications that I might otherwise have missed. Of course, I can already feel myself falling into the trap of wanting to implement them all, right here and now. I have to avoid that if I’m going to step back and try to see the bigger picture and look at this stuff holistically! I can see that that’s going to be tough. I like playing with new toys, and can’t wait to try these things out to see how they work and whether they will work in our context.

I have come away from both meetings feeling overwhelmed with ideas of things to try, but so thrilled and enthused and convinced that I am on the right track. (I even got a half-joking job offer from one of the schools!)

I’ve also made contact with some folks in the USA who have recommended stuff for me to read, which I’m keen to do. Of course, now I need to find some time to do the reading and get to grips with all that is out there.

Hmm…. time. Yes. That stuff I have so precious little of. EEEEK! Just seen the time now. Am already late for my next meeting.

New joys, new frustrations

With any job there comes a measure of joy and a measure of frustration. With teaching, I love the actual teaching. I hate the admin work that goes with it. With this new post, I’m loving being able to spend time helping my colleagues, and doing research, and thinking. However, I’m finding it frustrating to find the balance between my teaching responsibilities, and my EdTech responsibilities. I’m also finding it particularly difficult not having my own space anywhere.

While I always teach in my lab, when I’m not teaching, it’s being used by the wanderers. It’s great for them to be able to use it, because then they are almost always teaching in one venue, which, as any teacher will tell you, makes a huge difference to your teaching. For me though, the frustration is that the only other place I can work in is the staff workroom. This is a great space, but means that I can’t shut the door on others while I get on with my thinking or research work.

I love that people are asking me questions. I love being more available to help them. I don’t want that to change. However, I do need to find somewhere in the building where I can work undisturbed to be able to get the bigger pieces of EdTech work done. I simply have to.

A new experiment

Following the launch of Siyavula’s “FullMarks” programme (which I helped with), and seeing how FullMarks tries to integrate in a holistic way with a few other applications, it struck me that my school has no-one attempting to integrate the various IT things going on in the school. We have our network administrator and a CAT teacher, and then a few odd bods (like me) who are keen to introduce new stuff.

So I went to the principal and proposed that he create a post for this, which he duly did. I applied, and was appointed.

This blog will hopefully document my progress through the year and beyond as I navigate this journey. My responsibilities are:

  • to look at the use of IT and educational technology (EdTech) in the school
  • to research the EdTech that is currently available to use
  • assess what will work in our context
  • formulate a policy for the implementation of EdTech at the school over the next 3-5 years
  • prepare a budget for the implementation of EdTech
  • implement the various applications that we decide to use in an integrated way
  • train teachers in the use of EdTech (which could be as simple as teaching them how to use Excel or PPT)

I’m hoping to try and use this information as part of my master’s degree as well, in the use of IT in schools, or to enter the Innovative Teachers’ Forum competition, but first I need to find my feet!