It all begins in the classroom

Posted in education, good teaching, government, south_africa by anne_brand on March 28, 2012

Framing it with stories of Frederick William Sanderson, the remarkable 19th century headmaster of Oundle School in the UK, Daily Maverick’s Mandy de Waal has written an interesting take on the research from Harvard and Columbia which shows the influence teachers have on pupils’ lives and future living standards. Again, this has to focus South Africa’s attention on the poor quality of its teachers, and the failures of the training system to ensure that good educators make it into our schools.

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When you can’t pay school fees…

Posted in education, government, south_africa by anne_brand on March 21, 2012

Here’s a snippet off the education pages on that caught my eye today:

By law, no child can be excluded from a state school if his or her parents can’t afford to pay the fees. If both parents’ annual earnings (before tax) are less than 10 times the annual school fees, the child qualifies for a full fee exemption. Partial exemptions can also be made for parents with financial problems. You should apply to your school governing body for fee exemption. If your application is rejected, you can lodge an appeal with your provincial education department.

Apparently many parents who are unable to pay are reluctant to admit it and do not fill in the fee-exemption forms, which causes problems for the school – and often the children. At one Cape Town school, children whose parents are in arrears are forced by teachers to sit outside the classroom. I think shaming children in that way is outrageous as the financial responsibility is the parents’, not the child’s, surely?

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Good on paper, but weak in reality: Jansen

Posted in education, south_africa by anne_brand on February 26, 2012

Jonthan Jansen says he would seriously consider NOT sending his children to school in South Africa. Gulp. Why not?

“I do not trust a system that makes it possible for a child to pass Grade 12 with 30% in some subjects and 40% in other subjects. I would be filled with fear when I discover that you can get 32% in mathematics and 27% in physical science and still get an official document that says you can continue to study towards a Bachelors degree at university. I would worry myself senseless when I enrol my child in Grade 1 knowing that she could be among the more than half-a-million children who would not make it through to Grade 12. I would be horrified at the possibility that the principal might force her to do mathematical literacy because someone decided she could not do pure mathematics, because it would make the school’s pass averages look bad. And I would be angry when I find that she is guaranteed to be among the 96% pass rate for Life Orientation when all the other subjects in the national Senior Certificate have pass rates way below this number…”

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Just do something! #40daysofzams

Posted in personal by anne_brand on February 21, 2012

I think this is a great idea – and have accepted the challenge for the next 40 days.

Edited (can’t help myself) from the 40daysofzams website:

The 40 Days of Zams campaign was inspired by author Shane Claiborne who wrote book called, ‘The Irresistible Revolution’. He writes, ‘Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.’ … Although the concept of Lent is based in Christianity (the 40 days preceding Easter Sunday), all we’re asking is for 40 days of dedication to make a sandwich every day! Why? Well, because it’s a small yet significant way of telling someone you care, admire, appreciate or love them. Everyone appreciates a yummy sammie!

I have committed myself to making 40 sandwiches over the next 40 days before Easter Sunday. How about you?

Ring of fire

Posted in government, news, south_africa by anne_brand on February 21, 2012

Out of a population of 49-million, 7,5-million South Africans are out of work. Young people are worst affected, with over half of 18- to 25-year-olds unemployed. And, says Cosatu, there’s no other middle-income country in the world with such a high rate of unemployment.
“This is a crisis. We call it a ticking bomb,” Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s general secretary, is quoted as saying in a Sapa report on the M&G Online. “We think that one day there may be an explosion. Seventy-three percent of people who are unemployed in South Africa are below the age of 35 and a lot of them have been to universities.

“If we look at lots of our cities, they are all surrounded by a ring of fire. We have seen in almost every direction around Johannesburg, periodic violent protest actions led by young people and women, the two sections of the community that bear the brunt of that crisis of unemployment.”

We won’t change unless we’re forced to

Posted in Eastern Cape, education, government by anne_brand on February 20, 2012

The dastardly thing about South Africans is that we won’t change unless we’re forced to, my lawyer friend argues. That employment equity had to be legislated before businesses starting employing Africans was a good example of that. Minimum wages for domestic workers another. Despite my reservations about legally led change, I’m starting to think she’s right: change and progress only happen in South Africa once the courts get involved.

Here’s a story from Grocott’s, Grahamstown’s newspaper, about Amasango School finally getting the infrastructure it needs. Amasango, which means ‘open doorways’, works with Grahamstown’s street children, often in a bridging role, and has had some amazing success stories. It has a determined principal and committed teachers who drive the process, despite every hurdle erected by the Education Department through its inaction. The school was started in 1995, the two classrooms being two containers. Now, finally, the school has received its five prefab ‘court-order classrooms’, a library and a toilet block. (Many schools in Grahamstown’s township still have the ‘bucket system’.)

Just to get the classrooms it needs has been an impossible process, with the Education Department dragging its feet. But the school had the Legal Resources Centre on its side and, last year, the LRC had to file an order of non-compliance against the department for failing to follow a court order issued in 2010 for the provision of basic infrastructure at the school.

Absurd that it had to come to that. This was supposed to be filed under ‘good news story’, but there’s something terribly tragic at its core, don’t you think?

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On track … to losing another generation

Posted in Eastern Cape, education, government, south_africa by anne_brand on February 17, 2012

President Jacob Zuma’s assurance that the Section 100(1)(b) intervention into Eastern Cape education was “on track with all glitches resolved” has been described by Equal Education as less than convincing.

In fact, the national government has not had the courage of its convictions to carry the intervention through, which has created confusion as to who the accounting officer is, and has resulted in a crippling dispute over who has the power to finalise the teacher post establishment in the province. The long-running problems in the province are likely to recur, and a thorough-going national intervention will be needed to build capacity and clean government.

[Read the full response by Equal Education to the President’s failure to acknowledge the poor state of school infrastructure in his State of the Nation Address.]

That this issue is not on the front page of every daily newspaper every day is shocking to me. It is a crisis of desperate proportions — from which I fear we will take generations to recover. Today’s story on the M&G, Intervention needed in EC education, did little to still my beating heart. It appears Angie Motshekga’s intervention team has been forced out of the Eastern Cape by “general hostility”, despite it being part of constitutional edicts of Section 100 (1) (b), invoked early last year.

This means that there are no national education department officials in the province. It also means that the children of the Eastern Cape are once again paying the price of political in-fighting and oneupmanship. No teachers, no textbooks… Back on track to losing another generation.

Just what was that co-operation Zuma was talking about, I wonder?

Sorry state of the nation’s classrooms

Posted in education, government, south_africa by anne_brand on February 10, 2012

Tonight, President Jacob Zuma said in his State of the Nation address that the government’s ‘intense focus’ on education was ‘paying off’. He made specific reference to the Eastern Cape, where the goverment was ‘working well’ with the province to improve the delivery of education.
Really? You have to wonder if Zuma and Jansen are living in the same country. Last week, Prof Jansen slammed the Eastern Cape Department of Education in his column in the Times:

How do you declare a “go-slow” among teachers in a province that has been on a perpetual “go-slow” for decades? Did they mean “go slower”?
To understand the callousness of our politicians and unionists towards children, and the deep disregard for learning in our nation’s schools, take a hard look at the criminal behaviour of consenting adults in the Eastern Cape.

If the apartheid government did to Eastern Cape schools what the unions are doing to them at the moment, there would have been tyres burning in the streets and protest marches through East London and Port Elizabeth.

Yet, it is completely acceptable when black people ruin the lives of black children. Let me be blunt: what is happening in the Eastern Cape is nothing less than disgraceful.

Maybe it’s time Zuma and Jansen did a job swap? Perhaps then we’d see some meaningful ‘intervention’.

School for life

Posted in education, teaching philosophy, Uncategorized by anne_brand on February 9, 2012

Just picked this up off Twitter: Redefining education in the developing world. Makes an excellent case for abandoning traditoinal models of ‘content mastery’ and implementing a new educational model that will ‘help children develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are relevant to their lives and that can lift them out of poverty’. See the full article at Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Flipping the switch on cyberbullies

Posted in education, news by anne_brand on March 30, 2010

Children are apparently now using social networking tools to target their teachers or other victims. The Guardian reports on a recently released survey in the UK which shows that at least one in seven teachers has been the victim of cyberbullying by pupils or parents. “Students have set up ‘hate’ groups on social networking sites calling for specific teachers to be sacked and have even created fake profiles in their names containing defamatory information.”

And a 15-year-old girl hanged herself after “relentless” bullying by her Massachusetts classmates. This included cyberbullying  — via social media sites — and threatening SMSes, which started after she had a brief relationship with a popular boy. Nine students at the school have since been charged with multiple felony indictments. Read the full story on the NYTimes.

I think there’s something extremely messed up about all of this. It appears that one solution is that schools should have clear policies (with consequences) in place to deal with bullying — be it online or face to face. The Guardian report tells of a teacher whose students created a fake Facebook profile, and listed his interests as “underage sex with both boys and girls”. As one teacher reportedly said, “a Facebook critique can bring you to tears as a teacher”.