Sunday, August 6, 2017

South Africa- The promise and Challenge of Education

My last day in South Africa I had lunch with faculty from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. I had an enlightening conversation with Vusi Msiza a lecturer and current PhD student. The conversation was focused on what I prefer to call the South African miracle- the fact that South Africa was able to emerge from Apartheid with a bloody civil war.  Vusi helped me see how close South Africa came to a civil war and how the combination of luck and leadership prevented a downward spiral. We then turned to the recursive relationship between poverty and educational attainment. I made my argument that for South Africa to succeed in its lofty educational goals it needs a different approach. What I saw around the country was mostly a striving to reach 20th century panaceas. At the same time we both recognized the impact of economics on potential outcomes for kids as can be seen in the figure below.
On the flight back I continued thinking about this as a design problem and came up with a few interesting ideas that emerged from my observations of education in South Africa.
1. Elementary schools should be bilingual immersion program that include a local non-English language (say isiZulu) and English. Right now some school are monolingual in k-3 and then switch to English. The research literature really supports bilingual immersion programs and they can offer many cognitive benefits. They also offer identity benefits as home language can be supported longer. Finally it prevents hard transition when language of instruction switches to English.
2. An effort like will need an emphasis on teacher training for teaching in bilingual environments- a job for leading university. Another need would be to create enough curriculum in all 11 languages so a vision like that could come to pass.
3. Use out of school time to encourage entrepreneurship and technology use. The current school system is not equipped to provide these development tools quickly and it may be easier to do outside the traditional systems with their established matric goals.
4. Realize that change in education has to come with community development and job opportunities. Without those any effort will die because those participating will lose hope and may eventually become a radical element.

There is much more that needs doing but these are my ten cents and my frustration. I dislike not being able to do anything about it!

Sunday, July 23, 2017


Yesterday we visited the Langa township and took a walking tour. One of the things that struck me as we walked around was the ingenuity of the inhabitants in reusing materials to build what ever was needed.
We saw a little girl play with a colorful push toy similar to the Fisher Price one. It was ingeniously built, rotated nicely and I have a feeling worked better than a real one would given the conditions.

A second example is the radio transistor for sale (in the picture). The cretors have emptied a transistor radio and then used recycled materials (bottle caps, wire, cans to create a beautiful pop art product. Even more ingenious is the fact that the creators found ways to mass manufacture the device.

It made me  think about the potential of the same minds if we dropped a "Do Space" in the middle of camp. I suspect that with minimal guidance kids, young and older adults could create products in 3D pronter , learn from computers and CODE like demons. I know I have sometimes naive ideas and that they may not work. What I know for sure is that the other, standard ways, are not really setting up the kids of that area for success.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Neads, Wants, and Tech

In the las two days Jennifer Davidson and I have been discussing needs vs. wants. Which led me to ask myself a few questions. The first is what are needs in 21st century education. I would argue those are access, connectivity, internet, caring teachers, mixed with hope and actual opportunity to enact your hopes.

Yes there are more basic needs (air, shelter, health,, nutrition) without which educational needs matter less BUT in the 21st century the internet and person to person connectivity are items that must be available. Without them distributed equally, gaps within and between nations will continue to grow.

What are your tech needs vs. wants?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

South Africa, Tech, and the Future of Education

I am in South Africa with a vibrant group of educators. It is my second visit to South Africa. We are on the dawn of our second day in Cape Town.

The visit to one of the leading countries in modern Africa poses real educational questions and concerns. From my previous visit it is fairly clear that there is great concern with "catching up". My sense is that this game of catch up will never succeed. Nor should it. I think that the potential of the new economies and the innovator nations is in finding alternatives. In redefining.

My mind keeps coming back to Mitra's presentation in his 2013 TED Award presentation. He claimed that our current education system was designed to feed the human computer system in the Age of Empire. This argument rings true, it combines many claims by others about the industrial nature of modern education with a much more practical aspect of it.  But the most powerful statement is the one I think can guide schools in a nation like South Africa just like it can in a nation like the US. Education is NOT broken. It is obsolete!

If it is so, then South Africa (or any developing country) is on equal footing with any developing nation. Technology and new ideas can serve the foundation to a whole new approach that is alternative to the Imperial Machine. Somewhat appropriate if it grows in post colonial countries. I doubt this happens until someone decides that chasing 19th and 20th century goals.

It is akin to the revolutionary effect of cell phones in developing countries- hurdling over multiple development phases and landing in the present. I do not agree with all of Mitra's points (it is hinted at in this article) but he presents a compelling rationale for change.

I have embedded Mitra's presentation below.


I'm Back

It has been almost a year since I blogged last. I took much needed time away from blogging to think, rethink and pursue other duties in administration. But now, that I have finished some of my administrative duties I have decided it is time to come back to blogging as a path to thinking and sharing projects ideas and thoughts. My goal for blogging is to think through what is next and tinker with bringing some of that vision to life.