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Visiting Zwelenqaba S.S.S.

Last Thursday I went and had a closer look at Zwelenqaba Senior Secondary School.

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It is situated in an area which is very remote, despite it's proximity to Mthatha, the local city. Many teachers live in Mthatha (as is the case for most of the nearby Senior schools), as there are practically no services here. Grid electricity is expected to arrive in 5 years or more, and clinics and schools are using solar energy. That's a pretty good thing! However some of the installations are old and the remoteness inspires neglect. On the part of the authorities and on the part of the locals.

Empowerment!

What a dream: get the local people to involve themselves in changing their own environment for the better in a way that suits them! Everyone I spoke to was dissatisfied with the status quo. But the change that should be initiated is like an unknown path in the mist. As the mists shift, the path seems to branch then go left, no right... Some guidance and knowledge are required.

The biggest problems at the school are thus:
  • Lack of teaching resources.
    1. Books or computerized information sources.
    2. Since the solar installation fell out (it is still in tact, needs maintenance), no use of multimedia.
    3. Chemicals for the science lab.

  • Hungry learners (exhausted by long way to school).

  • In the winter months, lack of water keeps learners away.
[These are basically problems we have seen all over the former Transkei and Ciskei. ]

Empowerment means doing things yourself. Even if you make mistakes.

It is a dream that the affected persons empower themselves and start to address these problems themselves:
  • Lack of teaching resources - how about mobilising local resources to get the solar installation fixed?

  • How about experiments with simple materials like vinegar and sugar?

  • How about a vegetable garden that does not require large-scale ploughing?

  • How about cooking vegetables from the garden for the learners?
All the problems and the environment in general, with its very high unemployment rate, result in a lack of motivation for learners as well as teachers. To break through, one needs to set up a positive spiral, taking small steps to improve conditions so that people involved feel and are in control. But external help is definitely required for the first steps.

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New impetus needs to be provided by networking the schools amongst each other and allowing exchange of ideas, and increasing competitiveness. One of the instruments that seems to work well is the singing contest. I really need to visit one of these singing "show-downs".

One can imagine further competitive events in a virtual space, if a network is installed with wide-area connectivity.

Besides all of that - there is the accesibility to information online. I think we will need to filter what is on the internet, in order not to confuse the learner's, but there are some high quality sources freely available, and one can use these in the classroom to improve knowledge building and ultimately the local living conditions.

The way to improvement means, learning from mistakes (and also the mistakes of others, where possible).

Please note: I am not bashing the DoE. The Education Department is doing what it can to alleviate these problems. A lot of the folks at the department come from here and have family here. South Africa is doing its best to work this thing out (was 20% of the budget allocated to education?). But, then there are huge disasters like the School Feeding Scheme (sorry, I don't have a link here yet as a reference) which this year failed horribly to meet its goals in the Eastern Cape. I'll try to address these issues in another blog about corruption and incompetence.

PS: Here is a link to my Google Earth school locations coordinates. You do need google Earth to look at this stuff.
More Schools at Google Earth

Posted: May 7th 2007 09:08
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