(simul-posted on learningconversations.blogspot.com)

Well, I have been in South Africa, specifically Cape Town, for a little over a day now. I am here with a Teachers Without Borders – Canada team who will provide ICT training to for teachers from schools in the Townships.

While I am still trying to take it all in and assimilate what I have been seeing.

We visited the school where we will be doing our first workshops (on school holiday right now). It was incredible. There was a big fence with razor wire around the outside of the building and parking lot. There is another locked fence to get into the school and play area. All the classroom doors face an outdoor play yard. Each door has double locks and the windows have bars on them. The door to the computer lab is like a bank vault door. It really puts things into perspective.

Our school had discussions this year about whether the front door of the school building should be locked at all times or not. Kids bring iPods to school and leave them in their unlocked lockers. Various bits of technology are scattered around the building. I don’t think that kids at home could even imagine going to school in an environment like this.

I can’t help thinking about the motivation that must be required in education here. Re-read the description of the school and think about whether you would feel welcomed as either a teacher or a student. As a student, what will keep you coming back to school day after day? As a teacher, consider walking your class down to a computer lab that is locked up like a bank vault. Imagine getting your class of 45 students into the small lab with two students per machine. How would you feel if the bandwidth for the month was already used up, and your lesson would not be possible until next month? When problems crop up, as they inevitably do with technology, would you have the tenacity to troubleshoot? And, yet we will fill a room with 50 educators, during their holidays, who are committed to getting technology into the hands of their students. A big problem here is getting kids to stay in school. Clearly, technology can be used to promote this, but just as clearly it will require quite a commitment from teachers to make this happen.

We spent the afternoon visiting Townships. We got out of the car in Langa Township and visited some of the homes there, then drove through two or three more Townships. Even though I have seen pictures and movies before, they do not do justice to the real thing. People have built shelter and homes out of whatever materials they had available. Tiny boxes, smaller than a single room in a North American house, are homes for entire families. The guide called these homes "informal housing" but that does not even come close to describing them. It was quite a contrast to drive down the street and seeing areas of informal housing next to relatively affluent areas of larger, more permanent constructions with well kept gardens. Continuing down the same street lead to smaller, simple government subsidized homes, then a return to the informal housing. It was unbelievable how much it could change in a short distance.

I am still trying to absorb and process a lot of it. Can’t wait to see what new adventures tomorrow will bring.

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