Archive for the ‘personal view’ Category
There are a great many excellent educational resources on the internet – some have even been produced specifically for African and underprivileged kids. Unfortunately, the digital divide makes it very difficult for these resources to wind up in the hands of those who need them most. Content is great, and there is great content, but to be an effective supplement to education it also needs systems for distribution and management, which allow timely updates and feedback, and measurements of learner engagement with the materials. Most of all, it needs educators and support staff who know the content and can incorporate it into their teaching.
We’ve long wanted to use awarenet to help address this problem. From the first version we included features to allow learning materials to be collected, curated and distributed on awarenet. The latest version takes this further – teachers and technical staff can now use awarenet’s package management system to install the content which they need on their local awarenet instance, or build their own packages from sources on the web. Learners then have fast, local access to resources such as digital textbooks, video lessons, past exam papers, and can download them to their lab accounts or mobile devices. Since mobile awarenet nodes can create their own wireless network, no internet or other infrastructure is needed at the point of use – though a computer lab with mains electricity is preferable.
The default set of content packages we’d like to set up on all awarenet servers includes textbooks from Siyavula (English and Afrikaans), past exam papers provided by South Africa’s Department of Basic Education (multilinual) and video lessons on all subjects from Khan Academy (English) and the University of Cape Town (isiXhosa). We’re also looking into including collections from Project Gutenberg (multilingual), WikiHow, the Wikipedia Selection for Schools, Geogebra and many other sources.
Learners in many Eastern Cape schools have very restricted access to textbooks and teachers. We want to help provide the best available substitute – digital books and recorded instruction provided by world class educators, preferably in learner’s home languages. Where schools don’t have staff or funds for a working library we’d like to put one on every capable phone. Even in more developed countries schools can benefit from these, and need tools to manage these resources and track their use.
If you’re a teacher and know of free or open source materials which you think we should be including, please let us know in the comments.
Today, we have received a wonderful letter from one of “our” schools, CM Vellem Higher Primary School. This school has used awarenet for more than two years regularly and in a passionate way. They have committed teachers and an open policy, the learners are kind and polite and very, very motivated to learn and reach for the stars! They wrote us to say thank you and to describe how awarenet has changed the school and the learners’ thinking. Read for yourself:
“Dear Village Scribe Association,
we as C.M Vellem Health Promoting School wish to express our appreciation for the awareNet programme. It has made a tremendous positive impact to our learners through this programme. Mrs Terry-Lynn Penney was able to design programme activities that made learners to open up about their personal challenges that they were not able to talk about ie Depression & Suicidal tendencies.
Terrie was able to facilitate for interaction with learners from other schools e.g. Victoria Girls High School and other model c schools. Through their interaction they were able to expand their knowledge and they were able to get first-hand experience through outings, something that we as a school cannot afford eg a visit to Makana Brick, and the participation in the awarenet Youth Fun Run.
Our English Teacher was greatly impressed with their improvement expressing themselves. There was also another improvement in putting their thoughts in writing awareNet blogs and activities. It also improves their readings as they had to read others blogs and share experiences. Our school has greatly benefited from the programme and we would love to continue with the programme and that it could expand.
We also through the programme received 3 brand new blazers donated by V.G. High School learners. We really appreciate the programme very much.
V. Frank (Life Orientation Educator)
N. Frans (English Educator)”
We are overjoyed by this feed-back. This is what we work for and what we hope is happening at all the schools that work with awarenet and really engage regularly. We would like to hear more from other schools. Please, give us your opinion. And if it is not as positive, we want it, too, and then work on getting better together!
Anna Wertlen went to TEDxChange – The Big Picture in Berlin. The event was co-hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and TED and took place in the Trafo Hall on 5/4/12. The aim of the event was to bring together diverse voices from around the globe representing unique perspectives on the theme, The Big Picture. Everyone tried to take a step back and applied new perspectives to big picture issues: Why, as a global society, should we continue to invest in overseas development? How can we work across borders and political boundaries to bring about positive change? And what returns can we expect on our investments?
Speeches were held by Melinda French Gates, Theo Sowa, Jeff Chapin, Sven Giegold and more. Find my thoughts about the talks on twitter. Most of them had good points, but they were missing new, innovative solutions to the problems they discussed. I was most impressed by Melinda Gates who is a very eloquent talker and fights for women’s and couples’ rights to contraception which is – in my eyes – one very important part of education. You can find all the talks on YouTube, why don’t you have a look yourself and join the conversation?
During the networking part of the event and thanks to Patrick Paulisch and Thomas Schindler, I met Bea Beste from playDUcation, which turned out to be very fortunate. Bea has fantastic ideas about fun, games and education, which we are now planning to implement in awareNet on a collaborative basis. Keep being curious!
The Equality Act – The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000 (Pepuda) – is still one of the most important and pressing acts in a country that is amongst the most unequal countries in the world if not the most unequal country. You think of black and white, but what you never thought of is being poor and disabled. And now remember that many people never received proper basic education to understand their rights and duties as a citizen and possibilities in life.
South Africa has one of the most advanced and best constitutions in the world. Before the law, everyone is equal. The reality is different. Hardly anyone knows what their rights are and how they can help themselves when they are in such a situation. It’s not enough to give people rights – they need education. They need more attention from their government – and on a regular basis. (The government even has to employ 2% disabled people according to the constitution. Are they doing it?)
Society has no mercy for the poor and disabled. They are so weak, their own family and friends steal from them. Their families are overwhelmed. They stand before a problem that they can’t solve. They have no one to turn to, no mediator who explains what they can do. South Africa has too few social workers, and usually social workers are underpaid and overworked. Everyone complains that there is no money. But South Africa is rich. Rich and corrupt. And very unequal.
This Pepuda Workshop is a first step by the Dept. of Justice and Constitutional Development and the Foundation for Human Rights to educate a few people who are able to educate more people. One workshop per province. 100% attendance of invited people in every province. It’s a drop in the ocean, but it’s a start!
The beginning of the year was very difficult for the governmental schools in the Eastern Cape. Again, the temporary teachers’ posts were unassured and SADTU decided that all teachers had to go ‘Go Slow’. In the end – as usual – mainly the learners suffered from all the regulations and protests. At many schools, days ended early on a regular basis and additional teacher meetings reduced classes even further. Learners started worrying that they would miss too much to make it trough exams once again.
Also the VSA had great difficulties to work at the schools as usual since we are dependent on the teachers and principals to open up computer labs for us and inform us about time changes. Many awareNet sessions were cancelled. But we also had some very good conversations with teachers and principals and listened carefully to their problems and needs. In the end, we understood the situation much better and were able to work around it.
On the contrary, learners who participate in any of our awareNet workshops seem to enjoy the practical and challenging work a lot and excitedly talk about it to their peers. As a result, more and more learners approach us independently to ask for additional awareNet sessions in the afternoons when regular school has ended. We were able to accommodate them and principals and teachers agreed to keep the computer labs open for longer – a great achievement!
Also the teachers are more and more aware of the possibilities that come with integrating awareNet into their classes. We appointed two new awareNet teachers at Mary Waters HS and CM Vellem HPS who are now able to teach awareNet independently from the VSA – another step forward in awareNet’s sustainability.
A recent article in Grocotts about Terri’s running project began:
“Most social networking sites are associated with gossiping and posting more or less funny wall comments to your friends’ pages. This may be true for Facebook, but it’s not the case with AwareNet, an online educational social network exclusively for school children and their teachers.”
I’m happy to report that the author is mistaken about this There’s plenty of goofing around on awareNet, and there should be – our goals for awareNet focus around the empowerment of underprivileged (particularly rural) youth, through spreading awareness, skills and literacy. It might not be obvious what joking around and ‘wasting time’ on online social networks have to do with these goals, but there’s a real connection.
Perhaps because schooling is constructed as a serious, top-down, teacher driven system of structured learning activities with standardized curriculum goals – gossiping and joking on a website doesn’t look like ‘education’. Worse, many teachers and parents are concerned that ICTs such as cell phone messaging and social networking sites make education more difficult by teaching students ‘txt spk’ and an abbreviated, conversational writing style that must be unlearned by students before they can communicate in formal proper writing.
But I’m convinced that joking around online – like all play – is a powerful form of learning. By having a social motivation to spend time online, learners are drawn to incidental acquisition of skills such as typing, fluency with the browser and desktop environment. They build comfort with computers and an intuitive understanding of web concepts such as links, forms, URLs, blogs, wikis, online videos, etc. Much of this tacit knowledge can be difficult to teach or overlooked by school computer classes with their focus on secretarial stuff (ie, MS Office). We hope it’s fun to use these things on awareNet, it would be dreadfully tedious to learn this much dry material if it is not.
More importantly, and why awareNet is so centrally a social networking site rather than a collection of curated content and typing exercises, it allows learners to engage with one another in a computer mediated environment. This teaches things which no previous generation has had to learn. The digital networked world increasingly overlays and merges with the everyday and there is a brand new set of social skills the young people will need to be full and competent citizens of this new world.
- management of one’s online identity
- navigating privacy and openness
- understanding the intersection of audiences the internet creates
- dealing with and filtering vast quantities of information
- managing the stress of being constantly connected and constantly available through portable devices
We hope awareNet’s closed garden provides as safe as possible a space for young people to learn these and many other skills. They’re going to need them.
I was born in a little town called Alice on the 31 March 1977. My school career was completed in Fort Beaufort were I matriculated in 1995. At the end of 1995 my whole family moved to Grahamstown and I have been in Grahamstown ever since. I’m the youngest of four children and have three older brothers. My dad is a retired policeman and my mom is no longer with us. She past away in 2001. I met my husband in 2001 on the road while out running. Our friendship grew strongly and into a marriage proposal. We got married in 2003 and we’ve been happily married ever since. I never had the opportunity to study after school due to financial difficulties. In my late 20s I did part time Computer Studies and also then completed a course in Sport Physiology.
My passion from a young age has always been to work with people, especially young people of all ages. I call myself a people’s person and have always been passionate working with people. The reason why I decided to become a Community Coordinator Assistant for the VSA was simply because I love working with people and assisting them where I can and give back to them as well. There is such a need out there to make a difference in people’s lives: to give them the opportunity they never really had, to learn and educate them about things in and around life, to teach them different skills, to uplift them in ways they never been uplifted. I am looking forward to this new venture and opportunity of becoming a VSA Mentor. I know, this is what I’m meant to do with my life and future ahead.
The Grahamstown Foundation awarded 4 awareNet users with free tickets for the National Schools Festival in Grahamstown (10.-14.7.11) after they had successfully proven that they are good reporters by documenting their experiences at the National Arts Festival on awareNet. Faith du Plessies, Krista du Plooy, Ayanda Twani and Siyamtanda Tokwe went out and thoroughly enjoyed the Festival. They were very grateful for this opportunity to learn so much while having a lot of fun!
In return, the 4 learners started a project on awareNet in which they reported about their experiences at the Schools Festival for other awareNet users to read, take part and leave comments. Other awareNet users actually became so interested in the project that they joined and also added their experiences. So, thank you very much to: Hannah Godlonton, Motolani Adesina, Jessica Wentworth, Neliswa Mamani, Tamani Chithambo and Siyanda Makunga. You collaborated in a great way! (Non users can also read the project, but will not able to leave comments or read personal information. The awareNet project can be found here.)
I would like to add a heartwarming message (sms) that I received from Ayanda after the Festival: “I would just like to thank you for allowing me to experience what is now the best zenith of my matric year. All the memories and the powerful productions are ones that I will treasure forever. Thank you and I hope that next year more girls can have the same upliftment as I.”
Every year I work as a theatre technician at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. This year my venue was Commemoration (Commem) Church and because this is a church productions that were performed there had to have a celestial feel about them. There were orchestras, jazz bands, marimba groups; and then there were two prison groups – and both performed free shows.
One group is from eXesi (Middledrift) and the other is local. The group from eXesi did two performances outside just below the church stairs. They were doing quasi-traditional dance to maskanda music which they apparently recorded. I fell in the habit of trying to figure out what each could be in for. Their leader seemed like a wealthy man and he joked with the prison warders a lot. I figured that he should be a loan shark or a drug dealer. There was one fellow who did not seem mentally stable – the type who could rape a five year old child. He kept saying: “Only God knows’, and when I asked what he meant by that he only stared blankly into my eyes and I almost froze.
The group from the Grahamstown prison performed in and outside. Inside because they were doing drama and outside for marimba and gospel music. One time outside while they were singing a song entitled ‘Kwanele’ meaning ‘enough’ a man came running with a plastic bag in his hands but was caught by two other men who were about to stab him when the police arrived and rescued him by arresting him.
Another time after their performance inside a boy of about nine demanded to be let through backstage. However I tried to convince him that he was not allowed to, he kept asking who I was to tell him that. Eventually the man he wanted to see came out. When I told him about the trouble the boy was giving me he looked depressed.
He later confessed that he had a reputation for being good with the knife, so much that family members had become errogant knowing he would fight their battles for them – and that’s what has kept him in the world of crime for so long. The nine year old was his sister’s child and he had already started using a pen as a knife at school.
Shame! some of these fellows did look rehabilitated. The only pity is that they will come out of prison with some unfortunate scars. In one of their drama pieces they confessed to being used as women in prison. This means that they are being raped by other men.
When you come across some of these things, you wonder what could I do to help better the cituation. If the Village Scribe Association could get permission to record and publish some of their plays (short but good plays), marimmba playing or their dancing online, maybe it would help make their plight noticed by more people who could contribute jobs for these guys when they come out.