In 1860, in his thirteenth novel, Great Expectations, Charles Dickens wrote: “In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice.” Dickens captured in his great works the squalor, blight, decay, disorder and human misery (that especially affected children) that accelerated as the industrial age flourished,. For Dickens, wrote Matthew Davis for the BBC news Magazine, was “was born in the era of the stagecoach, but when he died in 1870, had witnessed the birth of the railways, the telegraph and the steamship”.
The same kind of rapid change is occurring on a global scale today. On page 25 of this edition, we carry the worrying news that 2016 was universally declared the worst year for children in the world’s history with regard to social injustice. Dickens himself would no doubt be appalled to read (see page 64) about the effect of the degradation of the planet’s natural resources on children. And the election of American President Donald Trump seemed to many people to epitomise a wholly uncertain future (see page 38 for Maureen Costello’s fascinating account of the impact of the Trump victory on school children across the US.)
It’s hard to go on when everything, from weather patterns to the economy seems uncertain. But a group of citizens do go on, resolutely, to effect positive change. These are the leaders, teachers and students in a range of ISASA schools, each with its own challenges. Despite the grinding certainty that syllabuses must be covered, reports completed, and parents placated, our pages never cease to be filled by those educators with a long-term vision of how to make the world a better place for children. Their articles are intended to extend the ‘best practice’ network that epitomises ISASA; they offer strategies and experiences that could work to benefit children’s development in any school.
On page 51, for example, Gareth Dry, principal of Greyton House Village School in the Western Cape, describes a traditional classroom, with neat rows of desks filled by silent, compliant children. The teacher stands and lectures in front of them. Says Dry, “I was recently shown a picture of a classroom in England taken in the mid-1800s. It is one of the earliest known photographs of a school classroom. The class is as described above. I was then shown a picture of a typical American classroom in 2016. You guessed it – the class was still exactly as described above. I was horrified.” Dry goes on to suggest how children of today need new learning environments. His thoughts are echoed by René Fahrenfort, a Year 5 teacher at the International School of Cape Town. On page 48, she provides teachers everywhere with a way to create classroom environments that encourage “collaboration, reflection, discovery and meaningful dialogue”.
More and more teachers are embracing the information age as well and writing for us articles that detail both success and failure in this somewhat still daunting realm. Bronwyn Desjardins, edtech coach at St Stithians Girls’ Preparatory in Johannesburg in Gauteng, writes on page 65 about an iPad course successfully implemented at the school. Said one of the teachers involved: “I am learning with the students every day while we proceed on this technological voyage. I am honest when I make mistakes and happily accept [my students’] teaching when they correct me.”
Dickens journeyed to Scotland, America, Switzerland, France and Italy during his lifetime. Today, our students can ‘be’ anywhere in the world at the touch of a button, thanks to technology. It is the obligation of teachers to guide them on their travels. For example, in our cover story on page 14, Martin van der Linde, principal of the Lusaka International Community School (LICS) in Zambia, a new ISASA member, shares how the school deftly interweaves local and global learning. “LICS students engage with the various communities in and around Lusaka, both as a vehicle for service learning and to develop students’ understanding of local communities’ social and cultural complexities and challenges.
This sets the foundation for our students as they begin to understand global issues and the diversity of cultures and beliefs of the peoples of the world.” Students showed they were grappling with social issues during the hair protests of 2016 in some South African public schools. On pages 42 and 54, Andrew Renard from St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape and Mandy Carver, previously a music teacher at the Diocesan School for Girls in the same location, put forward ways for schools to discuss issues of transformation constructively both with those who set policy, those who must implement it and students themselves.
There is no longer any reason for any school to be called “Dickensian” due to its policy implementation and daily resource management. As Roger Looyen, principal at Sandhurst Pre- and Preparatory College in Johannesburg observes on page 45, “Learners in South Africa have the challenge of holding in tandem the individual freedom to choose between personal values while, as a priority, retaining the commonly prized values and morals in a democracy… moral leadership means working towards a common goal in which school management teams take responsibility for school improvement and learner attainment.