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From the editor

| March 26, 2013 | 0 Comments

In the BBC’s film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Under the Greenwood Tree, on Christmas morning, vicar Maybold declares to his congregation: “The world is changing, and we must change with it. How can we best serve our Lord in this changing world? Through our children. Through education, education.”

In the novel, published in 1872, Hardy foreshadowed the disappearance of traditional, rural, pre-industrial England. The technology in question in this story is an harmonium which arrives in the village of Mellstock with a pretty, young and forwardthinking schoolteacher. As Miss Fancy Day’s playing becomes more adept (and whilst she charms several suitors), the scene is set for the organ to replace the traditional choir at the regular Sunday church service.

More than 140 years later, the connected themes of change, education and technology still dominate current national and global education debates and are likely to feature strongly in our magazine going forward. In this edition, Paul Horn, from the Dominican Convent School in Johannesburg, surmises that the essential elements of the conversation have not changed since Hardy’s day, noting on page 68 that “Each wave of technological innovation brings new excitement, but also the associated costs of acquisition, training and support…Will classroom practice change? Will student results improve? Or will the new technology…end up in the school store room gathering dust?”

Certainly at some schools, taking risks has produced rewards. Julie Orlopp writes excitedly (see page 10) from Somerset House Preparatory School in the Western Cape that the decision to allow students to bring their own information technology devices to class is allowing the school to gather valuable data about how and when such devices should be used in the teaching and learning context. “iPads [are] great for taking photos and filming and for internet ‘surfing’. Laptops (or anything with a keyboard) prove most valuable for note taking,” she observes. On page 39, Dr Jenni Gous, head of The Key School in Johannesburg, reports that since the school, which caters for children with autism-spectrum challenges, introduced the use of iPads, “Parents and educators say the ease of use, visual impact, portability and intuitive nature of the touchscreen of a tablet computer have led to near-miraculous breakthroughs for many children with a variety of disabilities.” And on page 72 is the inspiring story of Brett Simpson, who recognised that thousands of schools simply can’t splash out on the latest technology. His solution is Breadbin, kiosks onto which educational resources have been loaded and can be accessed in a variety of ways by government officials, teachers and students – for free.

Of course, the question must be asked: what will be lost – and gained – when the choir stops singing and Miss Day’s delicate fingers touch the organ keys? Two of our other writers have provided partial answers. Says Jane Hofmeyr, writing on page 18 about her recent trip to India: “Access to education is meaningless without quality schooling that teaches children the key skills that they need to live and work successfully in the 21st century.” Our newest columnist, Katy Mthethwa, thinking skills specialist at St Peter’s Boys’ School in Johannesburg, takes the argument further, making the point that ‘quality schooling’ doesn’t necessarily need to involve the latest gadgets at all. Reflecting on what she displays on her classroom walls, she says, “Some [of the displays] are far from perfect… [but] the children own them. They are student tools, not teacher tools…when we understand the power of the tools at our disposal, we will change the writing on the wall.” Her discovery is reinforced by Sheila Pasio and Debbie Nicoll’s moving account on page 50 of a writing project at Oakhill Preparatory School in Knysna that proved to be lifechanging for two Grade 8 boys.

Boys – and the men who teach them – are another theme in this edition of Independent Education. On page 30, Waterkloof House Preparatory School in Pretoria reveals how its revised leadership model attempts to produce the kind of men South Africa so desperately needs and on page 12, we feature the moving address given recently to University of the Witwatersrand graduates by Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee, in which he declared: “…it is good for the children to sometimes have a man’s hand guiding them. I want to suggest that it will be good for you, and good for our common social life.”

Certainly, choosing teaching as a career has been good for Warren Chalklen, whose experiences in different schooling contexts, including SAHETI School in Bedfordview, led to this epiphany recounted on page 49: “I began to connect to my work…because I realised the reciprocal relationship of the profession. I was able to ask two new questions: ‘What have the learners actually learned today?’ and ‘What have the learners taught me?’”

There is plenty to be learned by all of us in this issue of Independent Education and we look forward to receiving more stories from all kinds of schools all over the country, so that letter writers like Anna Botha can continue to consider us “an industry publication that updates one on all the latest developments and serves as a reminder of the incredibly creative work being done in ISASA schools as they strive to provide a meaningful education in an ever-changing world”.

Category: Autumn 2013, Regular Columns

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