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Do we still need schools?

ORT, one of the most respectable educational NGO’s in the world, held discussions questioning the role of schools and the need for change in order to keep up with trends and the needs of new generations. ORT, which started in 1880, is a global network of schools, academies and operations in nearly 40 countries. The question of the role of schools in light of technological and economic changes is relevant to the sustainability of this organisation more than ever.

Schools are more than mortar and bricks

When debated, the issue of the role of schools and if we still need them in their current form, opinions were mixed and some even emotional. Professor Sidney Strauss (80) recalled his junior teachers’ names and characters. Geoff, ORT Director in North America could list his teachers from grade 1 to grade 6. Teachers have the potential to leave eternal marks in our heart. I believe that technology will never be able to replace that.

When visiting an ORT school in Argentina and ORT University in Uruguay, I have observed that committed and passionate teachers and lecturers can create an incredible and nurturing environment of learning and growing for children.

Schools for developing minds not ‘stuffing minds’

An excellent curriculum combining project / problem -based learning will ensure that we equip learners with the skills and knowledge needed for future jobs. The curriculum delivery needs to embed current pedagogical approaches, such as deep learning and peer-learning and where possible, adjusts to society’s needs. For example, in ORT Argentina, Grade 10 learners select between 10 streams. The newest addition is the Humanities and Social Research stream where kids do actual market research, analyse the data and with the use of social media, present their findings. Understanding the needs of new generations, the requirements of future jobs and the market are crucial in designing a curriculum that is practical and relevant.

Partnerships are key in achieving success in education

The responsibility for educated and equipped future generations lies in the hands of different stakeholders. It cannot rely only on schools, teachers and parents. The efforts must be a combination of government, corporates, teachers and parents. In fact, having an umbrella body such as World ORT contributes tremendously to these efforts by being the catalyst, the match maker and sometimes the ‘glue’ that holds everything together.

It must be clear what the problem is that we want technology to solve

Miguel, who heads the agency for innovation in education in Uruguay, has provided some insight into embedding technologies together with changes in pedagogies. His advice is to first focus on the problem we need to solve, then use technology to solve it as an accelerator for better pedagogies. In short, Technologies are the accelerator of new pedagogies.

In conclusion, technology was, is and will always be, the tool or the device through which new pedagogies or approaches in education are implemented. The schools may not be brick and mortar, they may be virtual, online or in the cloud but should never lose the human interaction, the coaching, mentoring and facilitation provided by teachers and learners.

Below is a slide show from ORT Argentina, demonstrating the interaction and practical experience students gained during their studies:

Singapore education story

Follow is a slideshare on the visit to the ICP Conference 2009 and reflections from schools’ visit

Singapore “Walks the talk”


What can Singapore, an island city-state, the smallest nation in southern Asia with population of about 4.5 million people  teach the world about education?
Visits to schools, attending the principal’s conference and listening to the prime minister’s speech revealed to representatives from all over the world that this 700 sq km nation can teach us a great deal about education!

I believe that the key is in leadership; Leadership that has :

  • proactive approach
  • planning for the future (not tomorrow’s future but years to come)
  • vision in tune to the current state of affairs and..
  • leaders who “walk the talk”

In 1965 when Singapore attained independence, the state of education was described as very poor. Nowadays, 44 years later, Singapore is the leader in TIMSS results in Math and Science.

The ICP Principals conference in Singapore this July was attended by education leaders and principals from around the world. (Out of which South Africa had the greatest representation.)
In the conference Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described the actions taken by government to improve the state of education. Following are some notes from his speech.

The government of Singapore in a mission to recover the education system had started with understanding that “outcomes expected from education reform are not ONE mountain peak but a mountain range”.

Initial action was to strengthen the ministry of education by bringing in caliber people – “a generalist is not a specialist”.

Thereafter actions were taken to establish teachers’ careers as a meaningful one. The following actions were taken to do so:

  • Teachers’ salaries was raised by 15% (principals by 1/3)
  • Training teachers would receive salaries
  • Benching teachers’ salaries to the private market
  • Career development to create external paths for promotion by Leadership track, further training qualification opportunities.
  • Performance evaluation. Promotion based on merits
  • Bringing teachers’ unions on board (there are four teachers unions in Singapore)
  • Providing autonomy to schools. Schools are free to innovate in methodology, enrichment activities and resources provided. Schools are provided each with budget.
  • Initially class sizes were not reduced so as not to compromise on quality teachers (only recently has the DOE started looking at reduce class size from 40 to 30)
  • By 2015 the aim is that ALL teachers to be graduated (by enhancing professional development)

The following statement by the prime minister has attracted applause from audience and acquired my admiration to this leader:

“Political leadership role is to shield the education system from politics”

Visiting schools, talking to principals and teachers, meeting with the Singapore teachers’ Union (STU) which is the largest teachers’ union in Singapore was proof that the “talk is being walked”!
Next post I will share the amazing people, sites and actions that we have had the privilege to meet and see.

(Special Thanks to ORT SA and JADE education.)

P1020342 Art dispaly of learners’ work at Huamin Primary school Singapore

Keep your rebelling teenagers safe

 I have been pondering about cyber bullying, internet safety and the virtual world and its effect on our teenage children. Worrying where our children go in the virtual world and who they meet are all genuine and important reservations.

But what happens in the REAL world? Where are our teenagers boys and girls spend their “free” time, HOW they spend it and with whom? This was on the agenda of my daughter’s high school parents evening.  An undercover policeman, a Rabbi and people who “have been there” took part of a panel discussion.

Clubbing, under-age alcohol drinking, Hubbly-bubbly smoking, ID faking and drugs are all dangers that are not unique to a certain area, social status or school.  They can affect any of our children who are in their most vulnerable stage; young and naïve yet regard themselves grown up and mature. Their “duty” as teenager to rebel exposes them at risk to temptations out there. And these, apparently exist all over. Even these so called “Under-18” socials are no safe zone from those dangers.

Here are my thoughts based on the discussion held with the panel and parents:

  1. Technology, Cell phones and the use of computers are NOT the cause for our children loosing respect in us parents. They may be the reason for a broader gap between generations but technology cannot be held accountable for the fact that we don’t control our children.
  2. Setting up boundaries and rules are crucial to enable us gain control. We are not set to seek the love of our children at this stage. They will appreciate it though in a later stage in their life. Be it based on religion, tradition or your believes these rules and boundaries are our responsibilities to our children.
  3. TALK to your children, from an early stage, about the dangers out there and the reasons for rules and boundaries. All in small doses from early stage will hopefully build a child that is strong, knowledgeable and have the power to face peer-pressure when needed.

Oh, they will rebel, no doubt about it, but let them find “safer” zones to fight you about. After all this is in their “job description”.

 Please share with us how your school and community are dealing with this problem .


Digital immigrant diary- Case study of a digital native (resident)


 I read quite a lot on how students of today have changed radically from the students of the past. Many blogs, slides on Slideshare and books  deal with this issue.  At ORT SA  I find myself “preaching” to teachers about the importance of ICT integration in education and taking into consideration these changes.

And, then, it caught on me in my own home…

Here is a conversation between my daughters that I would like to share with you

6 year old: “ Mom, I need a laptop”

Me: “Hmm”

6 year old : “ An Apple laptop mom”

Me: “Hmmmm”

12 years old: “ what do you need a laptop for?

6 year old in reply : “ I’m starting school next year, grade 1, Hello!”

12 years old in amazement: “exactly, so what do you need a laptop for?”

6 year old  “so I can do my homework and calculations, Daa..”

12 years old : “You don’t need your laptop for homework and definitely not for calculating”

So how do I calculate and work out staff?

With your brain?

And how do I rub staff?

“With eraser?



Grade one teachers, be prepared.  These are the children in your 2009 class:

·         Although they seem to be clued up with computers, they still need to acquire computer basic skills.  As, most of them have gained their skills mostly from computer games.

·         Their conception about computers is that computers can do nearly everything. Homework, calculations,  etc.

·         Many have played educational games and have learnt that learning is fun…

·         They can read better then previous grade 1 learners did (in SA writing and reading starts mostly at Grade 1)  and are able to type (as many games required them to type their names and they learn to type URLs)

·         These  learners live in a world where information grows exponentially

·         They may have jobs that didn’t exist when they were born

How do we as teachers accomodtae these changes and how do we parents prepare them for a future filled with challenges and opportunities? Feel free to add your comments, feedback and suggestions.

OBE or don’t be…

In teaching, just like in cooking, acting, dancing or any other activity in life, you got to know your ingredients, your lines or moves. You have to be prepared and organized before teaching a lesson, cooking a great meal or before performing in front of audience. And most of all be passionate about what you are doing!

Know your staff!  If you are teaching the food pyramid – go and read about it! Understand it well before you stand in front of your learners, so when you consolidate you can stimulate their brains with challenging questions.

Preparation is a key to a successful and efficient lesson. You can have a great lesson plan in hand but if you didn’t organize and plan in advanced- the lesson can be poorly executed.  Make the windmill yourself before lesson, this will enable you to see what challenges your learners may have and the resources you need to provide them with.

If its Languages, Maths, Technology or any other learning area you teach – be passionate about it! Act, sing, interact with learners and you would find that the love for the subject has caught on to them.

The re-birth of South Africa in 1994 has brought the implementation of effective educational policies. Concurrently, the Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) system has been introduced to advance the teaching and learning of the Learning areas in schools in South Africa.

Whether the OBE is the right approach to teaching and learning I would leave that for research. I would like to provide some tips on three matters from this system:

·         Learner centre

·         Activity based approach

·         Developmental

The ten tips for teaching OBE style (based on above):

1.       Talk less, Listen more

2.       Encourage learners’ curiosity –wonder -(even if you don’t have the answers)

3.       Ask, Ask, Ask – the most relevant questions  (even if you don’t have the answers)

4.       Let learners make assumptions – don’t spoon feed them with providing answers

5.       Hands on – let learners experiment and do practical work

6.       Use group work – but ensure that everyone is eventually exposed to the same things

7.       Incorporate different methods of research (ICT, books, experts)

8.       Use multidiscipline approach – interact with teachers from other subjects

9.       Plan together with the phase to ensure learners’ progression

10.     Plan and be prepared before conducting lessons