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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:

Reflections on visit to a school in Singapore

The following video was taken at Holy Innocents Primary school in Singapore. This visit was one of the highlights of the Global Math Forum held in Singapore in September. Marshall and Cavendish organised a most valuable and professional forum as  discussed in my previous posts. Enjoy the video and feel free to comment.

A Model of Lesson Study in Singapore

The Lesson Study portrayed in the following video was presented to representatives from South Africa by Peggy Foo, MCI at Evergreen Primary School in Singapore

Lesson Studies are used as a Professional Development Tool. Teachers use this tool to engage in and to systematically examine and reflect on their teaching

Lesson Study is:

  1. 1.       Teacher driven
  2. 2.       Job embedded
  3. 3.       Collaborative learning

Teachers identify the research theme which will be based on the school’s vision. Once the research theme has been identified, the lesson plan is designed and a research lesson conducted. Research lesson is conducted by the research teacher, observers can be internal and external teachers and experts who adhere to observation protocol (not to communicate with pupils, with fellow observers, observe few pupils closely, take detailed notes etc)

In post lesson observation, recapping of the research theme and research lesson are conducted. Comments from observers from lesson study plan teams and from other experts are all taken and a summary is done.

In the research lesson conducted in Evergreen Primary School, the research theme is “thinking and self directed learners”. The aim of research is to identify principles/factors for promoting thinking.

The research lesson was on fractions conducted with a Grade 2 class. It was an interesting lesson conducted using a cake to illustrate whole, halves and quarters.  The recap on terms was followed by the teacher referring to a fraction as part/piece, thereafter putting in order fractions from greatest to smallest and vice versa. Pupils working in pairs were using manipulatives to do the worksheets.

In post observation sessions, the following comments from observes were reflected:

1.       The importance of the use of good questions to check misconception (if 4 is bigger than 2, how come half is bigger than quarter?)

2.       Examine carefully, the use and types of manipulatives.

3.       When using real life examples such as the cake – to utilise it further and in the young group tell stories to probe questions to check prior learning

4.       When group work is required, ensure paired pupils work together nicely without being overtaken by dominant character

5.       Pupils completed work quite quick, which may imply that worksheets were too easy for them. To promote thinking, it may have been advisable to remove manipulatives for the last two questions in the worksheets.

I like the idea of Lesson Study as a PD Tool. I think it is a great way to reflect on any teaching. Though for it to be effective, it has to be run by subject and teaching experts.

Singapore Math roll out in township schools in South Africa by ORT SA

At the recent Global Math Forum organised by Marshall and Cavendish in Singapore, I presented the following Prezi on the Singapore Math roll out in township schools in South Africa by ORT SA.

Notes for the Prezi:

My presentation started with a general background on South Africa, followed by a rather gloomy and most depressing picture of the state of
education in the country.

In a previous post , I portrayed the “Ticking bomb” as described by the Ministry of Higher Education; the distressing situation of the high unemployment rate of a young cohort group, this data being  of Government concern as it has huge implications on the future, as well as the present crime rate and poverty.

When discussing the state of education, it is important to take note of the past, and though 17 years have passed since Apartheid and “the past can no longer serves us as an excuse” as many critics may state, it is interesting to note that 96% of the current teachers were trained during the pre 1994 period with its deep inequalities, leaving them under-prepared for the new system and curriculum.

Therefore the Need-
South Africa is producing too few teachers, especially in key subjects such as Maths and Science.  Moreover,, existing teachers spend too little time in the classroom and many teach poorly when they are in the classroom. With research overwhelmingly showing that good teaching is vital
for better student results, this is a worrying situation. (CDE Recent research).

Government has taken many measures post 1994, and the Curriculum reforms in the form of Curriculum 2005, RNCS and NCS were all based
on “Outcomes Based Education” approach. What is known as OBE is based on Student Centre Learning, with focus on empirically measuring students’ performance (called outcomes). This approach does not specify nor require any particular style of teaching or learning and is based on constructivist methods, discouraging traditional education based direct instruction.

Professor Gopinathan from the NIE Singapore noted in his speech that the Singapore Government when designing its policy, some 30 years ago, based its strategy on building strong fundamentals before introducing flexibility, choice and diversity.

In 2010, the DOE of SA introduced the CAPS Curriculum and “kicked OBE approach out of the door”…some may argue, 16 years too late.

ORT SA Math Programme incorporates three critical factors that contribute to its success as shown in learners’ performance and teachers increased competence, confidence and motivation:

1. The use of high quality materials (the Singapore Math books published by Marshall and Cavendish). These materials have the MCK (Math
Content Knowledge) and MPCK (Math Pedagogical Content Knowledge) both embedded in them. And its structure and focus approach compensate a lack of strong Curriculum.

2.  Intensive teachers training, coaching and on-site support to upgrade teachers’ skills and knowledge and support them in implementation.

3. Assessment of learners and teachers to measure impact of project on their performance and bridge the gaps where necessary.

Lessons learnt

  • ORT’s model of high quality books, PD and Assessment proves to improve teaching and learning of Math in township schools in SA
  • Phase Approach (Starting from Grade 1) is recommended to introduce the Singapore methodologies progressively and build strong foundations
  • Show case success via functions, awards ceremonies, visits to schools. These show cases are a source of motivation and pride to teachers and schools
  • Importance of partnerships with DOE, Corporates, other NGOs all sharing the same aims and goals


  • Parents’ involvement is a big challenge. Not only in encouraging and supporting children’s work and instill in them the values in education, but also  ensuring the safety of the school
  • Language – not enough research has been conducted to evaluate the implications of using English written textbooks in the Foundation Phase level, when policy requires the use of home language (there are 11 official languages in SA)
  • Minimal influence on policy and reforms in education. (accountability, compensation of teachers, shared data with DOE on pupils assessment)


Words for Worlds of Values

“The Constitution of South Africa speaks of both the past and the future.  On the one hand, it is a solemn pact in which we, as South Africans, declare to one another that we shall never permit a repetition of our racist, brutal and repressive past. But it is more than that.  It is also a charter for the transformation of our country into one which is truly shared by all its people – a country which in the fullest sense belongs to all of us, black and white, women and men.”  Former President Nelson Mandela. From the foreword to The Post-Apartheid Constitutions: Perspectives on South Africa’s Basic Law

The South Africa Constitution was the result of intensive negotiations that were carried out with an acute awareness of the injustices of the country’s non-democratic past.  It is now widely regarded as the most progressive Constitution in the world, with a “Bill of Rights” second to none.

Having such an inclusive and exceptional Constitution, highlights the need for a practical approach in the long journey of implementing the “Bill of Rights”.

Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, stated that there is a national consensus in the country for an immediate need to improve our values and morals.  Initiated by the National Religious Forum, and driven by the Chief Rabbi and the National Department of Basic Education, The “Bill of Responsibilities” was created to meet this need.

The “Bill of Responsibilities” is the mirror image of the “Bill of Rights” and therefore inherits its political and social legitimacy.  I personally believe that it will create an interest beyond the borders of South Africa.  In light of changes that technology has embarked on us, there is a call worldwide for revisiting values and morals.

The Chief Rabbi in his inspirational speech at the recent “Bill of responsibilities” Launch of the Teachers’ Guide said “words create worlds”.  Words reflect the way we see the world.  What words are our children raised on?

The “Bill of Responsibilities” has the words of tolerance and integrity, compassion and justice, human dignity and equality, and consequently has the potential of creating worlds of morals and values upon which our future is raised.

ORT SA has pledged to incorporate the “Bill of Responsibilities” “in house”, establishing role models within our organisation.  Thereafter we will be incorporating it in our training of teachers, aiming at establishing a new “language” for teaching and learning.  We use the words of the “Bill of Responsibilities” and add the tools of Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to equip our teachers with the tools to teach the “new language”.

An example of this integrated approach is derived from one of our most basic needs – communication.  The right to speak comes from freedom of speech, rooted strongly in the Constitution.  But, our right to speak comes with the responsibility to listen.  In training, we bring in the tool of Covey’s ” 5th Habit, “Seek first to understand before you understood” or “Listen before you talk”.  Simple, but yet so basic.

Everyone has the right to education, but whatever role we hold, we have responsibilities too. As learners, we are responsible to come to school on time, obey the rules and dedicate our efforts to learning , as Educators, we hold the responsibility of being at school on time, teaching, and as Government, Parent Bodies and NGO’s, we hold the responsibility for ensuring that we provide the environment for teaching and learning, and prioritising education on our agendas.

Historical enemies succeeded in negotiating a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy, exactly because we were prepared to accept the inherent capacity for goodness in the other.  My wish is that South Africans never give up on the belief in goodness, that they cherish that faith in human beings as a cornerstone of our democracy.”  Former President Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s trust in the goodness of human beings, reassures us that it is possible to regain values and morals in a society that has already walked a long way.

children’s rights bullies

This week SABC 1, SA TV channel broadcast a programme on “lunchbox bullies” which was filmed in a school located in Alexandra Township, northern part of Johannesburg.

The programme focused on learners who are considered “naughty”- they bully other children, steal their food, beat and punch occasionally during break time. These bullies were then followed to their homes and caregivers were interviewed.

One story revealed a child who has been beaten regularly when he comes home and asks for food. The scars and bruises all over his head can’t hide the truth; His head has been thrown onto the wall and punched and all because he asked to eat!  His grandmother seldom hides food for him while his mother spends her time drinking booze with friends. The reality is that most of the time this child walks hungry, his most basic needs not met. Subsequently at school he is caught stealing a sandwich from someone’s lunch box and R2 from his gran so he can buy a Simba chips for 50cents.

Those learners are an example of many other children living in impoverished areas where children’s rights are violated on a daily basis. 

It just happened to be that the programme was filmed in the same school ORT SA has intervention in Mathematic at the Foundation Phase (Grades 1-3), where intensive work is done with teachers and vast amount of money has gone into provision of resources and textbooks.

Therefore it made me think that there is no doubt that education is critical for these learners and the society they live in. Also the fact that those learners acknowledged the importance of education in their lives may be a step forward to a better future.  However, I’m not sure it’s enough, as very soon those learners will drop out school to satisfy their basic needs and become a burden to society.

Our role as the NGO at these schools is to ensure these learners have access to best education possible. We do what we know best i.e., teachers’ professional development; enhancing content, subject and methodology knowledge, providing support and mentoring to ensure implementation. We obviously want to ensure impact on learners. 

 How are we to deal with these out of control factors affecting child’s performance?

Is it our responsibility?

What are we to do?

Thoughts? Please share your thoughts, suggestions and experiences.

Sawubona Ivory Park

Whenever we start a new project in a previously disadvantaged area, I get excited to meet the teachers and principals of the schools we are working at and look forward to meeting them during the project.

The excitement and anticipation, makes me think…

The state of education in this country is not great to say the least. In 2008 only 62.5% of Grade 12 learners passed matric; but an even gloomier picture is when you compare the number of learners in Grade 11 in 2007 to the number of these learners that wrote matric. Then you discover that only 64% of those grade 11 learners wrote matric in 2008. Of this original cohort of 2007 only 36.2% passed matric. Some regard this number as a more accurate state of the matric pass rate. Link for SIRR report

Another sad number is that only about 20% of the students who passed matric qualify to enroll to undergraduate study at university, (11.7% if you do the math from 2007)

While I don’t think this is a situation that can be fixed from today to tomorrow, I am optimistic…We have to get to the roots of the problem.

I believe the efforts should start from early Childhood. Trying to “fix” the problem at the high school level is too late and as we can see, it does not achieve any progress.

Therefore I feel lucky to be working at an organization such as ORT, who has the vision of “educating for life” , targets Foundation and Intermediate Phase teachers and  is close to cutting edge technologies that are applied in our services of teachers’ training and on-site support.

So these are my thoughts when we are launching the Ivory Park ABSA project. This project aims to enhance the Science and Technology state in the Ivory Park area for Foundation and Intermediate Phase teachers.

The launch in the community centre in Ivory Park is due next week on the 25th of February 2009 and I am looking forward to welcome all … Sawubona! (Hello in Zulu)

Math is the buzz word in Alexandra township


I am just uploading photos into a photo album in Picasa of one of our projects in Alexandra Township where ORT SA is running a Math project for Foundation Phase teachers.  This four years project which commenced in 2007 and is funded by Bidvest, targets Math skills and knowledge of teachers as well as provision of learning materials (Math textbooks and learners’ workbooks) and classroom based support. 

Four years may sound like a long- time for a project to run. And yet, here we are on our third year already and feeling very connected to the people in Alexandra and committed to make a success story of this township.

Looking at the photos, you will see the beautiful little faces reflecting the innocence of a child, yet hiding the hardship these children are facing on a daily basis (poverty, poor living conditions, hunger, HIV/AIDS, abuse, and more). The smiley eyes send us hope and confidence in us adults.

And us, at ORT SA, as an NGO specializing in Math education linked to World ORT’s cutting edge technology, we have the obligation to change the status of Mathematics in the community of Alexandra.

We can do it! We must!  After all these children are our future.