Category: Blog

A truly African education, undoubtedly, has to include music education!

Africa as a continent has had so many struggles over the last few hundred years.  As a result, the education of its children has suffered. We have missed the industrial revolution and all the technological revolutions since. As it stands currently, we are consumers of technology rather than producers. But finally, our continent seems to be mobilising.

These are exciting times; pockets of excellence are springing up everywhere. Significant effort and attention is going into quality education as a means of turning the tide and preparing our youth to be meaningful contributors to the fourth industrial revolution.  But while we race to compete academically with the rest of the globe we mustn’t forget the latent talents that we already have. Natural talents that set our continent apart. Our music.

Africa is truly remarkable in its music. Our children have raw musical talent in abundance. It is an integral part of our continent with its diverse people and cultures. Around the world, choirs sing African traditional songs, fascinated by their polyphonic rhythms and multiple harmonies. Djembes and Marimbas are played throughout the globe. While the rest of the world is trying hard to match up to talents that exist effortlessly on this continent, we should not take these for granted.  In doing so we run the risk of devaluing our own cultural heritage, and ourselves. While our African continent may be economically poor; it is through music that we are able to re-ignite the true wealth of our diverse cultures.

But music is so much more than just culture.

Beyond building a cultural identity, there are considerable benefits to a musical education for our children. Research has shown both academic and social benefits. Academically, nothing fires up all areas of the brain simultaneously as does music. It is a complete brain workout. Children who study music show a higher general intelligence. They have better literacy, language, reasoning and memory skills and are generally better co-ordinated. Not only that, through understanding rhythm and harmony they develop a more ordered and mathematical left brain. Research even suggests that music education can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor students. But there is more.

Music education can also make a significant contribution towards the social and emotional well-being of our children. The emotional and creative expression of music fires the right side of the brain. Making music has been shown to have a very positive effect on behaviour. It creates a sense of achievement and develops a positive self-image. Music is all about collaboration, and not competition. As such, it fosters the spirit of community: I am because we are. It has the power to build cultural awareness and understanding of others. Surely, nothing connects diverse people better than singing or playing music together?

In short, music ticks all the boxes in developing those 21st century skills that progressive education groups are working hard to achieve. With absolutely heaps of raw talent on our African continent, and so many positives in favour of music education, can there be any doubt about the importance of it being at the core of our curriculum? Already, many of our schools, especially the private schools, are doing a great job in this regard. But we need more. Much more.

We need ALL our children to learn to play instruments. We need ALL of them singing in choirs and playing in bands, from Marimba bands to Jazz bands, and from Djembe drum circles to Orchestras. The knock-on effect will be immense.

Parents and schools: let’s work together! Let’s all get with the beat!

Written by Amber Vishwakarma

Amber is the Grade 1 teacher at Future Nation Schools, Lyndhurst.

Filed under: Blog

The Montessori prepared environment is an environment adapted to the size, needs and development of the child, providing a safe, loving, warm and secure place of learning and which provides the child with everything he (or she), needs to satisfy the plane of development through which he passes during his sensitive periods.

From birth to three years, the child is unconsciously absorbing all he can from his environment, forming disconnected impressions of everything he is exposed to.  During this time he is extremely sensitive to his environment and to any sudden changes, distractions, obstacles and hindrances to his development at this time can result in dire manifestations later in his life. The environment best suited to him during this period of life must provide activities, means of learning and the right adult to guide him into developing the fundamental areas of the person to full potential. These areas are not merely physical, but mental too and consist of the intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social areas that build the character of the man he will grow up to be.

During this period up to three years of age, the child must be exposed to as much movement as can be allowed. He needs to reach out and touch his environment and be encouraged to use his hands, because through them, he will develop his mind, learn to co-ordinate his muscular movements, develop gross and fine motor skills, improve his muscle tone and balance. These hands are the instruments of the mind and movement the keys to intelligence.  It is through these that the child develops himself and must be given the space and time to use them as much as he likes as he discovers his world and his place in it.

From three to six years, the child will make a transition from the unconscious to the conscious and will begin to connect his environment to the impressions absorbed into his mind. Through the work of his hands, he is consciously absorbing details he can use to classify the impressions and put them into order. His needs now require that he must be allowed the opportunities to develop himself to his full potential. He needs to be able to choose activities that satisfy his spontaneous need to learn and the environment that allows him to work repeatedly, whenever and for as long as he likes, without interruption. He needs an environment where he can use his hands, combined with his senses, to work with interesting and mind absorbing activities that provide concrete concepts, such as shape, size, dimension, colour, taste, smell, sound, texture, weight and temperature and connect the environment to his mental impressions. He needs an environment that allows him to learn about nature, other people and their cultures as well as his own place in the universe, where he can choose to work on his own or with others, where the adult sets the boundaries, presents the activities, respects, observes and follows the child, providing him with the activities that match his interests and fulfil his needs then withdraws and leaves the child to teach himself.

From birth the child needs to be with people who love and care for him, who encourage his development by giving him the freedom to move and explore unhindered and an environment that provides for this development. He must be included in it and not removed from it. He must be spoken to clearly and concisely without unnecessary baby jargon. He requires the facts of the world in real speech, as the adult he trusts and looks up to sows the seeds of knowledge. He must be in an environment that is filled with love, trust, security, and order and equipped with the right materials to stimulate his mind and provide mental nourishment.

The prepared Montessori environment meets all the needs of the child, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. It is adapted for and focused on the development of the child, the adult’s place being that of custodian, guide, observer and provider of materials to fulfil the child’s needs during his sensitive periods. This develops independence in the child as the environment is his. He can act spontaneously, express himself freely and form social relationships with his fellow learners.

The activities provide for both mental and physical development as the materials have been specially designed to incorporate as much movement as possible, and allow for maximum effort in having to fetch, carry, work with and pack away, with both fine and gross muscle movement employed as the child stretches, bends and manoeuvres the materials according to their position in the work he does. The work he engages in is purposeful and interesting and enables him to concentrate for long periods of time without tiring.

The materials provide auto-education as they all have a control of error built into them. The work is presented to the child, who observes and absorbs the teacher’s movements. He is then left to work on his own for as long as he likes, noticing and correcting his mistakes without anyone having to point them out and correct him. This builds the child’s self confidence and self esteem, and develops inner discipline as he journeys along the road of discovery, exploring every step of the way.

The Montessori environment is organised and orderly, a place for everything, and everything in its place. There is consistency in the setting of boundaries, in the work and behaviour of the adults. There is plenty opportunity for the child to choose what he would like to do, think clearly and logically and make well thought through decisions. In the ordered environment he is able to concentrate on the finest details of the materials, objects, pictures, movements and sounds. The sensorial materials, ‘the keys to the universe’, provide stimulation for all the senses and further develop, refine, and broaden them, allowing the child to classify them, bringing understanding and order to the impressions he unconsciously absorbed since birth.  He works with his hands and learns to make discriminations through his visual, muscular, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory senses.He is comfortable in the ordered environment and gains satisfaction in working repeatedly with the materials and activities presented to him, developing an ordered mind.

There is only one of each activity in the environment, which teaches the child patience as he waits his turn. In this way he also learns to respect the rights of others as they work and they in turn respect his right to work with the activity once they are done. This teaches the children to share and take turns in the classroom, on the playground and in their home and other social environments.

Right from the start, the Montessori prepared environment indirectly prepares the child for future work, such as writing, reading, mathematics and language. It also caters for the fulfilment of each of the sensitive periods the child goes through in his development.  Sensitive periods are not permanent and die away as they are fulfilled,  only to be replaced by others. They happen naturally, in the same sequence in every child and enable the child to choose, as an individual, what is necessary for his growth from the complex world he lives in. During these periods the child learns effortlessly and spontaneously, focusing his full attention and interest on certain aspects of his environment, while he completely ignores others. These sensitive periods help the child acquire certain functions or develop certain characteristics and if they are missed, or constantly ignored, they are gone forever, hindering the child’s development and damaging him as a human being. He will experience difficulty in learning them later in life, possibly detesting the function or need and learning to avoid it at all costs as he lives his life, his potential destroyed. It is therefore of paramount importance that these sensitive periods are not missed and it is here that the Directress in the Montessori prepared environment plays such an important role.

The Directress is the dynamic link between the child and the environment. She must have learned how to observe and identify the sensitive periods and provide the child with the objects and experiences he is interested in so that he can conquer and perfect the functions vital to his development. She must be able to provide what he is lacking in his needs and help fulfil them. The Directress must carefully prepare the environment and be part of the child’s development. She must have worked well with all the materials and learned their place and how they benefit the child’s development and be able to match the appropriate activity to his need or interest. The Directress must be easily found by those who need her, yet ‘not there’ to those who are absorbed and working without fatigue. Her place is teaching, not correcting. She is there to guide the child, present to him in a controlled and concise, gentle manner, then withdraw, allowing the child to work while she carefully observes and then returns to present to him a more complex or new activity to fulfil his needs as she has identified them. She looks over and after the environment with new and fresh eyes, identifying needs and changes as she guides her charges to their full potential, with the faith that each one will reveal himself through his work, creating the man he is to become.

In conclusion, it is evident that the Montessori prepared environment does cater for the WHOLE development of the child in every aspect of his life. From the large windows providing natural light and warmth, the child size furniture, pictures on the walls that he can see without straining, the real objects to do real tasks, the easily accessible activities that engage maximum effort and prepare him for future work without him realising it and materials, mops, brooms, polishing equipment, secateurs for flower arranging while he cares for himself and his environment, to the loving, trustworthy, comforting and motherly ever-observant Directress who fulfils his needs, the child creates himself into an independent, self confident, emotionally and stable, physically healthy intellectual and self disciplined human being.

Written by:  Felicity Ingram

Filed under: Blog

I recently came across the debate of the leadership and management. The debate questioned whether management is the same leadership, or if they are different. This debate triggered something in me as I always regard myself as a campus manager of Future Nation Schools Fleurhof.

After I read few articles on the subject I realised that at our schools we are not managers, but rather leaders, hence our teachers who have been with the schools excel in their work. The new teachers who have just joined the team and come from a background of management, may find it hard to adapt at first, but once they realise the benefits of working under a leader, they do not look back!

What is the difference between a manger and a leader, and what makes the leadership of Future Nation Schools adopt this style guiding their teams?

According to Clive Smith (UJ), leaders serve people, managers steward resources. Leaders motivate the team to own the organisation vision and strategy and work at implementing them. They encourage innovation. They allow team members to come up with better ways of implementing a vision. They are flexible. They are open to new ideas. Leaders always think of better ways of improving the organisation. The key focus of the leaders is on the team, or people they lead, and they always check if they are motivated to create new ideas to better the organisation. They take risks with new ideas as long as they can envision that the risk will bring some positive change.

On the other hand, managers focus is on the set goals. They set, measure and achieve goals. As far as managers are concerned, the key performance indicators are set and they cannot be changed. Managers leave a little or no room for innovation. The main focus of managers is to achieve the goals, and they pay little attention as to how motivated the team is. The mind-set of the managers is fixed on the goals at hand and the road map set to achieve them. They are more rigid than flexible. They are afraid of taking risks.

Future Nation schools is not about maintaining the education system, but it is all about bringing a change to the system by adopting Project Based Learning. A leader believes in change more than maintaining the routine, as mangers do.

FNS is future orientated. Teachers work on developing skills in the learners for future jobs. Leaders’ attributes include future orientation while managers’ attributes use present and past experiences to guide the teams they manage. The manager also believes in the written guidelines where they ‘do things right and follow the policy’.  The leaders believe in doing the right thing, not to be constraint by written policy.

The leaders of FNS believe that the teachers and the teams they lead are there to do the right thing, more than telling them on how to do them right and to be limited by rules. They are more people-orientated and they work by trusting the team they work with. Thus they unleash the innovation from the team. Future Nation Schools are moving from strength to strength because culture is key more over rules. While managers out there are resource-orientated, believe in control and driven by rules more than culture. From how the teams are led they admire their leaders more than obeying the instructions, as a result the FNS team is an effective team more than just an efficient team.

It is with this reason that Future Nation team excels because they are led by effective leaders more than managed.

I owe this inspiration to my lecturer DR CLIVE SMITH (UJ Department of Education Management and Leadership)

By Xolisa Luthi: Head Of School (Fleurhof)

Filed under: Blog

Working in a space that encourages the creation of projects through enquiry means burying yourself, your planning and your teaching in questions. A great many questions.  But even more daunting, it means posing these questions to a class of students and hoping for a lesson driven by the excitement of figuring out the answer.

So you walk in with your well-planned lesson, this lesson you’ve rehearsed multiple times in your head and every time your imaginary classroom has responded eagerly to your well-worded questions.  As a teacher you know you are going to nail it. But as you deliver your first question the class falls silent… It is at this point when a mild panic attack sets in.

Posing questions in classrooms is hardly a revolutionary act. In fact, studies show that teachers spend 30 – 55 percent of class time on questioning1. And if ‘studies’ were to stay long enough in any classroom, they might guess that teachers also spend 15 – 25 percent of this time answering their own questions.  There is fear that comes with waiting for a student to come to a response, a window period where teachers feel no control as the air can only be filled by student voices and the lack of voice seems to signal “give more questions”, “simplify the question”, “ask a different question”,  “just tell them what you had in mind when asking the question”… As a teacher invested in your students’ learning everything seems to signal TRY HARDER, YOU ARE NOT DOING ENOUGH.

But the wait is a very necessary part of the enquiry process. I would argue the waiting should constitute a bulk of the enquiry process because according to experts the wait is where the brain mechanics begin the work. A good question will launch students first to think about the question and its meaning, to look through their own files of knowledge to find a solution for the answer (and if this question is one geared to launch an enquiry process, the students may not find information in their immediate brain files to respond), to formulate an internal response, to formulate an external response and sometimes revise this response. Can you think how excited the brain must get at THIS point of the lesson, in your silence and in their internal workings?

A whole theory on waiting time has been formulated. I’ve wondered what a pedagogy formulated around ‘waiting time’ might look like: where teachers feel confident enough in students’ brain mechanics to ask questions without allowing their own discomfort to fill the air with something as boring as a “correct answer”; allowing students to move from internal processes to communication with their peers, and allowing internal processes to be externalised building up a knowing (or a questioning) in a space of “waiting”.

Think what a curriculum based on a waiting period may allow, how much innovation would be afforded when the powers that be loosen content, and allow classrooms time to “wait” and truly digest fundamental concepts of different subjects instead of working from the anxious dread and worry unpinned by the question “are we doing enough?”.  That dread that makes curriculum pack itself full of words, facts and intrusive prescription.

Our well-intentioned drive to teach, to give knowledge, to make sure students make it, to make sure teachers are working, to make sure we are internationally competitive while making sure we are innovative, makes the thought of waiting it out seem like a neglect of our duty to serve. But wouldn’t it be something, to pose a question, solve a problem and wait it out to see every stake holder use their mechanics to externalise their internal dialogues in a space of ‘waiting’?

I am a language and social sciences teacher and we run on our ideologies, so I will continue to play Socrates and ‘wait it out’ through my students’ discoveries.

Tokoloho Malele

  1. Cotton, K. Classroom Questioning, North West Regional Education Laboratory
  2. Cockcroft, K. The Role of working memory in Childhoos education: five questions and answers, South African Journal of Childhood Education. 2015, 5 (1) : 19 – 41
Filed under: Blog

Let me say I want to talk about education but I do not know where to start. Not because I have no clue, but because education is a very tricky profession that everyone has an idea about. Sometimes the term ‘education’ is misused. I remember my Grade 7 teacher walking into class with a stick we used to call Stop Nonsense, declaring, “Today I will educate you”.

Having said that, some questions that might be asked are, “Is education a one-day-wonder experience?” or “Does education seek to make graduates employable?” but I prefer to ask this one, “Should graduates be employment creators?”

Let us dwell on what kind of education should students be exposed to, and what should inform that?

  • PBL and data driven instruction

In almost all countries governments are fiddling with education and they really do not know what to do with it. Education throughout the entire world is either outdated or unjust. Let’s examine data driven instruction. Back to state education, note this is not directed to the South African government, but to the African countries at large. It Is actually safe to say most government educators in the world are experimenting with small human beings. This experimenting is almost similar to how people often feel about weather. They do not know which season is better. For most, education officials who are responsible for curricula, education is like someone who wakes up in the morning with a lotto winning ticket: too much money all at once and no plans for it. These education officials do not know if they want to stick with tradition and continue churning out graduates who seek employment, the industrial era type of education, or if they should implement change that will see graduates become employment creators. While what matters in the African setup is to churn out employment creators, many officials are scared to embrace educational change.

It is data driven Project Based education that seeks to change the tradition. It intends to eliminate the legacy of a traditional way of doing things where students are drilled to memorise and talk about theories they have no ideas about. On the contrary, data driven instruction in Project Based Learning brings to the students just the right experiences. Remember, being a data driven PBL educator is not just about collecting data. Everyone collects data. Peasant farmers collect data. They count how many cows the shepherds brought back home. Vendors also collect data. How many of their cabbages were sold? However, as a PBL educator, data informs, data directs, it gives the co-ordinates that have to be followed by the students and the educator. In a PBL set up, data is important for ideation if it is shared with students. It informs what content should be covered. It enlightens what will constitute the project. These projects give experience to students. It’s not only experience that they gain: creativity, collaboration… They gain the 21st century skills.

So what data do you collect?

All data, emotional, academic and in all subjects, is the answer. For this method is holistic. Finland has done away with teaching in subject areas! The PBL we deliver at FNS also is more integration oriented. We seek to be thought leaders in education in the country.

FNS believes in Project Based teaching being the best alternative as it gives students the opportunity to gain experience and creativity while at school. Allowing the students to be better than, not other students in class, but better than themselves. “Someday all schools will teach like us” because we do not seek to dominate the educational space but to start processes that everyone would see a need to follow.

Thokozani is an Intermediate phase coordinator at FNS. He has been in the field of education for 20 years. Has taught in all the school phases from 2 year olds to grade 12. Worked in Eastern Cape (Matatiele and Port Elizabeth, Gauteng) and also in Zimbabwe. Has also been privileged to be a part of academic teams that have started a couple of schools that have made their mark in education. Beside an educational qualification He holds a degree in BHSS.


Filed under: Blog

It is an undeniable truth that our citizenship can no longer be defined by geographical terms only, or let alone be confined by border lines.  One doesn’t even have to travel physically to break these barriers.  The advancement of technology has enabled us to engage with one another on a global scale.  We are a generation of global and digital citizens. This change and development in our humanity comes with its own implications and challenges. The biggest challenge is the education and nurturing of a generation that will experience this trend on a bigger scale.  The question that needs to be answered then is, how do we educate a generation of young people to be prepared for a future that is uncertain and to help them make an impact on a global scale?

Research shows that jobs which are filled by young people who were in school 15 years ago, were non-existent when these young people were at school. Prior to the year 2007, there was no need for App developers because the iPhone arrived only in 2007, with the android phone following shortly after. Fast forward ten years, and the need for Apps has grown exponentially, opening a huge market for App developers. The second biggest shift in the job industry was in the field of social media.  Facebook is estimated to have at least 1,5 billion users currently. That means a need for a social media manager to manage this process because these social media platforms have become an indispensable marketing tool. The job title, Social Media Manager was unheard of when Facebook was founded, but is needed now owing to the growth in social media trends. We can mention other jobs such as drone operators, driverless car engineers and data scientists to mention a few.  With that being said, fast forward fifteen years from now, and we don’t know what type of jobs will be occupied by the students we have now. We can, however, start educating them in a way that prepares them to occupy those jobs when that time comes.

At Future Nation Schools we have begun this journey by adopting the Project based Learning approach, and we apply it by using the enquiry based model.  For the purpose of this article, I will not labour much on these two topics, documents have already been written by some of my colleagues on this subject. I however, want to show how to leverage the use of technology in the quest to developing our young people to participate meaningfully in the global community. What informed our decision in adopting the Project Based approach, was the realisation that there are four major critical skills which are in demand in the 21st century if our youth is to participate in the global community.  It is a well-documented fact that every human resource manager looks for the following skills when scouting for candidates to fill their posts; collaboration and teamwork skills, creativity and imagination, critical thinking, problem solving and communication. These skills are not addressed by the traditional approach to education. The Project Based learning model offers us multiple opportunities to sufficiently address these skills. Our emphasis at Future Nation Schools is technology integration in the classroom across all learning areas.   Technology integration in the classroom is a very broad subject with a wide range of applications, especially in the context of the Project Based model.  I will scale down my focus to Skype and its amazing benefits to students and how best to use it as a tool to enhance learning in the classroom.

When Skype was developed and released to the public in 2003, it had no direct application to education until it partnered with Microsoft. It was used mainly for business and social purposes. In the year 2017, Future Nation Schools became a Microsoft school – this meant exposure for both teachers and students to the various teaching tools accessible on the Microsoft educator community platform. It is required that every teacher in our schools signs-up for an account and is active on the platform. Some of the tools I have been using from this platform besides Skype include; TouchDevelop (a programming language used by our Grade 6 students in their computing lessons), Minecraft in education, Sway for making presentations, Teams and OneNote. After going through all the Skype learning material on the Microsoft educator community platform, I realised that there are five ways in which Skype can used in the classroom across all phases, age groups and learning areas.

The first way we can visit the world without ever leaving the classroom is to use the Skype option known as Skype lessons. What happens here is that the teacher can connect with experts or other educators from other countries or continents to offer the students live lessons around a specific topic or theme. One example could be interviewing an author of a book you are reading with your students in your language classes – this enhances literacy skills and offers students real life connections, and helps them to conceptualise their learning. Secondly, besides connecting with experts from across the globe, teachers can connect with other teachers to work on similar projects with their students and other students across the continents.  This is achievable through Skype collaborations, where for example, if you are working on a project to purify water, you can collaborate with a school based in a place that experiences water crises. Together, you can develop a solution for that community. This ensures that our students learn problem solving through collaboration, they also learn how to solve global issues while they are still at school.

The Project Based learning approach often requires our students to receive guidance from experts in a particular field – this is known as real life connections. The challenge with this is time constraints and cost implications. Microsoft addressed this by introducing Skype guest speakers. Guest speakers have accounts on the Microsoft educator community. They can be accessed at any time by teachers within reasonable time frames. A Computing teacher can interview a professional App developer to help his students in the App developing process, for example. This ensures that our students get to interact with experts without ever having to leave the classroom. Often in learning areas such as Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Geography or History, teachers will be addressing a topic that needs students to visit a particular area so as to enhance their learning. One particular example I can give is learning about the history of Egypt with the students – it will obviously make sense to visit those monumental areas in order to make this learning more meaningful, a task which is made impossible by time and cost implications. Luckily, there is way of visiting Egypt without ever having to leave the classroom. This is made possible by using the Skype Virtual trips option.  Teachers can use this option to visit the marine world, space stations and laboratories of any nation under the sun with their students. This is applicable across all learning areas, not limited to the ones I mentioned above. Students will enjoy their learning and have a better conceptualisation of their learning material.

The fifth most powerful learning tool in developing global citizens and instilling the value of diversity in our students is what is known as Mystery Skype. Mystery Skype is a global game that helps students learn about among other things, Geography, culture, and the similarities and differences of how other children live around the world. In English the teacher could use this platform to explore digital citizenship with students from another country or continent. This can also be a powerful Geography and History lesson where students use their knowledge of time frames, weather patterns and historical background to try and locate a place on the map from their Atlas textbook. The students will enjoy the thrill of being the first ones to discover where in the world the other students are based.

In 2017 our Grade 7 students had three Mystery Skype sessions with students from Indonesia. Our students learned a great deal about the cultural background, ethnicity, geographical facts and educational background of their friends from Indonesia: an experience they will never forget. The other benefit is that they got to formulate friendships on a global scale.

At the time of writing this article (17 February 2018), we are currently in talks with other teachers from our schools on how best to help them bring Skype in their classrooms. The idea is to see all educators of all phases using either of the five Skype options to bring real life meaning into their classrooms. Our Grade 5 and Grade 6 students are going to engage in Skype Virtual trip with their History teacher. This will be one of our ground-breaking adventures in technology integration as a new school, bedside the fact that the same students will be using Minecraft to model the ancient history of Egypt. This is how Future Nation Schools uses, and will continue to use Skype in the classroom to build global citizens and expose our students to the trends that are global. We believe by so doing our students will leave the school better equipped to function and participate in global issues and become entrepreneurs who will develop solutions to global problems.

Finally, it is not a difficult task setting up a personal Skype account. Most teachers use their personal Skype accounts, and it is free of charge. To access the benefits of Skype in education, the teacher must sign up on the Microsoft educator platform, edit their profile and set up their Skype preferences, especially their availability. The second thing is to go through the Skype courses that are offered at various levels in order to familiarise yourself with the material. Upon successful completion of the short courses and the quiz, the teacher will earn a Skype badge and certificate. The only thing left is to start connecting with the world and exposing your students to the rest of the world: “the journey of many miles begins with a single step.”

Here is to building global citizens right in the comfort of our classrooms!

Author is: Peter Sithole, Teacher: Mathematics & Technology.

Filed under: Blog

So they say. But what has been tried to make it drink?

  • Throw carrots into the water
  • Beat it when it retreats from the water
  • Convince it that the water is not really water, but something else it wants
  • Convince it that it is not a horse, but a fish
  • Leave it to become thirsty
  • Force feed it water
  • Teach it to how to make water
  • Stop the discussion and just be

Throw carrots in the water

Perhaps if we throw what the horse wants into the water, the horse will have to taste the water in order to get the carrot. There need to be enough carrots (incentives) in order for the horse to taste the carrot in the water. A few just won’t do, because it will soon figure out that this is only water that looks like the carrot, but really isn’t. The water (education) becomes a false illusion of what the horse (student) really wants. And at this point, the horse should really move on to other ways to pursue the carrot.

With enough carrots, the horse will enjoy the water as another form of the carrot. It may even struggle to distinguish carrots from water at some point. Water becomes carrot: education becomes sweet.

Beat it when it retreats from the water

Perhaps if we beat the horse when it retreats from the water, it will keep going for the water. Or at least stay close to the water. But for how long will this last? There could be a time when it decides to run away , or to stay only to learn to endure the pain of the beating, than to act consistently with what the beating naively tries to achieve. We have a history of using violence to force the actions we want to see. However, it remains to be proven whether such methods are sustainable.

Forcing the action in this way comes with a few other consequences: it teaches students to use violence to get a result, when this has been embedded in their own success. And we have seen how some of the most influential oppressors, in politics, sciences, economics, military warfare etc., have been ‘great’ academics. But this is only if the student doesn’t eventually rebel against the violence in higher grades (11-12) when they feel strong enough to protest. These are the older students we teachers would call “rebellious”.

However, we could find a not so violent way to guide behaviour. We could affirm (incentivise) the desirable actions with positive feedback, and starve negative actions with none. The disadvantage of negative feedback exists in its negative effect on the user (teacher) and the recipient (student).

Convince it that the water is not really water

Perhaps if we convince the horse that water is not really water, then it would find new reasons for drinking the water. But without actually changing the water, one would need to continually prime (program) the horse’s interpretation of water. What substitute for water would be desirable to the horse? If we could lead the horse to believe that water is in fact hay, then it might be happier to indulge in it. We would need to change the definition of what water is and what hay used to be in order to accommodate this new state. This would need to be a program run on all horses so that traces of the old definitions do not interrupt the new psyche. A revolution on the new desirable way in which everyone thinks of education would need to come from all directions (institutions, TV programs, music and so on). Only then, perhaps, would students naturally and happily partake in (what was once called) education.

Convince it that it is not a horse, but a fish

Perhaps we should convince the horse that is it not a horse, but a fish. Then it would see water as something it needs to survive. This is similar to convincing the horse that the water is not really water, but provides an effective way to reframe how to see something more (or other) in education. And this is through a very personal process. Horses would need to see the fish in them before they could behave like fish (and revel in the water). Students need to be shown something godly in themselves, before they can enact a renaissance in personal power. Only then will they value being refined in mathematics, science, languages, history, geography, life orientation, physical education, robotics, drama, etc. For a belief that one is godly will fulfil itself, just as the belief that a horse is a fish will lead it to taking to water. Again, the possibility of interrupting this process through counter examples warrants a whole societal movement in personal change rather than an individual personal change. Or perhaps not.

Leave it to become thirsty

Perhaps we can leave the horse to become thirsty. It will eventually drink. That is true. Just as it is true that a student left to set out his/her academic life will eventually want to check the change at the shop, understand some weather patterns, understand a financial statement to improve their decisions, improve their life’s orientation etc. But why spend a whole lifetime finding out which tools help your life, when you could learn the tools for the first 23 years of your life and then be better prepared to push your (and the world’s) limits further? Yes, institutions do compress an eventual process for a good head-start, and there is value in it. The problem is that the horse may find other convenient locations of sources of water (education). Ones that are not centralised and regulated, such as video games, music videos and the like. This is especially true in a society where these other forms of education are as dynamic as they are, compared to a traditional blackboard lecture on algebra. We need to make the water we led the horse to, as desirable (if not more) than the alternative springs it may find. Education needs to be revised (if not recreated) to give the same experience as the video games, music videos, and the like.

Force feed it water

Perhaps we need to force feed it water? Hold it down by hands (or threats of calling a parent) or Ritalin, in order to force the water inside it. Water is good for it right? But again, the violence means it will associate water with force-feeding, and it will apply this violence o other areas of its life. The question is whether we care if the horse exhibits violent (unhappy) behaviour in its future after the short term mission to make it drink has been accomplished. How do we measure the creation of great future citizens against the need to leave Matric with a great set of results? Should we take the chance? Should we not take the other chance?

Teach it how to make water

Perhaps we should teach it how to make water? This will allow the horse the benefit of creating water whenever it needs to. And then we won’t need to lead it to water in order to drink. However, we will still need to teach the horse how to create something it does not value at certain times. This sounds like a fail from the beginning. You can’t recreate what you cannot even see.

Unless the horse is taught how to create water at the precise moment it feels thirsty. If we can elicit a thirst for a particular skill through some restructuring of the (class/school) environment, we can then have a project based education for the student. Or else the student will be learning to create what is does not value, which is a different experience to when it does value.

Stop the discussion and just be

Or we could just stop the discussion. If we do not talk about a horse being led to water, no problem exists. No problem but the status quo.

So let’s talk about the problem. How do we create and optimise education for every child? My answer is in a combination of the above that I am yet to discover. When all factors have been accounted for and implemented, I believe the student will naturally and happily drink from the (inner and outer) fountains of knowledge.

Filed under: Blog

Have you ever wondered why we need to educate our children? Is it about acquiring new skills, new information, new ways of doing things, changes in life style, modifying behaviour, new beliefs, new ways of thinking, creativity, better communication, improved numeracy or reading…

The aim is to empower, to nurture, to build character and to future proof our students. Why then, are they still sitting in rows, using textbooks, being subjected to the chalk and talk teaching approach with minimal student involvement?  Research contends that 2% of people think, 3% of people think they think and 95% of people would rather die than think. This is a frightening fact…we need to act NOW!

We need to bring the fun back into learning. Play helps teams work together effectively and creates meaningful learning engagement. A student experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution needs different learning spaces and designs that allow them to work comfortably and to be able to adapt to any form of learening engagement.

Our students are facing an exponential growth in artificial intelligence which implies that their thinking, creativity, reasoning should be fast-tracked to meet the demands of technology. Robotics, and three D printers are gradually replacing human labour: this is threat to future careers and jobs. Again, our approach to teaching and learning should augment innovation, problem solving and designing projects. The aim is not only to acquire new information or knowledge, but to know how to use it to solve problems or challenge the status quo.

The current political turmoil in our country cannot be ignored, it calls for abrupt intervention in the economic, social and political systems. This intervention is not possible if we have students who cannot adapt to this volatile status quo and pervading uncertainty. Students who are given an opportunity to question, self-explore, self-discover and enquire can effortlessly adjust to these fluctuations because they are solutions driven. Curiosity helps them to explore unfamiliar territory and lays the foundation for greater opportunities.

This quote from Albert Einstein Seneca confirms our approach with our future students: ”The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day”.  I

We need to future-proof our students now!

Filed under: Blog

What is freedom within limits?

Freedom within limits is an empowering concept. It embraces the notion of the child as an explorer who is capable of learning and doing for him/herself. Montessori encourages freedom within limits through the design of the prepared environment. Especially relevant are the low open shelves, logically ordered activities, and child-friendly work spaces of the Montessori classroom. In effect, this encourages the child to move freely around the classroom, and choose his/her own work within limits of appropriate behaviour. These limits are the ground rules of the Montessori classroom.

What are the limits of Montessori classroom?

There are three ground rules of the Montessori classroom. All other ground rules stem from these three.

1) Respect for oneself;
2) Respect for others; and
3) Respect for the environment.

In the first place, respect for oneself refers to teaching children how to work safely and productively in the Montessori classroom. Children are free to choose their activities, provided that they have been shown a presentation of the activity, and know how to use the materials respectfully to avoid self-harm.

Types of freedom in the Montessori environment

  1. Freedom to move

By allowing freedom of movement, children learn to explore their environment; and therefore discover their interests.

  1. Freedom of choice

Freedom of choice is fundamental to the Montessori approach. This is because choice allows children to discover their needs, interests and abilities.

  1. Freedom of time

Freedom of time allows children to work with the same material for as long as t

  1. Freedom to repeat

The three-hour work cycle gives students the opportunity to work with materials and achieve success through practice. Furthermore, through repetition, children learn to self-correct and problem-solve.

  1. Freedom to communicate

Children learn to discuss activities, problem solve, and develop their social skills.

  1. Freedom to make mistakes

All material is designed with a visual control of error. This guides the child to understand the outcome of the activity through hands-on learning experiences.

How does freedom within limits benefit the child?

Freedom within limits encourages children to become respectful members of their classroom community. Through real life experiences, children learn that freedom is choosing to do what is best for themselves and others. In conclusion, freedom within limits teaches children how to become independent and confident students who respect the rules of their freedom.

Author is : Lungile Nala


Filed under: Blog

Do you remember the warm comfort of sitting very close to an adult who devoted some time to just you as he/she read you a story? Do you remember asking for the same familiar story to be read again, and again? And do you remember listening carefully for any change in the tale – either in the narrative, or in the inflection of the reader’s voice?

The Monster at the End of this Book is a case in point. Grover, a character from Sesame Street stars in this tale. The story line is quite simple – he warns the reader on every page that there is a monster at the end of the book. He implores the reader not to turn the page, and devises many cunning plots to stop the reader from doing so. Of course, my children were delighted as we defiantly turned the pages, determined to outdo Grover and push him to his limits! After the first reading, the plot was clear, but this did not deter these fledgling readers – The Monster at the End of this Book was always the first choice, until I, and they, could say the story off by heart!

Researchers have been suggesting in recent years that parents and caregivers should be reading to babies as early as the first days of their lives. This, of course, is a problem for barely literate or illiterate adults. This problem is aggravated by the fact that many barely literate or illiterate adults live in low economic situations, and books are a luxury, and their children often do not have access to them. Reading takes a back seat in more affluent homes as work pressures and conflicting schedules do not allow for this special time. The losers in both of these situations are the children.

In the case of parents and caregivers who are unable to read, a second best option is their own story telling informed by picture book. Studies show that children who are read to enter pre-school with larger vocabularies, stronger language skills and an interest in reading that often shapes their future educational lives, than those who were denied this experience.

The other spin-off for the parents and children who read together is that a strong, nurturing relationship is created during the reading experiences – this helps the child’s cognitive, emotional and social development.

Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009 that individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathise with them and view the world from their perspective. A 2010 study by Mar found a similar result in young children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their “theory of mind,” or mental model of other people’s intentions. (1) This state is reached through the deep reading of a text as opposed to the superficial skimming and scanning that often characterises our digital lives. The immersion in the complexity of the emotional choices and moral dilemmas of the characters in even the simplest of stories, will lead to the development of human beings with the capacity to empathise with others in real life, and who will have the thought processes for critical thinking and choice-making of their own.

This brings us to the debate about ‘real’ books versus the digital kind. Most people have an opinion about where their preference lies, and it does not really matter as long as the reading is taking place. However, books are at a disadvantage when competing with high resolution and animated texts that are found on digital devices.

The act of reading is about entertainment and pleasure, but for maximum benefit to be derived from the experience, words and sentences tucked safely in their paragraphs and chapters need to be explored. The psychologist Victor Nell compares the pleasure of reading to falling into a hypnotic trance in which the reader and the author enter into an ‘extended and ardent conversation like people falling in love’. This conversation does not happen in the skimming and scanning of digital texts, or with the distraction of colourful, and noisy animations. It only happens as readers move through the printed page at their own pace decoding the words, and engaging their own emotions, thoughts, memories and opinions.

For me, the deep engagement with the monster who lived at the end of the book by my children, created a sense of magic that thirty years later both they and I can remember. And the book is a treasure that we anticipate sharing with the coming generation. Surely that beats the digital version?

(1) Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer By Annie Murphy Paul

Filed under: Blog