March 21, 1960 is remembered as one of a number of watershed moments on South Africa's path to democracy. On this day, locally referred to as Human Rights day, the Sharpeville massacre took place. Police opened fire on about 5 000 people who had come to the Sharpeville station to protest pass laws. Around 69 protestors were killed and close to 200 injured. Lest we forget, pass laws in essence classified the indigenous people of South Africa as "foreigners" and placed movement restrictions on those classified to be in possession of this "Pass" document.
So when did the requirement for Passes rear its head in South Africa? According to SAhistory.org, the first time Pass documents were used to restrict the movement of non-European South Africans was in the early 1800’s. However, slaves at the Cape had been forced to carry Passes since 1709. Whilst passes were required during the period up to 1950, the Natives (Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents) of 1952 drove home the point. This made it compulsory for Black South Africans to carry a range of documents, including a photograph, place of birth, employment records, tax payments and criminal records, and enabled the government to further restrict their movement. It was illegal to be without a Pass, with the penalty for which was arrest and jail. The Natives (Prohibition of Interdicts) Act of 1956 removed all legal recourse for objecting to the removal of Black people from certain residential areas whilst the Urban Areas Act limited Black people to 72 hours in an urban area without permission from a specific municipal officeholder. Needless to say, dissatisfaction grew around this issue, culminating in the events at Sharpeville in 1960.
Sharpeville did not mark the retraction of the legislation though. This only happened in July 1986, when it became clear to the Apartheid Government that its ongoing enforcement could not stem the tide of Black urbanization.
23 years into our democracy, we are still faced with the consequences of the geographic marginalization of people of colour. Whilst the statute books no longer underpin Apartheid, the reality is that our population largely remain in the areas to which they were displaced under the former government. I see this daily.
Black and coloured residential areas remain removed from the centre of rural towns. Residential areas within the inner parts of rural towns remain largely White and the outer and outlying areas non-White. There is little possibility for Blacks to move into the centre of towns given their socio-economic status. Our current government, despite its good intentions to provide housing to the poor and marginalized, have chosen to underpin the historical residential settings by building in these areas and not developing mass housing projects that allow towns to become more intergrated. We appear to have more success in urban environments.
And so we see sprawling townships outside of rural towns and elite, gated housing developments in the inner circles of the same towns. This type of exclusion is not legislated via a Pass but amounts to similar feelings in those who move into towns. You often "know" you don't belong...it is rarely overtly stated but as most Black South Africans know, it is something we are acutely attuned to.
I have a simple request as we celebrate Human Rights day this year. Let's not forget the indignation that thousands suffered under the Pass laws and similar restrictive laws from our past. Let's remain attentive citizens, since even under our current democracy, we face behaviours in government and the private sector that seek to undermine the democratic values of our liberated society and our basic human rights. Be aware. Be vigilant and be an active citizen.
March 21, 1960 is remembered as one of a number of watershed moments on South Africa's path to democracy. On this day, locally referred to as Human Rights day, the Sharpeville massacre took place. Police opened fire on about 5 000 people who had come to the Sharpeville station to protest pass laws. Around 69 protestors were killed and close to 200 injured. Lest we forget, pass laws in essence classified the indigenous people of South Africa as "foreigners" and placed movement restrictions on those classified to be in possession of this "Pass" document.
As a follow-up on my previous post, Assessment: fact or fiction, I would like to look at the matter of feedback as an integral part of the assessment process. Before I get to the meat-of-the- issue, can I ask you to reflect on your environment at home, if you're a parent, or an institution of learning, if a student, or your workplace, if you have a job. What are your sentiments about feedback on your performance? Let's look at the home environment first.
This above all - to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as night follows day, thou canst not then be false to any man". William Shakespeare
The website merriam-webster.com defines the truth as simply "the real facts about something". It doesn't sound like a difficult thing to do, i.e., to tell the truth about an interaction with a colleague, associate, family member or report. Strange as this may sound, it often seems to be easier for a colleague or someone you know to embellish the facts or story than tell it as-it-is. I do wonder why this is so; why is lying embraced with such ease and telling the truth accepted with such difficulty? Where in our development as a species did this become so hazy and grey? And it appears to be encroaching all areas of our lives. A few examples; watch television and a bottle of dishwasher is marketed like your dishes will never be cleaner without its use, a meal from a fast food restaurant looks like it was prepared by a Michelin star chef at an exclusive establishment and service industries project themselves like you can't live without them. I'm sure you will agree, marketing is often devoid of truth. Thousands of end-users can testify to the rude awakening when the adverts don't live up to the hype when reality dawns on you. And don't dare complain. You are pigeonholed as aggressive, insensitive and part of the rogue consumer fraternity. Even if you highlighted the lie with all the decency you could muster.
Let me take this scenario into our schools and the outcomes that our learners achieve. I want to ask a series of questions that I find myself wondering about. So here goes.
Is the academic assessment of learners a process filled with honesty or has it descended into a series of administrative tasks? Assessment comes into stark focus in the 4th term given the promotion and progression of learners in the system. Have you ever asked yourself how much of this is actually real, i.e., the academic outcomes per learner? Is it really a try indicator of a child's ability to succeed in life?
Do you wonder how much of an impact parents have had on tasks and assignments submitted by learners? Or not, where parents are absent? How do you as an educator assess these pieces? Do you find yourself wondering but go ahead and pretend it was all the work of the learner? Do you convince yourself that the submission is better than non-submission, irrespective of your discomfort? Do you provide feedback on these assessment pieces or discuss the contents with the learners or is your approach "what's-done-is-done?"
Let me go further. When you mark, are you true to your memorandum? Is the memorandum quality assured? Peer-reviewed? Or is it simply the one from the last three years? Do you become more lenient as the day/night wears on or stricter in your marking? When you come across a learner you dislike, do you change your position from positive marking to negative marking? Do you find yourself being more accommodating towards learners you like, whether race-driven, cultural sameness or not? When a learner falls short of passing, is your leniency, or not, influenced by the afore-mentioned? Do you believe assessment is a nice form of getting back at learners who you view as tardy, lazy or slow?
When your scripts are moderated, are you sure they were? Or was the addition of the marks to make the grand total the only thing checked? Do you supply the scripts for moderation or are they randomly sampled? Is there moderation at all?
When discussions are held around learners who marginally fail the grade, what indicators are used to re-look each child? Or do you believe a fail-is-a-fail and no discussion is needed? Do you accept that learners failing might be as a result of teachers not teaching well or do you mitigate by blaming the loaded curriculum?
You may think I'm being cynical but often, at this time of the year, discussions around learners' academic outcomes become heated terrain, where adults point fingers at each other and academic arguments punctuate discussion to justify failing learners. Having found myself in the presence of such animated exchanges, I regularly wonder what the learners would say about us if they had the opportunity to assess our performance. Something to think about as we near the closing of the school academic year and schools report on their success and many learners must face the prospect of failing. When this realization dawns for them, was the process that led to this point, an honest one in all respects?
'Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York' William Shakespeare
Two weeks later, the aftershocks of the American presidential elections are still being felt across the globe. I am stunned at the difficulty, myself included, many have in digesting the outcome of this race for the top job in Washington. It almost defies belief that the various news platforms got it all so wrong. Like with the Brexit vote, none of the mainstream media and the various pollsters predicated this outcome. In an interview with the actuality programme "60 Minutes", the President-Elect even appeared to be stumped at the outcome. He looked mortified that he is now the incoming Head of State of the USA. We eagerly wait to see who will be appointed as the main cabinet portfolio holders and whether he will deliver on his campaign promises of tougher immigration controls, building a wall between the US and Mexico, reinvigorating the country's infrastructure, bring jobs back to the USA and making America great again.
And the tension continues to rise. But what are some of the nuggets that we can take from this entire two-year drama?
The-above pointers are not exhaustive and not exclusive to the arena of politics. These are indicators that leaders and workers in any organization should be aware of and pay attention to. Too many leaders have become intoxicated with the power their positions carry, arrogant towards the constituencies they meant to serve and beholding to special interest groups. Furthermore, self preservation is often more important than doing what is right. Be careful if you find yourself in leadership and you forget you're meant to serve. You may get the shock of your life when a tsunami of the disaffected make their presence known. Be warned.
The modern car is nothing short of a marvel. You have to look no further than your family car to appreciate the advances made over our lifetime on the technological front. Current motor vehicles are a far cry from the Model T Henry Ford brought to scale to launch the retail car market. There are few cars today that are not in part, or wholly, controlled via a computer management system. Few cars can be serviced by their owners. No car purchased is offered to the prospective buyer without a service or maintenance plan. And you have very little choice but to bolt-on the plan. Every car salesperson will talk you through the perils of a mechanical breakdown and will normally initiate you in the various warning systems on display on the vehicle's dashboard or heads-up display.
The car I drive has over 80 warning alarms. This sounds impressive until one of these alarms sound, signaling the need to visit a Service Centre. You realize how paralyzed you are as a car owner at that point. You feverishly gear yourself for the inevitable quote to restore the system. System restore is never cheap. The whole process appears to be rigged in favor of the merchant and not the client. It is never one thing that is malfunctioning and you are at the mercy of the consultant to be honest in the assessment of the problem.
When the warning light disappears from your dashboard display, the relief is palpable. Until the next time. There is little doubt that the dashboard, with its many parameters measuring and regulating the car's performance, is vital though. Your vehicle's efficiency in terms of power output and fuel consumption, traction and break-force distribution, cooling systems, etc are directly managed via a sophisticated computer to ensure you have a pleasurable driving experience whilst giving you visual feedback in real-time. Dashboards allow you to identify and correct negative trends, improve efficiency and support decision-making with facts, measures performance and improve upon performed analysis (thanks to the visual graphics. (MAS Software Solutions,Inc: 2013)
Many successful organizations use intelligence systems to provide managers feedback on the efficiency an effectiveness of the business. Modern business intelligence systems provide critical overview inputs that allow organizations to respond to their internal an external environments with speed. In an increasingly globalized world, you cannot survive without it.
Dashboards are also valuable in schools. For the same reasons as listed in the preceding paragraphs, system dashboards are critical for school managers who seek to raise the standards of academic performance in their schools. These systems can be set up to monitor every possible indicator at school level that influences performance or academic outcomes. It allows you to have realtime "dipsticks" to gauge operational efficiencies and alter plans before any potential negative impact. Sad to say though, many school managers still do not value the need to embrace business intelligence systems. Fear of modern software systems and a lack of competence cement resistance to the assimilation of help via technology. And the more you resist, the further your school will slide backward with regard to responding to the interrelated and interdependent aspects that drive our world and the one in which our learners will interact. So, take the plunge and get business intelligence systems incorporated into the operational process at your school; better to know early that something is amiss than at a point where it doesn't matter anymore.
One of the many challenges faced by leadership teams in schools and elsewhere, is the need to keep staff involved in the strategic and operational decisions that must be taken to improve efficiency and effectivity. This is difficult to achieve and maintain,especially if the culture within the organization does not create the climate to stimulate engagement by employees.
Many managers and persons in leadership though, pay scant regard to the need to create an environment for engagement with their subordinates or colleagues. The view is often that management-knows-best, that the higher your rank, the more intelligence you have and therefore the need to consult or engage others is not essential. Consultation is often view in the same light as information sharing and briefing sessions as input gathering. The fact that the audience could ask some questions justifies the thinking. Tragically, this view is often supported by those lower down the organization's rank structure.
Research though shows that employees that are disengaged cost an organization millions in lost revenue, productivity and efficiency. The Harvard Business Review (January–February, 2015), noted that many workers highlight that frustration, burnout, disillusionment, and misalignment with personal values are cited amongst the biggest reasons for career change and that disengaged workers cost the US economy $450-550 billion dollars a year. HBR further notes that signs of disengagement include unresolved workplace conflict, stress-related illnesses, high absenteeism, presenteeism, low morale, high staff turnover, workplace grievances, low productivity, gossip and hurtful rumours.
A Gallup Report (State of the Global Workplace, 2013) note that in Canada, 16% are engaged in their jobs 70% are not engaged 14% are actively disengaged. Actively disengaged employees are negative and potentially hostile to their organization.
Both the Gallup study and HBR point out that engaged employees perform 20% better than disengaged counterparts (SHRM, 2007 Research Quarterly), are 87% less likely to leave the organization than the disengaged (Gallup 2013), come up with more innovative ideas, have the most entrepreneurial energy, infer far less health care costs than their counterparts and are happy and loyal.
So, how do you create a culture of engagement in the workplace?
There are many indicators available. Excerpted from “Employee Engagement: A Silver Bullet,” by Lyle Potgieter, some of these steps are highlighted as:
1. Define and Map the Strategy
Organization leaders need to be clear on what they are trying to achieve before they communicate this to the organization.
2. Define Values, Behaviors and Measurement Criteria
The Executive and Management teams need to determine the values and behaviors they believe are important to the organization. These need to be clearly defined and unanimously supported, as well as clearly articulated so that they can be readily understood.
3. Conduct Strategy Mapping in Every Major operational Unit
4. Create a Performance Management/Talent Management System
Set up aPerformance Management and Development system. Ensure the system has the capability for regular feedback, at least monthly.
6. Set Objectives Based on the Department Strategy Map
7. Make Every Manager Accountable
8. Conduct Career/Succession Planning
9. Foster Positive, Supportive Relationships through:
Clarifying purpose, Setting Objectives an .One-on-One Meetings, and
10. Communicate Constantly and Consistently.
Are you an engaged or disengaged employee? Do leave a comment.
It is amazing how quickly you age. I can vividly remember my 1st day at primary school; the battery-driven milk trucks that delivered Joyce's Dairy milk in glass bottles; the coupons used to pay for the milk we inserted into the empty bottles; Valiant car taxis; the brown bread with strawberry jam and milk issued to learners on a Friday; attending Friday mass at the primary school I was enrolled at; being taken from the holy communion line by teachers because you are not Catholic; the "lekkersmekker" (a twisted toffee sweet). These are but a few of my memories from a childhood that was littered with strange twists and turns; some hilariously funny and others painful to fathom. I feel like my life has turbocharged to 50!
The health check up has become a red-letter day on my calendar. Once the appointment has been made and the tests conducted, anxiety invariably builds as you wait for the outcome. Relief is palpable when you receive the news that the indicators are steady and have not deteriorated. I never knew I would applaud health indicators that have not improved but did not go further south. How standards can slip!
Image sourced from Google Images
A few weeks ago, a colleague curve-balled me with a wonderful conversation exit remark; "peace out". Initially, I received the phrase as a push back until I checked for the meaning on internet slang.com. It meant "goodbye". Not long after that I was in another conversation which ended with the word "chillax". "Chillax",informally, means to "calm down and relax". Both words made me wonder if another world exists where young people go to be resourced with a vocabulary for casual conversation. A cursory review of the website internetslang.com revealed a language repository I knew very little about. This post is not about the colloquial language young people use though but the notions of "chillax". Let me expand on the issue.
The last while I've had to intervene in a number of disputes between senior staff members at schools in our district. Now this is nothing new other than my observation that many school management members are pent with frustration an anger towards each other. And when you deconstruct the issues that led to the conflict between them, you find the response behaviour to the issue and its foundation are completely out of synch. In fact, the response is almost unexplainable until you dig deeper. You then discover the anger is anchored in historical dislike that comes from workplace misunderstanding an allowed to filter into social spaces and vice versa, without any attempt to mediate the issue. The school grounds then become the platform for battle lines to be drawn, strategy devised to draw in other colleagues and learners and then launch a campaign to wreck havoc irrespective of the collateral damage. If only school management members could learn to spend more time "chillaxing" before they embrace conflict, we could arrest and resolve many of the issues afflicting our schools. So, the question we need to ask is simply, how do I chillax as a manager?
An article, sourced from a 2011 article on Forbes.com, provide useful tips to deal with frustration, stress or conflict in the workplace. It is noteworthy to remember we will never eradicate these dynamics completely but they can be managed to reduce the organizational risks if managers respond appropriately.
Here are six steps that may prove useful:
Though your first instinct might be to open your mouth and snap back (or just scream)—close it and breathe instead. This allows you time to think before saying something that may inflame the situation or be regretted later.
2. Write It Out (But Don’t Send It Out!)
Don't provide written responses when angry. Once the send button is activated, recalls rarely help.
3. Vent to a Trusted Colleague
Most of us have at least one close ally at work, someone we can confide in about everything job-related. It can be cathartic to discuss your aggravation with a person who understands your school's unique environment and staff dynamics.
4. Get a Little Love
Sometimes, what you really need is a (virtual) hug. Good friends or significant others can be the perfect source for support in difficult situations. If you can sneak in a quick text or call and hear a familiar, friendly voice for a few minutes, it may be just enough to talk you off the ledge. Even if your loved ones can’t offer the same inside perspective as a work comrade can, the personal boost can go a long way in cheering you up or reminding you that there is more to life than the current predicament.
5. Find Your Happy Place
Taking that short break to distract yourself or focus on something that makes you happy can ease your stress and help you to return to work in a better mood.
6. Take a Break
If things are really intense, one of the best solutions can be to remove yourself (at least temporarily) from the situation. Take your lunch, go grab coffee, or just walk outside a bit—leaving your phone and email behind. Getting out from the confines of those four walls can provide you the physical and mental distance you need to blow off some steam and relax.
You may look at these pointers, shrug your shoulders and convince yourself that they don't work. But let me assure you, as a district director, I've tapped into them daily to manage the demands attached to my job. I have oversight of over 250 schools, 5000 teachers and non teaching staff and 155k learners. Not to mention the partner organizations and stakeholders that interact in our environment and the parents! You need to be able to chillax. So, here is to more chillaxing! PEACE OUT!
I take a keen interest in the world-around-me. Both in my professional sphere and the broader community. I enjoy interacting with my co-travelers as I move through life. I am intrigued by human behaviour and our responses to a given set of inputs or stimuli. The passion or the lack thereof, with which different individuals react to the same stimulus fascinates me. It makes life exciting and also painstakingly difficult. It can frustrate you and liberate you.
Let me use a few examples. Why can one individual not feel obliged to pick up litter he/she sees lying on the path they walking on but another does? Why can one person find nothing wrong in not greeting but another sees this as essential when making eye contact with someone else? Why is coming late considered fashionable by some but a no-no in the minds of others? Why are some people happy to be lazy but take their salaries with glee and others seek to earn each cent of their pay packet? What makes some respect the law and others flout it? Why can some show remorse and others struggle to accept wrongdoing? What defines honorable to some and dishonorable to others?
How we find common ground to keep us moving forward makes our journey such a diversified experience. I raise this in the light of the current events in South Africa. As citizenry, we are all taking up positions around the recent Constitutional Court judgement on the behaviour of our president and national parliament around the Nkandla saga. Our president apologized for the confusion and promised to learn from the mistake. The ruling party accepted his show of humility and its MPs refused to impeach him.The whole country appears to be on an emotional rollercoaster as we try to make sense of the responses of our politicians or their apparent failure to respond more decisively, to the judgement. As a reminder, the ConCourt found that our 1st citizen and parliament flouted the constitution. A veritable storm has erupted in workplaces and social arenas in defense or condemnation of our local politicians.
In another part of the World, the "Panama Papers" leak showed how the rich are using elaborate mechanisms to either avoid paying tax or not paying it at all. The president of Iceland resigned within days due to the public outrage that he was mentioned in the leaked papers.
How is it that accountability means different things to different people? I believe it comes down to ethics; on a personal level and then within communities and ultimately the country.
In an article in "Issues in Ethics" IIE V1 N1 (Fall 1987), the authors, to the question what is ethics? stated that Ethics is two things. First, ethics refers to well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues. Ethics, for example, refers to those standards that impose the reasonable obligations to refrain from rape, stealing, murder, assault, slander, and fraud. Ethical standards also include those that enjoin virtues of honesty, compassion, and loyalty. And, ethical standards include standards relating to rights, such as the right to life, the right to freedom from injury, and the right to privacy. Secondly, ethics refers to the study and development of one's ethical standards. As mentioned above, feelings, laws, and social norms can deviate from what is ethical. So it is necessary to constantly examine one's standards to ensure that they are reasonable and well-founded. Ethics also means, then, the continuous effort of studying our own moral beliefs and our moral conduct, and striving to ensure that we, and the institutions we help to shape, live up to standards that are reasonable and solidly-based.
The two definitions above provide a platform for me to understand why our behavioural responses to our day-to-day interactions are so loaded with emotion and frustration, excitement and fulfillment and also why we must keep the conversation alive. To forego the debate will impoverish our thinking and progress.
In the Karoo area of the Northern Cape province of South Africa, it is established that large swathes of the land is uranium rich. After some prospecting to check on the viability of mining the area, the process of moving this issue forward has begun. Given the implications of mining uranium, the usage of water as well as the potential radioactive poisoning of the water supply, the local population an environmental groups are disturbed at the long-term impact on the environment as well as human and animal life. This though is not the essence of this post.
What intrigued me about the program insert was an interview with two young people, a couple aged 23 and 24 years respectively. When quizzed about the economic impact of the potential mining of uranium, both indicated they would welcome the work since they're both unemployed. They lamented completing high school but not being able to find a job. Then the punchline was dropped for me: between them, they had 10 mouths to feed in the form of 10 children. I almost fell off my chair. How do two, mid-twenties, young, unemployed people service 10 children? Never mind at what age they started having kids. Surely their motivation could not have been that the State provides R350 ($15) p/m per child in the form of a child grant to address the basic needs of these minors? I didn't have to think it. This was indeed their primary motivation in the absence of work.
I kept asking myself if I'd lost-the-plot. Surely having completed high school, these young people had more sense than this? How do they miss the logic of feeding 12 mouths on less than R4000 per month or $260 is not viable? How do they not see that they are not only condemning themselves but also the children to long-term poverty and under-nutrition or even malnutrition?
Other questions also come to mind. For example, What kind of teaching and learning environments did they receive their education in? Were they ever encouraged to think critically about the world they living in, that to survive they needed to interact with their environment and have skill sets that allow them to be gainfully employed? Were they encouraged to be entrepreneurial? Did they gain any understanding about the cost of living and the burden of poverty? Or were they simply encouraged to scrape through with minimum achievement grades? Worse still, how many thousands find themselves in the same position or share the same thinking? And where does this leave a country such as ours, struggling with an almost zero % growth rate, 12+ million people on some form of social grant and an unemployment rate for persons between 18-35 years old at >50%?
What do you think? Do leave a comment and stimulate the conversation.
Sunday afternoon is the quietest part of my week. The hours between 1pm and 6pm on every Sunday can easily be translated as "me time". I try and do nothing that requires exertion. Okay, I will admit I occasionally wash our vehicles in the early evening. My weekly ritual though has been punctuated by a dynamic that now finds itself integrated with "me time"... A regular knock on the door or the acoustic ring of our doorbell by persons unknown to me. Many would call them beggars. And they appear like clockwork every week.
Every time, I am the unfortunate one that answers the call-at-the-door. Let it be known that the rest of the family flee the lounge and instruct me to answer the door as they go through the sound barrier to various parts of the rest of our home. So I do the descent thing and ask our uninvited visitors what they want. And that starts a monologue similar in style to call centre agents trying to sell you a prepaid, low end cell phone contract, even when you told them 20 minutes earlier that you have a contract phone. You cannot get a word in as they take you on a journey through their lives that have so many twists and turns that you never sure how they managed to get to your door given the level of drama and persecution they've endured.
When they eventually surface-to-breathe and you get to repeat your initial question, it is either an opportunity to do something for you in exchange for money, or for spare change or some food for the children waiting at home or taxi fare to get to the local hospital's casualty ward (I'm always bemused at the "casualty ward" indicator as they never appear mortally wounded). And then you get "the look"...a stare that is meant to serve as a portal for you to enter and get to see their genuine self. No further words get spoken. At this point I get to face a recurring dilemma each time...is this fact or fiction? And is their a divine hand that can show me which way to lean? But like the blank stare, no such flash enters the immediate environment. I always ask them to wait a few minutes, close the door and consult the family (who fled the scene) on what to do. And I get to hear I'm a sucker for drama and to tell our visitors to leave. And I do this, after giving them some money or food or both.
My Sunday afternoon then returns to normal until the next Sunday arrives. I'm posting this blog on Saturday evening. I'm hoping the pattern will not repeat itself tomorrow.
Secretly, on some weird level, I'm looking forward to the next visitor and listening to their life episode. But I too worry that many of my visitors may actually be begging as a form of work or act, that they may not have experienced any of the hardships they have scripted so well and that they live above the poverty line. But then again, they may not be fibbing. How does one really know? I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt...how about you?
What is the memory capacity of the human brain?
In a 2010 article published in Scientific American by Paul Reber, Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University, in trying to answer this question, postulates that "The human brain consists of about one billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections. If each neuron could only help store a single memory, running out of space would be a problem. You might have only a few gigabytes of storage space, similar to the space in an iPod or a USB flash drive. Yet neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage."
If you're like me, this suggested storage capacity of the human brain is almost impossible to fathom. But let's for the sake of argument accept this to be true and the capacity of the brain to retain information is gigantic.
If we tap into a 10th of every person's storage capacity, you must agree that humans as a species have the ability to generate new knowledge and ideas, based on our ability to store information, to do almost anything we apply our minds to!
So if this is at least plausible, can I ask why we underestimate ourselves so much? Why do we believe we have limits to our ability to change our environment, generate new ideas and challenge conventional thinking? And as educators, do you realize that by placing limitations on your own ability to influence young minds, you limit the possibilities you have to awaken the spirit of discovery of our hundreds of thousands of learners sitting in our classrooms in the Western Cape each day waiting to be challenged, to learn new things, to be stretched and to address their need for inquiry? Or do you think this is beyond you? And if you do think this is beyond you, what are you doing in our classrooms every day?
Please look around you. The world needs innovation, critical minds and creative thinkers to address the many demands to keep our world moving forward. We have huge challenges as a species to maintain our environment and to sustain our quality of life over the next 100 years or to discover new ways to ensure we continue to exist on another planet or in another Galaxy. And fundamental to this crusade, is your engagement as an educator with our children. Because whether you want to hear this or not, the future belongs to them not us.
One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost. Below, is his poem titled "Mending Wall". This post is not an analysis of the poem but I do want you to know that the poem is focused on a wall between neighbors with one of them wondering why it exists. What is certain is that it is repaired each Spring and one neighbor believes it keeps them good neighbors. I've included a major chunk of the poem for your reading pleasure.
Before you do though, can I ask you to consider what walls you have built in your family, social and professional lives to keep interacting with others at bay? Or at least, to minimize your exposure to your fellow travelers and so doing keep your vulnerabilities hidden? And can I ask you to consider why you are depriving yourself the rich engagement you can have by dropping-your-guard and taking a risk in your relationships? Have you thought about how many hours, days, months or even years of building your character and those of others you've denied yourself because you've adopted a cautious approach to your fellow human beings?
I raise this as we find ourselves in the season of goodwill and giving. I walk through the many shopping malls in our city and see many lonely people, self absorbed and missing wonderful nuggets of conversation and interaction with their fellow shoppers. Everyone is so hurried! Few attempt to make conversation; many are more willing to show irritation.
On a radio talk show a few days ago, a well known comic stated his intend to not accept the abnormal as normal. He related the story of his neighborhood watch highlighting on their social media group that someone in the neighborhood had their house ransacked by thieves. All the respondents lamented that the victim was silly to not have an alarm system, an electric fence, a high perimeter wall and a guard dog. Was this person crazy to live without these measures in place? The question he raised was if this unfortunate person was normal or the members of the neighborhood watch not abnormal for institutionalizing these security measures as normal? Something to think about?
This is my last post for 2015. Thank you for engaging this platform and for your many online and offline commentary. I trust you will have an enjoyable holiday and a fantastic 2016. I look forward to reconnecting with you in January. Enjoy the poem.
The last week has been an exciting one. Over 900k learners in the Western Cape received their report cards depicting the fruits of their labour over the 2015 academic year; Cape Town switched on the festive lights that adorn Adderley street each year; Cape Town stadium hosts the HSBC 7s rugby tournament for the first time to sell out crowds; COP21 appears to draw to a successful conclusion and to crown it all, our president relieves the Finance Minister of his job in the middle of a downward cycle of our country's economy. The fall out of his decision sends our economic indicators spiraling south and all our top commercial banks get downgraded by rating agencies as an extra festive season gift. After initially providing no reasons for his decision, he floats one after 36 hours of market chaos by hinting the minister is being considered for an international investment bank posting. I guess that's why he needed to be fired the other night! Now if anyone predicted such a potpourri of highlights a week ago, I would've laughed.
Many commentators have posited that the president's motives are sinister given his cabinet did not even know about the announcement. They further argue that the SAA-Airbus deal and the one trillion Rand nuclear power stations procurement are the primary drivers for the sacking of the minister. He very clearly didn't believe the country could afford this; it appears the president disagreed. Many also claim the president is feeding cronyism and self interest given his relationships with key individuals. It all sounds like a bloody mess! And we are paying a heavy price for it. Warnings are already sounding that 2016 is going to be a tough one for South African consumers.
The problem with all of this drama is that it exists in other arenas of our society too, not just the political one. If we strip away the political characters but keep at the centre of the story cronyism, self interest, nepotism and "kingmakers", this narrative could easily be dropped into many of our school environments.
Many schools live by the same game plan. SMTs believe they have divine rights that supersede the rights of others, SGB members exercise their power to create turmoil and push preferred candidates for posts (without pedigree at times) or conclude service provider arrangements with themselves to supply institutions they serve.
The coffers of the school is theirs to manage and often plunder. We often come across governors and managers with their hands "deep-in-the-till", all in the name of the community. Some school managers are happy to cover the truth with lies. And our communities are as gullible as our voting public...we swallow this corruption and deviancy as if it's a necessary requirement to make progress.
There are teachers too that don't believe they are accountable for learner outcomes and some have no qualms when found out that assessments were not even marked!
The tragedy of our inaction or lethargy to respond to this kind of behaviour is going to be felt a generation from now, when the many young people watching the games-that-adults-play in the name of the welfare of children become the adults who must move us forward. At that point they will reflect on the examples they witnessed and model the same if not refine it.
To the many who do not fall into the category in this post, please continue to keep the candle of hope burning and carry it with pride. I fear if you and I don't, the hyenas in society will have free reign and destroy our heritage.
I'm sure many of you reading this post have some type of insurance policy. It is a necessity if you have a bonded house, a car loan, a need for life or funeral cover and is a common instrument for dread disease cover. Dread disease generally sends shivers down your spine as an adult. It groups major illnesses such coronary disease and cancer. Insurance is meant to buffer you financially in the event of an incident that affects your health or material goods substantively. Insurance allows you to restore your position to that which was before any detrimental occurence. We know this never really materializes this way given the cost of restoring your status to its former state. So, despite the security we get from insurance, we are never really secure or immune from disaster, whether on a personal level or otherwise.
As we move towards the end of another working year, I'm sure this post helps you recognize such persons in your work spaces, whether in schools, district offices or governing bodies or ancillary organizations operating in our sector. I hope you too find value in the pointers to counteract this "dread disease" in some of our co-workers.
As a rule, I wake-up at 05h30 each morning to prepare for my trip to work. This daily ritual is governed by the alarm clock on my smartphone. Every morning, I go to war with my phone's sleep function from 05h15 and every morning I lose the battle. My family are part of my alarm clock's arsenal, so where the sleep timer loses, my family steps in to ensure I don't oversleep. It is a routine I often wish I could change but I am acutely aware of the knock-on effects of rising 10 minutes later and the translation of this on my travel time.
Sins of the Fathers derives from Biblical references (primarily in the books Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers) to the sins (or iniquities) of one generation passing to another.
Over the last few days we've been provided details of the crime stats across the various provinces in South Africa. Before I give you a sense of the detail, note that the stats are already six months old. The snapshot of assault and sexual crimes below have been gleaned from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS):
The number of cases of assault with the intention to inflict grievous bodily harm (GBH) recorded by the police increased by 0.1% between 2013/14 and 2014/15, from 182,333 to 182,556 recorded incidents.
Cases of common assault recorded by the police decreased by 2.8% from 166,088 to 161,486 incidents. According to ISS, there is, however, reason to doubt that these figures reflect a real reduction in assault levels because most victims don’t report these crimes to the police. The Statistics South Africa National Victims of Crime Survey found that most assault victims knew the perpetrators. The perpetrators were either from the same community (34.2%), a spouse or lover (16.8%) or a relative (9.2%). Less than a quarter were described as unknown or categorised as ‘other’.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 came into effect in December 2007 and created a number of ‘new’ sexual offences. It also expanded the definition of rape. This makes it difficult to compare the rape statistics before December 2007 with more recent figures.
Reported cases of rape continue to decrease. Between 2008/9 and 2014/15 recorded cases dropped by 7.4%, from 46,647 to 43,195 respectively. ‘Total sexual crimes’ as recorded by the police may include up to 59 separate crimes ranging from different forms of sex work to rape. ISS state that rape statistics recorded by the police cannot be taken as an accurate measure of either the extent or trend of this crime since various research studies have shown that as few as one in thirteen rapes are reported to the police.
I will not go into murder, house breaking , car theft and other categories, other than to say they are as depressing. The overall stats got one commentator to say that the details are similar to countries that are caught up in war. The reality is we not caught up in war. This is all home grown.
So what do we do to turn this around? Recognizing that this is a complex issue with many variables influencing the trends, I would like to suggest we start at home. Yep, adults and the example set from home.
I do a lot of traveling on our public roads and visit many communities as part of my job, and I can tell you many adults carry a lot of aggression. And many adults are plain grumpy and negative about life. From road rage, to swearing and vulgarity to resolve a problem, to prejudice in dealing with different opinions and cultures, adults carry tonnes of baggage with them. And all of this poison is being fed to the children that surround them. So it is no wonder that our children grow up to behave in similar fashion.
I know you may feel that this is a rather simplistic way to look at our crime stats and its potential reversal but we need to start somewhere; and that somewhere is in the home, where we have time as adults to nurture the next generation, to teach them about the value of life, respect for others, diversified thinking, conflict management, the rule of law, our tragic past and our potentially great future. If we can't do this at home, we surely not going to get this right in the overpopulated prisons across our country.
Bigger is stronger and smaller is weaker. This seems to be the mindset of many South African Rugby coaches. Never mind that modern science and conditioning is about negating physical dominance by developing speed and skill sets to counteract this dimension. Never mind that history is littered with Goliath-like figures that had the arrogance to underestimate the little guy. Look around the world today and you can find similar scenarios being played out daily. So Japan's demolition job on our national psyche this past weekend has had the appropriate effect on a rugby regime that buys into dominance through physicality...we are left deeply scarred, fragmented and polarized. We are ranked third in the world of Rugby and we are big boys...the coach is on record that he doesn't "do small".
Not one commentator could resist going for the jugular. The wrecking ball was the preferred interrogation tool. A few months ago a colleague spoke of "shoulda, woulda and coulda”, driving many reflections. This is not necessarily wrong if a response comes from it; often nothing does.
The challenge I have with this weekend’s shock, is how shocked we really are as a country. It appears to go beyond the 80 minutes the national Rugby team spent on the field. It is as if we have had our entire identity wrapped up in this game and now that we’ve lost, our country is also rudderless. And we must ask why this is so.
There is no doubt that sport is a great unifier. Our country, in 1995 and 1996, experienced the nation building effect of doing well in sport. The 2007 Rugby World Cup Title was another. The 2010 World Cup hosted by us a further example. Each “win" experience has made us forget our troubles, re-energise our communities and made us feel we can overcome any odds. Our political leaders showed savvy and used this success to galvanise the nation and it made us feel invincible.
Twenty One years into our democracy, we know sporting success doesn’t bring long-term nation building success. It is simply a catalyst and something else must happen thereafter. What we not seeing this time around, is the political leadership in the country embracing the loss to Japan to rally the country. The country is being allowed to process the loss as another failure alongside a long list of failures. The loss, alongside Eskom’s woes, SAA flying without direction, PRASA buying oversized locomotives, the Post Office looking for a new identity and relevance, the SABC looking for its voice, our national soccer team not making significant progress, our slow switch from analogue to digital technologies, the lack of jobs, the unemployment rate, our slow economic growth, the stale political landscape and our sensitivity to race and language, has made us dejected. And the outpouring of this dejection has been offloaded onto Saturday’s loss against Japan. From the president to the jobless are offered as reasons why the team failed. It is absolutely ridiculous. Some reports in the media blame seagulls for crapping on the training ground in Brighton.
I’ve asked a few people what we should do to re-build our world cup campaign. No one could immediately offer solutions. I mean, It is clear a one-game loss doesn’t mean the tournament is lost. Our current state of depression is as if nothing can be done to reinvigorate our campaign.
Here is my take. We CAN still win this tournament. We CANNOT give up now. We MUST rally around the team as a country. And if we are not destined to win the 2015 tournament, we will dust ourselves off, learn the lessons and move forward with renewed vigour. Now bring on Samoa! We can do this! What doesn't kill us will make us stronger!
This week I attended the Internet Service Providers Association’s (ISPA) Super Teachers Awards. Ten teachers from across five provinces were being recognized as finalists for integrating the use of ICT in their classrooms. What stood out was not only that the nominees were trying very hard to integrate technology into the teaching and learning environment but that many of them were from poor rural schools from one of the poorest provinces in the country, i.e Limpopo.
Their projects covered everything from teaching learners basic computer skills and the use of iPads, generating collaborative frameworks to share resources and expertise to developing content relevant to the environment they found themselves in. All of them recognized the huge impact their projects would have within their learning and teaching environments and the incredible journey their learners would undergo as a consequence. It was heartwarming to sit in their presence and see them exude such joy and delight when their respective resumes were read before the eventual winner was announced. Only one of them could win the grand prize and when the announcement of the grand prize winner was made, the adulation from the rest of the educators made one feel everyone won, especially the many children whose lives they must be touching daily. I wonder how the learners responded the days after this event when they were told about the achievements of their teachers.
The Super Teachers Awards is run by the COZACares Foundation. The finalists are selected by an online panel after teachers upload their entries. Once selected, the finalists receive training on media across many platforms: radio, TV, online, Twitter feed, social media channels and print. The Media Training session focused on the structure and hierarchy of newsrooms, the news gathering and production process and the characteristics of journalists. They also undertook simulated media interviews and basic writing exercises. The Media session is designed to offer educators a dip into the world of the media through both verbal and non-verbal communication.
Up to the point that I received an invite to the Gala event, I had no idea this programme existed. It was also noteworthy that no entries were received from the Western Cape. This must change. Our province is investing over R1 billion in high speed broadband, which will see all schools connected by the end of next year. Many schools have already received e-classroom setups, with hundreds of activations over the last year.
In this past week, the Western Cape Government also launched its e-portal, a site which contains many resources for educators, administrators, educators, parents and learners. Not only are service providers to our sector encouraged to upload their many resources; educators too are encouraged to register and upload their inputs, whether programmes or lesson plans. The central theme is that a database is created that allows sharing and collaboration, which will improve, over time, all our schools’ academic outcomes.
I therefore challenge all our educators, the many who have embraced technology, to do two things: (1) share their resources via the e-portal and (2) register your intent to submit your entry to compete for the Super Teachers Awards in 2016. I know Western Cape educators can have a strong presence on both fronts.
The Oxford dictionary defines a treasure as “something much loved or a highly valued person”. If I were to ask you, like it was asked of me recently, to name something that you really treasure, I guess you’d be able to list a number of items very quickly. I know I did. But if I ask you to create a list of people you treasure in your life or in your community, could you be as quick-on-the-draw? Many can construct lists of international stars, politicians, celebrities, musicians or artists they admire or have disdain for. My sense though is most people can't construct a list of highly valued persons from their community. And this should bother you.
A few weeks ago I attended one of the numerous rugby derbies between schools in Paarl. A row in front of me, on the main stand, sat a hero of our local community, a formidable nation builder that deserves to be recognized and celebrated for his achievements, without fail. He is one of the most successful Rugby coaches in the modern era, having annexed the Tr-Nations Rugby Championship and the Lions series and taking the national team to the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The country invested significant capital in him yet he is a forgotten man in our Rugby circles. He is basically without a job despite openings at franchises across the country. He should be revered yet he is not.
I watched him closely as he became animated at the exchanges on the field between opposing players. He looked happy and content. I felt aggrieved that we’ve allowed him to simply slip into the shadows as if he never garnered the spotlight.
Pieter de Villiers is not the first local that has risen above his circumstances and achieved success in life or international sport. Neither will he be the last. Like many locals who have shown their prowess across many areas, he runs the serious risk of becoming yesterday’s news and relegated to the annuals of History if we allow this to happen. How many have not suffered such a fate already; poets, playwrights, artists, community leaders and religious stalwarts. Completely forgotten and often ridiculed in the mainstream as if their contributions to building our local communities or the nation made little impact. Yet without them, we probably would not have the liberties we take for granted today.
It is an indictment of all of us should we not pay attention to this issue. Our communities are struggling to maintain identity in the face of modernization and the fallout of our desire to be a leading player on the continent and the world stage. When all else fails, it's the rich potpourri of the contributions of local personalities in local communities that allow us to rally to each others’ sides. We need our leading lights, we need to keep their legacies alive, we need to forever celebrate them! If we don’t, we will loosen the very fabric that has kept our sense of community and identity tight over many, many years in the face of adversity and strife. And we will be poorer for it.
I'm an education specialist driven to create platforms for engaging the issues, celebrating my peers and sharing experiences.