SchoolNet Conference goers in 2017 will remember the valuable contribution made by our overseas presenter, Peter Rafferty and his infectious enthusiasm for innovation in teaching. He has taken the time to write this article about his visit to South Africa. Even more interesting is the way he relates his experiences in South Africa to his own experiences as a learner when he was at school and as a teacher now in England and somehow Peter manages to subtly highlight the impact that technology has had on teaching and learning.
“In 1966 Francis Chichester became the first person to sail single handed around the world by the Clipper route and in doing so became the fastest circumnavigator in nine months and one day. I remember his journey pretty clearly, because as a pupil at St Anne’s Primary School (Ormskirk, UK) we followed his journey as a class project on a great big map on our classroom wall. The thing I could never quite understand, at the time, was that Francis Chichester (and his boat) disappeared off the map, east of Australia and New Zealand and then, somehow, magically appeared west of Argentina and South America.
I recall our teacher, Miss Sissons, repeating the phrase, “this map is flat, the world isn’t….” as a seven year old, I just didn’t get it.
Other notable things I remember about the project was watching Francis Chichester on television land at Plymouth harbour (wobbly legs), the description of his journey round Cape Horn (because of the huge waves and rough seas) and The Cape of Good Hope (because of why it is called “The Cape of Good Hope”). Where Miss Sissons got the rest of the information about this epic voyage from, or how long it took to appear on our classroom map, I’m not quite sure, and in all fairness, I don’t remember much else, but things stick and random connections develop.
Les Sables D’Olonne is a small harbour town on the west coast of France. For a while, when my children were younger, we used to go on holiday there every year. It’s a lovely place and is the start and finish point of the four yearly Vendee Globe. This a single handed, round the world yacht race and, especially in France, is a huge event. Ellen MacArthur is quite famous because of it and just like when I was a pupil at St Anne’s, as a teacher at Green Park Primary School (Maghull, UK) my class followed a round the world single-handed yacht journey on a great big map on the wall in our classroom. Of course technology changed the way this particular adventure was viewed. Everything was online. Where she was, what she did, everyday trials and tribulations and we saw her, as near as time zones permitted, instantly as she battled past places like…… …….the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn. The information was presented to us as part of a global audience of classrooms, television companies, individuals, just about anyone who was interested. For our class, it was a window on a world event that we could actually participate in.
Well in the land of small worldism, coincidences and “I’m not quite sure how this has happened,” I (and my wife) found ourselves last month at “The Cape of Good Hope”
The reason we were there was because of an invitation by Janet Thomson and her team at SchoolNet South Africa (including Intel Visionary Omashani Naidoo) to come along to take part and present at their 20th birthday conference. The invitation was as exciting and thrilling to me as Istanbul 2005. Not least because it gave me a platform to talk about my enthusiasm, passion and belief that skilled and effective use of technology has an absolutely vital part in teaching and learning wherever in the world anyone happens to be..
Maybe, just like the round the world yacht adventures I followed as a pupil, and then later as a teacher, technology in education over the years has had its brilliantly exciting moments of inspiration and excitement and equally, moments of expensive time consuming failure. Everyone who has the slightest interest in the topic can recount their own differing stories. I visited a school in the UK last week and the frustration of the newly qualified Year 4 (eight and nine year olds) class teacher about the devices she (and her pupils) had to work with was palpable. My SchoolNet presentation about “A Classroom in My Back Pocket” which, amongst other things, described how the simple and wonderful Google Classroom can be opened up to involve people from across the world to participate and collaborate in a safe, controllable environment, was almost sabotaged in the UK by a firewall issue. A text message arrived on the morning of the presentation from Mrs Burns the Y6 at Green Park:
These things happen, and will continue to happen, with technology, but for each of these kind of stories there are lots of examples of teachers inspiring students, connecting events and making learning better, with the use of technology.
Getting the best of what is available for the children we educate, and using it with skilled creative imagination is essential. Choosing not to, isn’t an option I think and here’s the thing. Everyone I met, spoke to, had conversations with, presented, and gave workshops, whether at the conference or in more informal “social” settings were there because they wanted to be there and to make a difference. Whatever the conference brought to them to develop their teacher technology skills they will go back to their schools with the enthusiasm and determination to make a difference that brought them there in the first place. I often see or hear the phrase, “it’s the teacher not the technology”. Here in South Africa as people headed home on trains, planes and automobiles (as well as packed coaches) it most definitely was.
One of the last places we visited, and just round the corner from The Cape of Good Hope, was Boulders Beach. We knew it was home to a colony of African Penguins but the knowledge we had didn’t prepare us for the sight we saw when we arrived at the beach. It was exactly the same feeling you get when you see an inspirational teacher. is was a brilliant trip that had taken us from Maghull to Manchester to Doha to Johannesburg to Pietermaritzburg to Cape Town to The Cape of Good Hope and back again. We encountered a wonderfully friendly, young country, full of people who smiled and shared their enthusiasm. In the middle of it all is Nelson Mandela. “