SchoolNet SA is currently running a Commonwealth of Learning Teachers Future project in conjunction with the University of Fort Hare. The programme is aimed at developing digital learning among 10 schools in the Amatole District of the Eastern Cape. The schools are in the same district as the University of Fort Hare where lecturers in the Faculty of Education are also participating in the Teacher Futures Programme with the intention of improving their digital learning expertise.
To date teachers have attended a digital skills course and a course aimed at helping them to make effective use of digital resources in the classroom. While the programme aims to support 100 teachers, and their participation in a community of practice, the individual stories of some of the participants illustrate the power of the Teacher Futures to transform education. Here is an example of one teacher who has embraced the opportunity to improve her digital skills to enhance teaching and learning.
Nomalungisa Maxengana - An early digital resources adopter
Nomalungisa Maxengana teaches English and History at Elukhanyisweni High School, located in the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa. She also serves as the head of department for Languages and Social Sciences. She is an older teacher who is readily adapting to new pedagogies. Having been born, bred and schooled in the village of Peddle in the Eastern Cape, she is a village girl and proud of it.
Elukhanyisweni High School is one of the ten project schools in the ‘Teacher Futures’ programme funded by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). The programme has made it possible for Nomalungisa to participate in a range of professional development courses.
“I knew next to nothing about digital learning skills at the start of the programme, apart from typing on my laptop, attaching documents and sending e-mail attachments,” Nomalungisa says. She also recalls that her sons used to tease her about buying smart phones that she doesn’t know how to use. However, Nomalungisa credits the Teacher Futures programme for motivating her to master technology and says that she is now determined not to lag behind. Since the inception of the project, she is more focused on infusing technologies in her teaching and learning to prove that “even old ladies can move with the times when it comes to technology”.
Whilst she is enthusiastic about applying her learnings, Nomalungisa notes that there have been challenges which require teachers to change their mindset and to work with the resources that are accessible to them. For example, Elukhanyisweni High School was burgled, and all the learner tablets donated by MTN and Vodacom were stolen. As a result of this, teachers only have access to their own laptops for planning and executing lessons. Another challenge is that there is only one data projector at the school, which limits the extent to which teachers can integrate technology. This resource must therefore be used by the teachers in rotation.
At a recent Change Leadership workshop focusing on the culture of collaboration in the workplace, Nomalungisa learnt how to download YouTube videos and create podcasts. Back at school, she used her new skills to create and share podcasts to prepare learners for exams over the weekend. She also downloaded and shared appropriate videos via WhatsApp, a messaging platform, as learners often do not have access to connectivity to search for subject-specific videos.
“I was amazed by the enthusiasm of the learners in their response to the resources and this positive response prompted me to encourage my colleagues to create learner subject groups on to collaborate among themselves while sharing information,” she says.
Although learners enjoy listening to voice notes and watching videos, there have been challenges including limited access to smartphones. As a solution to this challenge, Nomalungisa bought a set of speakers so that more learners can listen to voice notes while in class. She also encourages learners to share phones to view videos. The messaging platform has had the positive outcome of providing an easy way to motivate learners and to encourage them to participate in knowledge sharing.
Nomalungisa is, indeed, an inspiration to her colleagues, especially those who resisted technology and were happy with their old ways of doing things. She is a Change Leadership pioneer, an implementer and a credit to the Teacher Futures programme that champions school-based teacher professional development.