Thursday, November 15, 2012

You've Got Mail

Today I had the honor of teaching a group of learners to use email. As we have all grown attached to the children at Emfundweni, they have grown attached to us as well. To help relieve the strain we are all feeling about our upcoming departure, we created a school email account that the learners can use to keep it contact with us, and us with them. To keep things simple for these beginner computer users, we created one email account for the school and provided the students with the email and password. We then programed all of our names and corresponding emails so that the learners could choose us from a list of contacts. They were instructed to put their name as the subject for two reasons. One, to insure that they would be sure to attach a name with the email, and second so that they would be able to check for a reply. The learners were receptive to the lesson as they are anxious to learn more about using the computers. As in the US, some learners finished before others. It was nice to see that the learners who finished early, took responsibility for helping those who needed extra help. It is always nice to see the enthusiasm these children have for learning and their willingness to help others. The school was given these computers through the Umbuntu Education Fund. They are a great resource and an asset to the school. Unfortunately, many of the teachers are not comfortable using them. Therefore, they are often not used by the students as the valuable educational resource that they are. In comparison to students in the US, these learners are far behind in technology. This puts them at a great disadvantage in the ever changing career fields of the 21st century. It is a drop in the bucket to teach these students to use email, but a start none the less. One can only hope that these learners can continue to expand on this knowledge and grow to use the computer as a tool for expanding knowledge and growth.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

English Language Learners

Emfundweni Primary School houses students from Grade R (Kindergarten) through Grade 7. Throughout this time, learners gain a great deal of knowledge in preparation for high school and life after school. Subjects include English, Xhosa, Social Science, Life Science, Math, and Life Orientation. When learners arrive in Grade R, most only speak Xhosa. It isn't until around Grade 3 that an emphasis is put on learning English. However, in all coursework with the exception of Xhosa, the learners are completing assignments in English. The teachers are teaching from workbooks that are written in English when English is also difficult for them. The students complete work from workbooks, assignments in interactive notebooks, and exams all written in English. The teacher speaks to them and often writes direction on the board in Xhosa. Essentially, these children are doing the best they can to learn new information in a secondary language. This relates to experiences in the classroom at home with English Language Learners. Unfortunately here, many teachers do not have education degrees and their aren't any staff dedicated to the success of students learning in a secondary language. For example, the learners in my sixth grade class are receptive to English but are unable to answer comprehensive questions in English and often must be given choices. Overall, the students seem to adapt well and are learning English at a progressive rate. If supports were in place and teachers were more readily trained, perhaps the transition could occur more fluidly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Special Day

Today was a special day! It was my birthday. Through a classroom discussion comparing American traditions to South African and Xhosa traditions the learners discovered that I would be spending my birthday with them. Today, when we arrived at school they greeted me with a heartfelt song. They sang Happy Birthday in English and Xhosa. Many of the learners made cards for me. It was a special birthday and I am thankful to have spent it with them.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Township Tour

To better understand the community in which our learners live, we were given the honor of a tour guided by Banks, co-founder of Ubuntu Education Fund. This man's story is remarkable and it is beyond admirable what he is doing for his community. We were privileged to explore the local townships with him. He took us to his facility, where pre-school teachers are implementing educational strategies currently being used in the United States. In addition to pre-school, the facility offers afterschool programs and a respectable healthcare clinic for children (adults are not turned away) who are living with HIV/AIDS or Tuberculosis. We also visited the Red Location Museum where we learned about the unimaginable conditions of the community during the Apartheid. Banks explained the dynamics of the community as we drove down narrow streets overcrowded with shanties and street venders selling roasted sheep heads and businesses ran out of barred cargo trailers. He took us to a community market. Here we talked to a local medicine women. Township people could come to her and explain their need, she would provide the natural material needed. For example, a person could purchase natural sunscreen or a natural remedy that would get a women to say yes to a marriage proposal. Banks himself was raised in this community and was able to give first hand information about the community of our students. Understanding the community and the culture of the learners is an important aspect of teaching. Knowledge of the community helps to make learning relevant and engaging. In addition, any insight into the lives of our students allows empathy and understanding to build report and lasting relationships with children.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The learners were eager to begin our first lesson. Mr. Fudu asked that I speak on recycling. We focused the lesson around a plastic drink bottle. I asked the learners to brain storm ways that I could reduce, reuse, or recycle the of plastic bottles that we use. They had great ideas about how to reuse the bottle and with coaching came up with some ideas for reducing. However, when it comes to recycling, they were under the impression that they could through the bottle in the trashcan and it would be sorted out to be recycled. It was difficult to relate this idea to the students because recycling bins are not of relevance to them. There are no  recycling bins in the school or the Township where the students live. A few students reported seeing a recycling bin before. We discussed the importance of environmental preservation and the impact we have on our environment. We discussed renewable and non-renewable resources. These were new terms for these sixth grade learners. In addition to discussing recycling, we discussed the impact that pollution can have on local water supplies. All 41 learners in my class raised their hands to say that they believe all water from the tap is new, never before used water. They were shocked to hear that we use the same water that dinosaurs use!
The learners had an assembly in the street outside of their school provided by the Nelson Mandela Municipality concerning recycling. The speakers spoke to the learners in Xhosa about the importance of preserving their environment. Following the assembly, they were to clean their school grounds and recycle materials that could be recycled. The bus provided trash cans and gloves for them. Unfortunately, the water was out at the school it was dismissed early. The students were sent on their way to walk home.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

First Impressions

Upon arriving at Emfundweni, the learners in Grade R were singing and saying their morning prayers. In South Africa, students are referred to as learners and Grade R is the equivalent of Kindergarten. Everyone was so welcoming. The learners immediately showered me with hugs and greetings of hello. Many speak to me in English and quickly teach me that "molo" is the Xhosa word for hello. The principal, deputy principal (assistant principal) and teachers are all receptive of my arrival and are excited to welcome me. The school houses approximately 900 learners throughout the year. Class sizes are around forty in the sixth grade. The school plants a garden to supply food for the learners. Parent volunteers come to cook for them each day. At recess, they are allowed to visit the shop for snacks and drinks. The learners have access to a computer lab containing about 15 computers with internet access.

The learners are putting an end to the school year by testing for each subject. They are completing final exams administered by their teachers and will soon be taking standardized tests. After testing, I met my partnership teacher Mr. Fudu. He was eager to introduce me to his sixth grade class. The learners all stand following my entrance into the classroom. They also stand to answer questions. Introducing my self to the class and telling them about America was a lot of fun. They had a great deal of questions and wanted to make connections between what I do in America and what happens here in South Africa. They were excited to know that I will be teaching them. The classroom was bare. The students do not have text books but the learners have workbooks and are using interactive notebooks to complete assignments. I was surprised to see this technique being implemented here. There are posters on the walls and each student has a desk and chair.  All of the learners are eager to learn and seem to be hanging on to my every word. I can't wait to begin teaching them.