Teaching Blogging in South Africa

Here are the numbers. As I write, Lake Malawe is, at a guess, fifty to one hundred miles to the west. I’m 35,000 feet above ground travelling at 568 miles an hour in an Emeritz Airbus 340-400 on a 10 hour flight from Cape Town (on the west cape of South Africa) to the desert city of Dubai. Mozambique is far to the east but I can see it on the map tracking the progress of our flight as we head toward the Indian Ocean.

We are travelling in the wrong direction, north-west when we should fly north, north east. I expect this is a curious anomaly of aviation economics. The direction will be corrected on the Dubai to Birmingham section of the journey in too many hours time. The further you travel, the cheaper the ticket. Or at close to £1,000 a go, perhaps “less expensive the ticket” would be a better choice of words.

We are four hours since take-off at Cape Town and eight hours since departure from Nekkies Lake resort near Worcester. “We” being me and my colleague Karen from WIMPS.

This is what I have been saying to a small group of South African 12 to sixteen year olds:
“What happened?
How did it make you feel or what did you think about it?
What happened next?
That’s what you write”

We were blogging. What do these 12 to 16 year olds from rural SA and from townships know about blogging?

Nothing – that’s what.


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None of the “learners” had come across blogging.  Even now after four days I’m not sure some that they quite get it. But the 12 year old Nomziyanda Nofunde from Khayetsha Site C got it the moment she saw the blog she crated on her mobile phone. She shrieked with excitement the moment she realised that what she had written wasn’t just on the computer we were working on, but in a place anyone in the world could see.

At least two of the online team barely know how to use a computer mouse. They had no computers in school or access to them outside school.  Others could use a computer in a library, but printing and email costs. The school teacher I was working with Reinet Bloem from Bloemfontein had four computers in her school until it was broken into and two were stolen. We talked about the Negroponte’s campaign to provide $100 computers for every school child in Africa. Well meaning, she thought, but it is just something to trade for food. If you have a PC and your family are hungry, what are you going to do?

So what was the point of the 20,000 mile round trip?

Training kids from rural Africa to write a blog?
Ok here’s why – the intended and unintended outcomes.

17 year old Albert whose real name is Malefane Retshelisitswe from Fiksburg in Free State. discovered not only does he like to take photos, but he has a natural eye finding and capturing angles and horizons and expressions. All he has is his mobile phone. His SD card holds only 10 photos. He constantly has to decide what to keep and what to delete. He has a digital storage problem. Together we set up a Flickr account. He has only occasional Internet access, but the 4 gig card I left with him will help with the storage. What did it cost me? A few quid. What does it mean to him? Storage not quit sorted, but helped. And someone has encouraged his photography.

And Nomziyanda Nofunde from Khayelitsha. She can write. She writes poetry and does not know it. Check this.

No one has encouraged her or told her she is good.

Khanyiseli Dyakalashe aged 17 knows how to use a mouse today. At the beginning of the week he didn’t.

They have all talked directly to a camera using their outside voice rather than mumbling humbly. They had permission to be loud and to have that captured.

Abu is still a bit of a hard case. But when he when and talked about flying for the first time, stopped being a bad copy of a US intercity B-Boy and became an excited 16 year old.

Reinet told me about her school. How kids from the other school attacked her school and by millimetres and seconds failed to put a burning type around one off her pupils neck. And how another pupil stood between her and the attackers and was beaten for his trouble.

We will try to keep the blog going. It was supposed to be just for the week. It needs a lot of tidying up, which will be done between NI and SA over the next few weeks.

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