SA's tech-savvy teachers closer to finals

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pretoria - South Africa's top five innovative teachers are one step closer to the finals of the "World Cup" of education technology after winning their categories at Microsoft's Innovative Teachers Forum (ITF) Awards.

The five winning entries are Linda Bradfield of St John's College in Johannesburg, Chris Gatsi from General Smuts High in Vereeniging, Warren Sparrow from Rondebosch Boys Preparatory School in Cape Town, a group of teachers from Bloemfontein schools and Peter de Lisle of Hilton College in KwaZulu-Natal.

The teachers will travel to Mombasa, Kenya, later this month for the Pan-African finals of the ITF Awards. The winners of the Pan-African event will compete against 500 teachers from around the world in the global finals in Cape Town in October.

The five winners were chosen from a host of entries submitted by teachers countrywide.

Their projects were judged to best demonstrate how technology can transform teaching and learning in South African schools, and benefit broader communities at the same time.

"Technology plays a critical role in bridging the education gap, especially as the world adapts to a new economic era," said Edward Mosuwe, Acting Deputy Director General: Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring at the Department of Basic Education.

The awards, which are in its fifth year, are run in partnership with the Department of Basic Education. The awards review projects in four key areas of innovation - community, content, collaboration and challenging contexts as well as a special peer review prize, where the finalists vote for their favourite project.

Bradfield won the Innovation in Collaboration category award for her 'Trash-to-Treasure' project, which saw 6 and 7-year-old boys working together to collect eight tons of waste in six weeks.

This waste was sorted, weighed and sold to recycling companies or donated to informal recyclers. They then created a "Trash-to-Treasure" Wiki and several e-books around the subject.

Gatsi won the Innovation in Community category for his 'Zero Tolerance for Bribery Campaign', where learners produced a media campaign, published articles on a website and produced a DVD to raise community awareness on the effects of bribery and ways to stop it.

Sparrow, from Rondebosch Prep, won the Innovation in Content category for his 'Who wants to be a Millionaire' project. Here, Grade 4 learners learnt about economic management sciences and entrepreneurship by designing board games and creating videos. The learners used of a variety of technology resources, online surveys and blogs and wikis.

A group of teachers from Bloemfontein won the Innovation in Challenging Contexts award for their combined 'Children who care' project.

Sunia Dokter from Dr Blok High School, Shireen Persens from Heatherdale High School, Ngaka Ralekoala from St Bernard's High School and Lehentse Seekoei from Lereko Secondary School worked together over the past 18 months to train their learners in ethics and research methodology, and conduct research in their local community to determine the needs of vulnerable children.

The learners gained valuable exposure in working with both the University of the Free State and De Montford University in the United Kingdom.

De Lisle won the special Judges' award for his 'Biodiversity: Creatures and Contexts' in celebration of the International Year of Biodiversity.

Learners used various thinking and research tools to get a general understanding of biomes and then used creativity tools to create a biome as a context for a computer game, and to design a suitably adapted creature to live in it.

A sixth educator, Rae Gagiano from Eunice High School in Bloemfontein, was voted by the finalists as their Peer Award choice for her project 'Paying it Forward', where learners attended workshops to learn new skills and then put these skills to work by doing something worthwhile for the community.

Projects included creating books for abandoned babies and creating movies for terminally ill orphans.

"The awards represent the pinnacle of work done to create local communities of teachers who can share challenges, ideas and best practice solutions with their peers," said Vis Naidoo, the head of citizenship at Microsoft SA.

The awards benefited significantly from major support by SMART, Vastratech, Dell SA Development Fund, the Africa STIC, Mindset, Learnthings Africa, NEC, SchoolNet SA and The Teacher.

The five winners each received a Dell laptop, while each of the 20 finalists received digital curriculum content from Mindset and Learnthings Africa and Encyclopaedia Britannica from Sangari.

The peer review winner received a SMART SB680 interactive whiteboard and NEC projector from SMART Technologies.