“Our education system is on the rocks”, said Mamphela Ramphele on Saturday, with this image behind her on a screen almost the size of the IMAX. “ We inherited it with a design flaw. Our government officials quickly jumped into the control room, put a few patches on and started partying. How did you and I allow it to happen? We as citizens are complicit. We have chosen to remain silent “.
Her hard-hitting speech ended with a call for a revolution in education to put things right. Based on the talks given at TEDx CT Ed in the unlikely venue of Ratanga Junction, that revolution has already begun.
Organised entirely by volunteers, the day comprised 19 speakers, allocated slots of either six or twelve minutes each. I had wondered how a line-up of non-stop speakers could keep the attention of the 500 people who filled the two venues (the fact that there was a need for a live feed in a second venue evidence in itself of the passion Cape Townians feel about education).
Yet we were riveted by a carefully curated collection of talks which included the issues-based, the heart-felt, the humourous and the talented, sometimes all at the same time.
It is hard to single out highlights of the day (a full list is online) but a sample of the powerful presentations included:
- Malinga Nopote, Principal of Sinenjongo High School in Joe Slovo Park , who described how she and her team increased the matric pass rate at Sinenjongo from 44% in 2009, to 98% in 2010, and 88% in 2011. She said that she achieved excellence through trust.
- Craig Makhosi Charnock*, Founder of UBuntu Bridge (a Xhosa and Zulu language teaching company) and self –declared drop-out sangoma, had the audience on their feet toyi-toying after demonstrating the power of multilingualism.
- Xola Sdiki, an articulate 18 year old from Hector Peterson High School, who had been through the process of becoming a GOLD peer educator and now mentor. He said he had been “a negative to other youth” but had been given the tools to help his peers, and was now, he said, “part of the dangerously contagious solution of hope”.
- Christoph Hagspihl, a young man who described himself as “from a private school, and the hardest I had ever worked was to get a pretty girl to come to the matric dance with me”…and who is spending a year teaching Maths before starting his job next year in a bank in a big corporate city. He believes all graduates should spend a year teaching.
- Phadiela Cooper*, Principal of COSAT (Centre of Science & Technology) in Khayelitsha , one of the Western Cape’s Top Ten Schools, described with pride and modesty the successes of her students achieved against the odds, with one of her students recently achieving six distinctions in Matric.
These talks were held, most appropriately, on June 16th, the anniversary of Soweto Uprising when students in the apartheid South Africa of 1976 protested against the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools.
And they were most definitely, in the spirit of TED, ideas worth spreading.
*Talks not yet online