Solving The Port Elizabeth School Tragedy

The school tragedy in Port Elizabeth is the latest episode in the ongoing Eastern Cape education disaster. Recently public intellectual, Professor Jonathan Jansen, wrote about the school tragedy in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas. Read his original column here: The real education calamity. He asks “why is there no public outcry about the fact that since the school year started more than 50 schools had not started classes?

A friend sent me the article via Facebook. My first reaction was anger and blame and I want to share it with you below:

RT: Yes, this is a fact in the northern areas (Coloured townships) of Port Elizabeth. Now what is Dr Jonathan Jansen doing about it besides writing newspaper columns that he gets paid to write every week? [I am referring to all journalists who offer grand solutions from the comfort of their laptops].

AQ: I don’t know him or his responsibilities/capacity to do anything, but it’s not just about him tho. This eventually becomes everyone’s problem. Poorly educated children become ignorant and frustrated adults

RT: My point is this is common knowledge in Port Elizabeth area. And the parents are fighting SADTU union [and the MEC for Education, Mandla Makupula] which is virtually impossible to defeat.

Jonathan Jansen always writes these kinds of articles, and it’s easy to write about the problems and much more difficult to do something. HE, being a respected “Coloured” leader has been to Port Elizabeth (and Uitenhage) before, and can easily organise public meetings to mediate this conflict.

The MEC in Education in the Eastern Cape is useless as you know, so people like him with authority must can step off his high horse and engage more directly.

AQ: Why isn’t he being challenged on it then

RT: I am challenging you for believing everything he is writing.

AQ: Why haven’t you challenged him

RT: I have. He blocked me on Twitter when I asked him difficult questions. We have also spoken at the same conference at St Stitians College in Johannesburg in 2011.

AQ: My view is we are all responsible for the resolution of these problems part of that responsibility is consciousness and awareness. In this particular case I’m too far removed from the Port Elizabeth social discourse to engage meaningfully, however such situations grate me wherever they are. So my responsibility is to firstly be conscious of what is happening and in that regard I’m limited to what is available online and interacting with people like yourself, fortunately/unfortunately I cannot always judge character/political alignment and have to take the articles at face value, bottom line I feel it’s my responsibility to understand that there is a problem, extent of the problem and in my way and spaces contribute to its containment and hopefully resolution

AQ: I think we sometimes put people on pedals of responsibility when we know that they either lack the capacity or will (moral or otherwise) to be there

School tragedy in Port Elizabeth turned to violence
WHEELS COME OFF: Residents of Arcadia in Port Elizabeth have been blockading roads with burning tyres in ongoing protest action demanding more teachers for the 50 local schools. The stand-off with government has meant no schooling in the northern parts of the city so far this year Image by: EUGENE COETZEE

RT: Sure. I fact I am challenging you (to question the Prof. Jonathan Jansen’s responsibility) because you sent me the news story without any context or opinion.

— end of Facebook Inbox discussion —

Mandla Makupula MEC for Education in Eastern CapeThere was some flaws in my argument. Teachers are not fighting teachers union SADTU, they are both fighting the provincial Eastern Cape MEC of Education, Mandla Makupula. The school tragedy in Port Elizabeth is exacerbated by the gang and drug problem similar to that on the Cape Flats.

And after re-reading the original column, Professor Jansen does indeed offer some good practical advice:

  1. Activists must use social media to o signal for public attention flashpoints around the country where children are being denied education.
  2. Responsible media needs to draw attention to these hot spots with, say, a running front-page spot carrying a reverse count-down message like “#32 days still without education in Port Elizabeth’s northern suburbs”.
  3. Similar public notices can be carried for “Schools still without textbooks” or more pointedly “School X still without principal after three months.”

After all, I want to put his suggestions into practise. This is the type of challenge I thrive on.

Critisism of Professor Jonathan Jansen:

Government and The School Tragedy in Port Elizabeth

Eastern Cape’s MEC for Education Mandla Makupula unsuccessly tried to solve this teacher shortage problem in Port Elizabeth in 2015. This seems to have reached a stale mate.


In South Africa University #FeesMustFall

This is a letter written by my Computer Science lecturer, Craig Reynolds. He was an academic for most of the time that I knew him and at some point moved into the business world, first working for Sun Microsystems and later Oracle Corporation in Dubai. He also graciously wrote a recommendation, which helped me to receive a full scholarship from the Chinese government for my MBA degree.

You were surprised at my views on supporting the student protest, especially as I’m an ex-academic and solicited further explanation. Here goes:

I am of the option that education (at all levels) should be heavily subsidised by government. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that education, including tertiary, should be free.

Yes, free!

An educated society is a strong society and this is particularly true for societies with high levels of educated women (but that is a discussion for another day.)

For the good of society as a whole I don’t understand why capable people should be excluded simply because they are not able to pay. The whole point of education is to lift those people from poverty, not so? Likewise I don’t understand why you should spend years recovering from debt which has been forced upon you in order to educate yourself.

So, I agree with the students that there should be no fee increases, I’d say they need to take it further and demand no fees at all.

But they are protesting to the wrong people, it is not the universities that are at fault. In my view it is the South African government, and in particular the ANC, that is the guilty party. They have stolen, squandered and mismanaged the country’s resources for their own gain and so have not provided the universities with appropriate funding, hence the universities have not choice but to raise fees to keep the the lights on.

The protesters should be barricading Luthuli House and Parliament. They should be demanding explanations from Blade Nzimande, not vice-chancellors. They should be preventing ANC members-of-parliament from leaving/entering, not their fellow students and their lecturers.

The fact that SASCO leaders are wearing ANC colours when it’s the fault of the ANC that the fees are a) very high and b) increasing says one of the following: The students don’t understand that universities are reliant on government for funding, or they are being orchestrated to target university management, probably because they are white and so an easy target.

In addition, I am deeply suspicious that this is being orchestrated by the ANC itself to direct attention away from their own failings. I’m also wondering if this isn’t part of of the wider ANC/SACP strategy (going back to 1976) to keep supporters out of education to ensure that the population remains uneducated. An uneducated populace is easily controlled, educated people ask too many uncomfortable questions. This is a typical communist strategy and I would not be surprised to find Cronin & Nzimande, die hard communist dinosaurs, at the bottom of it all. If so, I hope it bites them in the ass.

So, in short: I support the protests. I don’t support the violence. The protesters are protesting to and about the wrong people.


Top 10 Movies About Teachers

Everyone agrees education is important. Most people agree teachers are valuable. Few people know the difference between learning and teaching. Learning happens naturally when children are fully engaged. Teaching happens when teachers love what they do and share that enthusiasm with the children they teach.

After spending years lecturing at private schools across South Africa, including elite schools like Michaelhouse, I gained a new appreciation for education. As a product of the public school system in the Eastern Cape, the poorest province in South Africa, I overcame substantial obstacles to become a regular guest speaker at elite private boarding schools.

Award winning teacher, John Taylor Gatto reminds us it’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.

The Ultimate History Lesson - John Taylor Gatto

To celebrate 10 years since I started my company, NETucation, here’s my top 10 movies about teachers – some great and others not so great.

  1. Stand and Deliver (1988): Together, one teacher and one class proved to America they could…Stand and Deliver. The story of Jaime Escalante, a high school teacher who successfully inspired his dropout-prone students to learn calculus. John Taylor Gatto talked about this story many times in his lectures and interviews, so I had to watch it.
  2. Mr Holland’s Opus (1995): We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life. A frustrated composer finds fulfilment as a high school music teacher. One of the most beautiful movies about how teachers can change lives.
  3. Dead Poets Society (1989): He was their inspiration. He made their lives extraordinary. English teacher John Keating inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day. Carpe diem!
  4. Detachment (2011): A substitute teacher who drifts from classroom to classroom finds a connection to the students and teachers during his latest assignment. A powerful performance by Adrian Brody as a teacher who is broken inside.
  5. Dangerous Minds (1995): Louanne Johnson is an ex-marine, hired as a teacher in a high school in a poor area of the city. She has recently separated from her husband. Her friend, also a teacher in the school, got the temporary job for her. After a terrible reception from the students, she tries unconventional methods of teaching (using karate, Bob Dylan lyrics, etc) to gain the trust of the students.
  6. The Great Debaters (2007): A drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College, Texas. In 1935, he inspired students to form the school’s first debating team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championships. Even though this is not about school, the teaching influence is primarily in inspiring the students.
  7. Half Nelson (2006): An inner-city junior high school teacher with a drug habit forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students after she discovers his secret. Ryan Gosling shows glimpses of what makes him a great actor.
  8. One Eight Seven (1997): After surviving a brutal attack (the weapon used was a board with nails in it) by a student, teacher Trevor Garfield moves from New York to Los Angeles. Samuel L. Jackson is always convincing as an authority figure.
  9. Freedom Writers (2007): A young teacher inspires her class of at-risk students to learn tolerance, apply themselves, and pursue education beyond high school. Some parts of this movie appeal to the sentimental part of me.
  10. To Sir, With Love (1967): About an idealistic engineer-trainee and his experiences in teaching a group of rambunctious white high school students from the slums of London’s East End.

Honourable mentionRushmore (1998): The film is a personal favourite because the main character reminds me of myself. Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a precocious and eccentric 15-year-old, who is both Rushmore’s most extracurricular and least scholarly student, and his businessman friend Herman Blume (Bill Murray) both fall in love with the same female teacher.

More than any other, I recommend you watch The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto, free on Youtube. And if you enjoy it support the Tragedy and Hope community who produced it and receive a discount using the coupon code “RAMONTHOMAS” below.



Using MOOC to upgrade Education in Rural Areas

online courses MOOCUNISA has made distance learning a common practise in South Africa. It’s position is entrenched more so after the 2004 merger with Technikon RSA. The next evolution in distance learning beyond e-learning or computer-based training is Massive Open Online Courses or MOOC. This is made possible with the pervasiveness of broadband Internet. MOOC is a virtual delivery model that allows participation in learning activities at convenient places and times,rather than forcing students into set time frames; blended learning, which can facilitate widespread, often global collaboration with other students and teams of specialized instructors (Bujak,K,R, et al, 2012).

Recently we enrolled for three modules on after listing to Daphne Koller’s TED Talk. The initial appeal to using this platform was the flexible time schedules and immediate access via the Internet. We’ve already opted out of one and there was no real downside because there was no financial commitment in contrast to traditional universities.

Benefits for Teaching

E-learning has been around since the earliest stages of the Internet. It is well know the origins of this global inter-connected network began in the military and expanded quickly into academic research facilities in the US before becoming available to the general public in the 1990s. Expanding access to and the availability of e-learning programmes for students, teachers and government is an important step in furthering continental development and growth (Rupp, 2012).

Even though Rupp (2012) points out the availability of e-learning technologies provides expanded opportunities for countries in Africa to make education available to their whole population. Clearly these same information and communication technologies (ICTs) allow students from the rural or remote areas to access opportunities for scholarships to academic institutions they may not otherwise have identified.

Benefits for Learning

MOOC introduces students to a new type of experience called “Blended Learning” by Bujak,K,R, et al. (2012). It combines face-to-face interactions with communication enabled by ICTs. A key consideration is that ICTs compliment not replace traditional pedagogy. Whereas e-learning was online only experience, more blending the online and offline experience takes shape in self organised groups meeting similar to traditional self organised groups of students who attend the same campus, except this takes place even easier in the virtual world. Initial research suggests that students are not only accepting blended learning approaches, but also they are improving learning outcomes.


Two challenges reduce the adoption of MOOC. Firstly they do not lead to a widely recognized credentials and workable revenue models are not available at present (King, J.W. & Nanfito, M. 2012). Until both are addressed by institutions and investors in the platforms, MOOC, may be a blip on the radar and future of online learning solutions.

Even though MOOC have caused well established institutions from UCT in South Africa and MIT in United States to invest resources, clear impact in Africa continent remain limited. One segment that stands the most to gain, are people who do not gain entry to traditional universities for reasons financial or otherwise. Internet literacy will delay the adoption further among the rest of the population in Africa irrespective of the availability of broadband Internet. As with all technological innovations MOOC will take a number a few years before we know whether it is viable platform or not.


Bujak,K,R, Baker, P., & DeMillo, R. (2012) The University: Disruptive Change and Institutional Innovation Centre for 21st Century Universities. Paper number 22012. Available online: [03 December 2012]

Rupp, S. (2012) Technology, e-learning and education in Africa. In Consultancy Africa Intelligence. Available online [04 December 2012]

King, J.W. & Nanfito, M. (2012) To MOOC or Not to MOOC? Available online: [05 December 2012]

Koutropoulos, A. & Hogue, R.J. (2012). How to Succeed in a MOOC. Available online: [05 December 2012]


TED Ed launches with Two Questions

Yesterday TED Conferences announced the launch of “TED Ed”. This is new series of talks focussed on education. As regular readers no this blog knows, our focus at the Ramon Thomas Training Corporation is directly related to education. Over the last 5 years we have spoken at over 200 schools and conferences across South Africa. We are passionate about teaching teacher, training teenagers, promoting possibilities and expanding entrepreneurial thinking.

The premise of the video below is based on unanswerable questions. We don’t agree with this entirely. Dan Sullivan says, a person is mature once they realise knowing what questions to ask is more important than having all the answers. So maybe TED is asking the wrong questions to start with. Just on the first two questions, there are thousands of scientists who can answer #1. We are also aware of a dozen or more experts who’ve written books about alien contact. This group in particular may fall outside what is considered mainstream science or academics.

As South Africa seeks to improve it’s education system from the tangled web weave, we full endorse the TED Ed program and look for to sharing ideas from this platform with our loyal readers. Watching TED videos makes it clear that the world is flat. You can enhance your own understanding of the world and the universe we live in with this wonderfully presenter lectures from the world’s leading technology, entertainment and designers.

Anyway they posted this announcement on their blog:

This morning, we’re thrilled to introduce TED-Ed — a resource of short lessons designed to spark curiosity and promote further learning in and out of classrooms. Watch our introductory video above … read Chris Anderson’s personal note … and watch for more news and video throughout the day.

  1. Question: How many universes are there?
  2. Question: Why can’t we see evidence of alien life?

Read the story behind the TED-Ed launch on Chris Anderson’s personal blog


Using Skype for Teaching in Virtual Classrooms

The classroom has continuously experienced advances in the fields of computers and technology for decades. These technological advancements have even reached the education field, with numerous virtual classrooms emerging left and right. You no longer need to be physically present at the classroom in order to learn anything and everything under the sun. You can complete ordinary courses as well as university courses by using Skype, a computer software application that allows for voice chat, text chat and video chat between users in a global scale.

Using Skype to teach in a virtual classroom is very easy. This is due to the fact that this software has been developed in order to be as user-friendly as possible. Both old folks and young ones alike will be able to use it with ease. If you want to learn from a virtual classroom somewhere in South Africa then this is the perfect tool for you to use. The good part here is that more and more schools and universities in South Africa will credit all of the units and hours that you spend in a virtual classroom, allowing you to save on the travel time to and from the school.

Skype is now considered the teaching technology of the future. Children and adults alike will no longer be required to personally attend classes in the near future in order to save on the expenses. Skype is the first step through the numerous innovations to come in the near future since experts say that it will be around for a long time. Earning general education, further education and higher education in South Africa will no longer be a problem with the help of this powerful communication software tool. Use skype for anything and everything related to video communication, calls, text chat or voice chat in order to learn, study and absorb the teaching of your virtual teachers and professors alike.

Skype in the classroom is a newly developed feature of Skype that allows teachers, professors and educators alike to collaborate with each other during class hours. These educators can easily stay in touch with each other using the Skype application, allowing for a more interactive discussion not only between themselves but also between their respective classes as well. Typical examples that this feature provides is that it allows for global languages, joint projects and guest lectures by professors and their colleagues in South Africa and other parts of the world.

Currently, there are more than 7,000 users of this collaboration feature provided by Skype. In a recent exchange of information regarding earthquakes, a U.S. based classroom and a Chilean based classroom interactively exchanged pieces of data and information regarding earthquake safety tips and things to avoid during an earthquake. All of such information exchange is through the use Skype perspective. The best part here is that you will be able to earn all of the required certifications, graduate’s degree, master’s degree or even doctor’s degree in any Skype based university situated in any part of the world with the help of this powerful communicating tool.


STAR SCHOOLS – Mobilising Education in South Africa

Johannesburg, 27 October 2010 – We could be entering an age where South African learners will not require a laptop or access to a computer laboratory – yet they will still enjoy inexpensive and rapid access to the internet and educational content. At a stroke the dynamic combination of mobile technology and inspired thinking provided an important solution for a severely under-resourced education sector. Star Schools CEO, Atul Patel has been the driving force behind the innovation.

By partnering a WAP-enabled mobile phone with a content-rich paper workbook, Star Schools have created a virtual classroom that can be accessed anytime, from anywhere. Using a 3-D barcode tag printed on a page and a mobile phone, with free-to-download tag reading software, learners can access additional content that ranges from a 3-D exploded-view video of an electric motor to teachers that comes on screen and provide lesson content just as they would in a classroom.

Continue reading “STAR SCHOOLS – Mobilising Education in South Africa”


Jonathan Jansen: Dear President Zuma. I am writing to you out of desperation.

This open letter is reprinted without permission from the Times website. I feel very strong about education, and Prof Jansen is one of the few voices that speak with authority about education in South Africa. For real practical solutions I highly recommend the work of John Taylor Gatto.

Jonathan Jansen education expert university of free state vice-chancellorDesperation is an emotion I seldom feel, except in relation to education, for I believe very deeply that for most of our children, a solid school education represents the only means available for ending the cycle of family poverty. Skills come later. Economic growth even later. Social cohesion lies far in the distance. What matters is that children complete 12 years of schooling with the ability to read, write, reason, calculate and express confidence for purposes of further studies, skills training and higher education.

At various moments during your leadership, I have been encouraged, sir, by your standpoint on education. You are absolutely correct to insist on teachers being in school, teaching, every day. You are right, of course, to insist on materials being available for learning. You cannot be faulted for requiring performance contracts from the ministers who report to you on progress in education. Your own biography as a man who has sacrificed his own schooling in that broader quest for liberation, is something I admire.

The problem, Mr President, is the distance between what you stand for and the day-to-day operations of schools in our country.

Unlike most of your MECs for education, I do not for one moment believe the crisis in schooling lies inside the schools themselves. Having visited thousands of schools over the past decades, and having spoken to (and taught) thousands of pupils across the nine provinces, I can assure you that the children are the least of your problems.

With the right leadership and authority in place, with enthusiastic teachers ready to teach, and with organisational routines (starting on time, homework every day, solid teaching, and so on) running like clockwork, children anywhere in the world respond positively to the efforts of adults to educate them. So, I am not speaking about the children.

It is clear to me that at the moment the control of schools does not rest with government. It rests with the teacher unions. Until this simple fact is acknowledged, it is impossible to create the kinds of conditions in and around schooling that provide for predictable teaching timetables and powerful learning environments.

This is, I know, difficult terrain for public discussion. After all, the largest teachers’ union is part of the massive labour federation, which has a critical role in who stays in or comes to power in the next rounds of election.

But, Mr President, I believe you can and should look beyond the politics of succession that comes in five-year cycles, and look to the long-term development of the country and the prospects of tens of thousands of youth who routinely fail examinations every year and who fuel the numbers of frustrated youth who turn on society and themselves. This is the single most important challenge you face, and it cannot be resolved by pedagogical means, only through political intervention.

To signal your seriousness about this crisis, Sir, I propose you appoint an “Education Crisis Panel of Experts” to guide you and our government on how to resolve the education standoff as a matter of urgency. Please do not appoint activists to this panel, unless they are also experts; and do not see these appointments as ways of rewarding loyalty in the past or present; there are other commissions that can and have achieved such objectives.

Ensure, Mr President, that these are people who actually know how to turn around schools, and who are unlikely to tell you what you want to hear. You made an excellent start by hiring Dr Cassius Lubisi as your director general; I have worked with him for many years. You will not find a person of greater integrity, passion and insight. Perhaps he could chair the panel.

I propose, if I may, the following names: Linda Vilikazi-Tselane, Muavia Gallie, Anita Maritz, James Letuka, Brian Isaacs, Sibusiso Maseko, Nontsha Liwane-Mazengwe, Stephen Lowry, Sharon Lewin, Itumeleng Molale and Margerida Lopez. These are some of the most hardworking principals and education thinkers I have ever known.

They boast track records of success in changing schools. These are among finest South African educators when it comes to love of school and country.

They are fiercely independent in thinking, and unsentimental in their ideas about the bottom line: the learning achievements of our children.

Mr President, I wait to hear from you.


IT Skills Shortage Is Proving Costly

As insufficient numbers of IT professionals graduate from tertiary institutions the skills gap continues to widen.

Greg Vercellotti, executive director of Dariel Solutions, says graduate numbers are remaining the same or dropping, while requirements in the industry are constantly increasing.

“It’s a global problem, but SA is probably worse off than the rest of the world – we have a 10 to 15-year gap that needs to be plugged. If we’re to become an economy of knowledge workers, we need to get people through the system more quickly.”

Vercellotti says while university graduates have a good IT background and generic skills, they lack certain essential skills to perform in the workplace. “For instance, universities will teach a general programming style, whereas we require them to know specific styles for the type of system they’re writing.”

One solution, he says, is to send employees on multiple short, focused and practical programmes, which allow them to apply immediately what they have learnt.

He says BSc and engineering programmes tend to focus on hard skills, but soft skills are equally vital in the industry. “Technologists can’t exist in a vacuum; they need to interact with clients. We find that people with good communication skills are a lot more successful than those without.

“People management is also important in getting people to work together as a team and deliver. We don’t usually do soft skills development as a once-off course, but weave it into our other programmes. It’s something you have to emphasise and reiterate.”

A further difficulty for the IT industry is insufficient numbers of maths and science matriculants coming out of the schooling system. Prof Barry Dwolatzky, professor of software engineering at Wits University, says this is a huge challenge that can only be resolved over the long term.

“If we are going to maintain and retain the South African software industry, which is world class and has been world class for decades, we need to find plans and approaches that can quickly produce more skills.”

Dwolatzky, who also runs the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), says a short-term solution is to uplift the skills of people who have already entered the workplace.

“The master’s programme requires a postgraduate degree in engineering or computer science, but because such people are so employable, the feedstock for our programme is low.”

To address this challenge, the JCSE has developed a three-year continuing professional development course for people who have work experience but don’t have the prerequisite formal degree.

“This is our flagship programme, but we also offer a number of short courses, evening courses, public lectures and forums. Many courses tend to be vendor-oriented, but we’ve tried to retain a neutral mould to build a deeper education, rather than just skills training.”

The programme comprises four masters courses taught as continuing professional development courses.

“If they pass all courses with 60% we then make a case to allow them to enter Wits as a mature student,” says Dwolatzky. “They receive credits for the courses they’ve passed and can complete the part-time master’s in two more years.

“We aren’t targeting to produce hundreds of skilled people, but relatively small numbers of highly skilled people.

“I see skills as a triangle – you need few highly skilled people to support larger numbers of less skilled people, but if you don’t have the people at the top of the triangle, you can’t do the work that needs those less skilled people.”

Vercellotti says anyone, including schools and further education and training colleges, can contribute to the IT skills shortage, provided it’s done properly and with the right intent. “We’ve been pretty disappointed with some of the college type education houses – some of them just take money and run and have no care for the needs of individuals.

“You can’t have everybody coming out with a university degree, but also need the middle tier people with diplomas and good skills. You need all strata of workers – employees and entrepreneurs; that’s where every institution has a role to play.”

source: Business Day