Tribute versus Trial: #RememberReeva Steenkamp

Accomplished at the age of 26, Reeva Steenkamp, a South African role model, law graduate and celebrity met the end of her life tragically on Valentines Day, 14 February 2013 in Pretoria, South Africa. The man accused of her murder faces the full force of the law, but nothing can replace the loss felt by Reeva Steenkamp’s grieving family and the many South Africans who loved and admired her.

The High Court’s ruling that Reeva Steenkamp’s murder trial be broadcasted across international media has shocked the Steenkamp family and left them feeling let down by the South African justice system. But at more than R20000 (US$ 2200) per minute, this trial has become an international ‘media gold rush,’ securing a 24-hour broadcasting channel for a minute-by-minute update on events as they happen. Can there be any doubt that money played a factor in the decision to go public with broadcasting this trial?

Already the media have labeled proceedings “The Oscar Pistorius trial” comparable to the 2006 trial of retired American Football player O.J. Simpson. Then too, the profile of the perpetrator was scandalously doted upon while the victim remained just that. Nicole Brown Simpson is scarcely known today, except by those who remember “The Trial of O.J. Simpson.”

Twitter and Facebook were absent at the trial of OJ Simpson, but today, there is an opportunity to counteract the flow of information by power structures that would emphasize trial over tribute. Whether you blog, tweet or text, individuals have demonstrated their ability to transform news content and to shift the balance of power from multinational media companies to humble mobile phone users.

The global gluttony for scandal will always follow celebrity and high-profile personalities. But the tragic death of Reeva Steenkamp should not be reduced to tabloid smears focusing on the accused. Allow the law to judge Oscar Pistorius, but thank social media for the platform to #RememberReeva Steenkamp and her family.


South Africa’s young voters are the real “game changers”

After reading a blog post entitled “Vote as if ALL our lives depended on it” I was inspired to share the following 3 basic steps to help political actors engage young voters in South Africa:

  1. Set up a Social Media Communication Team who knows their way around mobile platforms, instant messaging, texting, tweeting and posting…recruitment criteria must include evidence of being a good networker.
  2. Incentivise! More than 77% of young people aged 18 – 25 are “pay as you go” cell phone users. Spot prizes or even competitions offering airtime will attract and hold this age groups attention. E.g. “Invite ‘selfies’ which include a message about why you are voting in this year’s election”
  3. Finally, don’t neglect your existing database. Every one of your e-mail contacts has access to a mobile phone. Engage those who already support you to offer steps 1 and 2 above to their network of contacts.

Young people are not hard to reach, they’re a generation waiting to be found, but to engage them you may need to learn txtspk 😉

Increased Crime: the cost of failing at school in South Africa

This article argues that poor performance by South Africa’s (SA) state run schools adds a dangerously negative ingredient to the country’s social and economic prospects for growth. Evidence of this negative ingredient can be found locked away in South Africa’s prisons.

SA scholars, supporting this view, have criticized the government for failing to support growth by maintaining “low quality education as a poverty trap”. The argument is not new. Lack of upward mobility in the society has been linked to the prevalence of crime before; and researchers have voiced the concern that people who perceive their poverty as unchangeable may be driven by hostile impulses rather than rational pursuit of their interests (Blau & Blau, 1982, p. 119). 

In 2011 UNESCO published a comparable study by its Office on Drugs and Crime highlighting the prevalence of homicides in areas of high unemployment in South Africa. In January 2012, the South African cities of Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth featured in a list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world published by Mexican think tank The Citizen’s Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice. 

In a country where less than 50% of students graduate from secondary school with a Matriculation Certificate and where more than 50% of the population is under the age of 25 years old, the Math is not hard to follow. Close to a third of South Africa’s grossly over crowded prison population are teenagers. 

There are a number of agencies and organisations working to address this challenge in SA, but the rate at which the problem is multiplying requires more resources than grass roots organisations have to offer. It is a wicked problem compounded drug and alcohol abuse, by the increased risks to HIV/AIDS and by poverty that has been structurally embedded in society by the evils of Apartheid.

Poor education is a precondition to low employability. High unemployment has long been identified as a predisposing condition for the spread of crime. With SA prisons now more than 150% overcrowded the challenge facing government and society is to holistically addressing the education deficit or build additional prisons to house its failure to do so.


Blau, Judith R., and Peter M. Blau. 1982. The Cost of Inequality: Metropolitan Structure and Violent Crime. American Sociological Review, Volume 47, Issue 1, 114-129. 


China schooling Africa…

African born economist, Dambiso Moyo, presents an interesting case on the merits of Afro-Chinese economic relations. There has been much media coverage on this subject, mostly beaming cautionary warnings towards western boardrooms and democratic purists. Antagonists comfortably avoid the question “Could China be ‘good’ for Africa?” trending around China’s record of human rights violations and the asymmetry between the two economic markets.

Dr. Moyo answers this question with a resounding, “Yes,” (my interpretation). And it is this interpretation that led me to consider some of the lessons that could be learnt from the world’s largest education sector.

China’s population is 3 times that of South Africa, one of Africa’s leading economic countries, yet their teacher pupil ratio is 1:17 versus South Africa’s 1:35. Quality despite quantity, though this too could be disputed.

China’s traditional education style remains a present pressure that encourages academic achievement. Research into why British students of Chinese heritage outperformed their peers in primary and secondary schools found that Chinese families consider education a “fundamental pillar of their Chinese identity.” Arguably, this has also been the driving force behind China’s economic performance globally.

China’s ability to innovate and harness the advantages offered by technology is also cited as evidence supporting their progress and improvements to their education system. In the higher education sector China dominates with the largest single group of overseas students taking degrees in Britain and the US. Perhaps further evidence of their fundamental regard for quality education.

I am not suggesting a transplanting of a Chinese approach to education into Africa. A sufficient amount of sources can be found that would readily attempt to discredit the quality of education in China and warn against mimicking a Chinese approach. But there can be no disputing the significance of China’s increasing economic relevance and global progress. Chinese interests in Africa could even be viewed as a well-calculated trajectory for further growth. In the context of education and mutually beneficial relations two questions are worth studying: “Could Africa learn from China’s education system and what would the probable product of such an equation be?”

Chinese proverb: “A nations treasure is in its scholars.”

Could learners be teachers?

Addressing the deficit of teachers in developing countries is crucial to providing access to quality education. Rushing a student through teacher training will only aggravate the quality of education others hope to receive and will add little value to wider social improvement. So how does one meet the goal of universal primary education where the ratio of teacher to learners is 1:50? And how does one do so without compromising on the quality of teaching?

The answers require innovative thinking and local support, but they do exist and they are being applied widely in western, developed countries. Generation Yes is a US based project where students are teaching other students with the support of new communication technology. Breakthrough Collaborative is a similar project where older students are supporting younger learners from less affluent backgrounds. Could this model work in Africa? There is evidence to show that it could.

Help2Read works with adult volunteers who visit schools to support literacy development and promote to reading. The initiative is bearing fruit, but more needs to be done in order to address the prevalent deficit of quality education. One suggestion is to allow Grade 11 or 12 students to develop their teaching skills. By engaging secondary pupils to support primary student development one simultaneously addresses the issue of skills development and releasing some of the pressure experienced by teachers in over crowded classrooms.

Providing young (secondary) learners with basic teaching skills, prepares them for the the world of work and increases their opportunities of being excellent teachers. In the face of rising youth unemployment in Africa, it seems that one solution remains under valued and under scale. Learners could be teachers and, if encouraged to develop their skills early enough, they could be excellent educators too.

Mobile learning by example

E-readers, laptops, palmtops, desktops…designs and devices are hard to keep up with even in developed economies where salaries and wages allow these as luxury items. In the developing South and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa technology offers the promise of access to information and improved livelihoods. The transformation is not instant, but the promise is there. Yet Africa continues to lag behind.

Why have education sectors in most developing countries been slow to adopt new technology? Where adoption has taken place there are numerous tales of equipment safely stored out of learner’s reach, disregarded due to lack of skilled teachers or “stripped” for more valued metal parts. In recent times much attention has been placed on mobile phones, “Africa’s computer” but despite a concerted effort by UNESCO to mainstream mobile learning, take up remains sluggish.

 At the risk of being labelled a neo-liberalist, one suggestion to educators and social welfare actors is to look for lessons from the health and business sectors. M-Health has been hugely successful in reminding patients to take their ARV meds while M-Banking has surpassed all expectation through m-pesa. Both these sectors found innovative solutions to real problems facing developing communities. And all this through a Text/SMS.

Hopefully education will learn from their example by making the call to explore mobile learning.


What do “Clickers” do for participation in the classroom?

“Clickers” also known as “voting devices” allow students to respond to test questions, quizzes or polls using web based technology that is increasingly free to access. The technology has been used widely on television game shows to allow audience participation. But what impact will clickers have on classroom participation? Are students engaging with educational content or are they engaged with a new tech tool? 

For the many rural communities in developing countries, a reliable internet connection becomes the first barrier to clicking. The next challenge is developing the skills to use the technology well. A simple ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ vote will not necessarily generate learning, but once asked to defend their positions, students can become more engaged in the learning process.

 A third issue, apart from getting the new technology to work and understanding how to use it, involves establishing where it is needed. Many schools are yet to engage with mobile phones as tools for supporting education. So, as new devices enter the technology arena, are schools participating in an options appraisal process or are they being pushed to adopt rather than to adapt?

“Clickers,” like all new tools, have the potential to bring the learning process to life. This article serves as a reminder that considering context before clicking is critical.