Ouma Stories Part 1

Check back frequently to follow along with "Ouma Stories"

Written by Ansa Liebenberg

“Me, TikTok, you must be joking”. 

I’m sitting on the veranda with four of the grandees (my word for “grandchildren”). The almost 10-year-old Kourtney is practising how to sew. In fact, all the young granddaughters are keen to sew, but that is another story. Jess is fiddling with her smartphone and the older two teenagers are in an old-fashioned eye-contact conversation with me. They are trying to convince me that I could find many of my favourite things on TikTok; gardening, baking, arts, crafts and traveling.

No, they did not convince me, but the conversation set off a trail of thoughts about learning and how we learn best. The conversation also made me think about the meaning of “teaching and learning conversations”. In my years in various forms of education and training, I have always thought about teaching and learning as a conversation. Yes, a conversation where there is eye contact, where body language tells a story and where you cannot just “mute” a participant, because you do not like what they say.

Some of my best teaching and training memories are from those very tactile face-to-face conversations where a smile, a nod of the head or a frown would be a cue that students or learners agree, or you realise that you are now off the beaten track with an explanation and need to think on your feet of a different approach.

These memories also have the context of a place and time. I have been fortunate to work in diverse places, of which quite a few years entailed my teacher training era where I spent long periods in rural and deep rural areas. I remember a particular day in a rather dilapidated classroom in Jozini in Northern KZN. It was the Easter school break and as an NPO we were supporting unqualified teachers to study towards their teaching diplomas. During the weeklong sessions, teachers would travel from places like Ingwavuma, Kosi Bay, St Lucia, Hhuhluwe and settlements with names that were difficult to pronounce. Many of these places had no running water or electricity (some of them still don’t have the basics) and animals roamed freely. I was about midway through a session when a goat strolled into the classroom and grabbed an apple on one of the student’s desks. The goat then decided to join the class and after a few exclamations, the session just continued without any further attention to the goat.

My own children were still at school and I remember telling one of their teachers about the goat incident. City learners and teachers would probably not know what to do or how to deal with the goat. Now that I think of it, in their air-conditioned classrooms city teachers and learners would not cope with the heat, the pit latrines and blackboards that were so scratched that you could only write in some spots (if you remembered to pack chalk).

You are probably wondering how I got from TikTok to scratched chalkboards in Jozini and from modern-day electronics to an incident with a goat about 20-years ago. Am I romanticizing the days of the proverbial chalk and talk teaching in most classrooms in South Africa? Am I doing the proverbial granny thing about the “good old days”?

No, I’m just speculating how my grandees and your children or grandchildren are, and will be, coping with online and electronic platforms that have now become entrenched into their school and post-school learning lives. I’m speculating about the reduced or lack of flesh and blood human interaction in optimising learning activities and the SIRI-simulation teachers on some platforms (SIRI being that clever robot that stands for Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface). I’m also speculating about the diversity in our country (and the world) and how the teachers, parents and learners in Jozini, Ingwavuma, St Lucia and other rural places will cope with limited access to resources, equipment and basic infrastructure. These questions could not remain as speculations, meaning that there is a whole body of research waiting to be expanded and teacher training modules to be updated with what could probably be known as the post-Covid 19 period in pedagogy and teaching methodology.

So, maybe we should use TikTok to record experiences on online and electronic platforms in a world where blended learning and home schooling is fast becoming the norm. The grandees may just have a point that I should investigate TikTok and the potential of this trendy platform to enhance my own learning. I must go and pay them a visit to show me in a real-life interaction how to use TikTok.