Education

‘BACK TO THE FUTURE’

The New Age of Teaching

In 2006 the first International Microsoft Innovative Awards took place in USA, Philapdelphia with more than a hundred contestants from around the world. Each contest had to be a national finalist to be make it to the USA and therefore, the overwhelming feeling of competition anxiety got to everyone including the judges from across the world and the numerous professional guests too. The intensity was every where and the focus was: Education in the Digital Age.

The visit to the School of the Future in Philadelphia that was a Microsoft project was really awe inspiring because then already each pupil had a laptop and there were just so many high tech gadgets that monitored pupils calories, loan of e-books from the digital library, emailed assignments and digital assessment thereof. It was really something to behold in a setting where the entire infrastructure was designed with great environmental care including the ergonomics of all fixtures and fittings. 2006 in USA, School of the Future got us all thinking 20 years ahead and the phrases that were coined were: “Teaching into the Future, 2026 Teaching, Teaching and Tomorrow…” Little did we realise that 2020 would change the world beyond our imagination so rapidly.

It was the year that I won the International Peer Review Prize that set me alight with new found zeal, little did I realise that I only started learning the E-Learning alphabet. Please see posts titled: TEACHING WITH FLAIR & AUTHENTIC LEARNING for detail on the papers that gave me the wins. In the space of the all contestants then and now, I feel like a speck in the Milky-way because the nature of innovative thought, design and practice makes you realise how vast ideas can spread and just possible it is to make them a reality. Therefore, the ringing quote, “It is only in action that the glory of thought can manifest itself.” of Yawar Baig is striking. Striking because the thoughts of online teaching and digital platforms has come to reality and its working. The thought now is how to deal with the overwhelming present with the new ideas and philosophies that are been generated because of the dynamics we see unfolding around us. Exciting yet, full of trepidation. Today, I sit at the the dawn of that time in history which the world anticipated as the future that we have now, but it was ushered in with a unique blend of sound and fury.

It is the late afternoon of 8 July 2020. I sat down to capture my day in writing. This reflective imprisonment led to this article. The day in summary looked like this. Our School had to close because of the COVID cases we had. The Principal’s Office has a calling different from that of the teacher. In response to that call, I was in the office early to brace the frigid morning. In a diary like fashion I penned this introduction: “I am in the comfort of my Office, preparing for yet another live online Google Class ‘visit’. I have done visits from the 8:00am and with the afternoon creeping in, I am blue-screen dizzy and far-fetched from the reality of the human touch. A feeling that is hard to describe but, easy to know how it dampens the heart and gnaws at the soul. The online classes carry on and I feel for the moment that we have been at it for a long time already because my mind cannot bring March 2020 back into play. It is like March 2020, is a distant memory and the present is an overwhelming yoke of stress, strain, mixed excitement, worry, failed systems, quirky techno-applications, stop-start-go real time school, COVID-19 infections, quarantine, self-isolation and a host of phobias and solution driven people too in the broader space of the education Milky-way.”

The learning goes on and the human touch a visual reality.

There are many institutions across the world who have been working with online solutions from 2006 in varying degrees of competence and for them this transition has been seamless but, the social distance has affected us in ways unimaginable to the mind. The reflection on the new age of teaching is the new normal because the old classroom has now been totally deconstructed.

Until 20 March 2020, our schools in the main resembled this 18 Century classroom.

Instruction has suddenly changed in such a way that the empirical paradigm has become non-existent and the critical paradigm is fast becoming the new reality where the authoritative position of the teacher is challenged and questioned.

Chalk, talk, instruct and stimulus-response teaching and learning environments are now challenged.

The nature of teaching is the flipped classroom and has made true that teaching is actually a subversive activity to use Neil Postman’s words in part. The Industrial Revolution institutionalised formal schooling as we know it today and therefore, we are indoctrinated to believe in schooling as we knew until March 2020. Consider this reality to illustrate my point. In the Apartheid South Africa, we were all in separate educations departments and there was no equality and equity for the non-whites. The Black people faced the worst form of inequality and this bred a racially divided society where we had this very prejudiced view of people who were non-white. Our education system further ingrained that prejudice in providing a narrative that kept the white superior and the non-white inferior. The indoctrination we suffered then is still within our minds and we have to work at it to change it for the better. The entropy of Apartheid was at the cog wheels of daily resistance and, the anti-entropy of Apartheid was the use of the state apparatus to enforce its laws. The continuous maintenance of the Apartheid state meant the continued oppression. When there is no maintenance of anything it will collapse into utter disrepair. Education is the tool of the state and the same time, a liberating force. It is wrenched continuously between the state, revolutionaries and de-schoolers making it part of a continuous flux. Therefore, it gets people to adapt to how it changes and at the same time are continuously striving to make new improvements. This makes education not static at all. Therefore, it will not just collapse like a state system when challenged by a relentless resistance e.g. the ANC resistance against Apartheid.

Education as a whole was within the flux of entropy and anti-entropy from its existence and therefore, we saw and see various changes and challenges to the current curriculum and not one as been defined as perfect yet. Therefore, when this COVID-19 hit and schools were under lockdown, adaptation was swift because there were many existing paradigms of teaching and learning that were either in an experimental level or in an advanced level of delivery. Suddenly, world wide in a matter of months schooling went from the chalkboard to online platforms from Google Classroom, ZOOM, WhatsApp and more leaving schools empty and homes busy. Schooling did not come to an abrupt halt. It adapted and the new ideas been pioneered resulted in fresh thinking on what teaching should be. Although the current curriculum is taught, the medium has changed resulting in a new age of teaching. This disruption brought into question tuition fees, rights of content creation, teaching from home live online versus being present at school teaching real time to those who are present and making allowance to teach those absent online. Exciting but, very challenging. It demands that the teacher thinks with greater innovation and with practical creativity.

The new age of teaching is not going to see remarkable drawings on the chalkboard but, it is going to discern the innovative teachers from the moaners, complainers and groaners because; the new advent has proven that physical schools are really necessary but, its form and design needs to change. Home Schooling has reached a new record and smaller number of pupils in homes is taken as the safer option. Therefore, creative teaching will be the criterion of difference. Like how the master teacher who could draw a great diagram on the chalkboard, today the teacher finds it all at a click of the button making life much easier. Does this make the teacher creative? No! The creative teacher is not the one who merely cuts and pastes what he finds on the ‘world wide web’ into his PowerPointPresentation, KeyNote or Explain Everything template. No! The creative teacher is still the one who captures the imagination and inspires excitement.

Please look at this two minute youtube clip and ask yourself what makes this teacher so awesome. I love this man! Here is the excitement of the pupils that is palpable through the screen and it makes your hair stand on edge with excitement. The SmartBoard is there but, its the greatness of the teacher that makes the lesson alive with love and excitement. This class would be the first love over a home school where it can be a very dry atmosphere of a few people caught in a web of a stoic teacher who is making good cash on the COVID-19 phobia gravy train. In the lesson our SUPERMAN imbues the children with values and the human touch of sincerity.

The new age of teaching is now value based more than ever because, knowledge is available at the click of a button and not values anymore. The social media from Instagram to TikTok videos have only exasperated self-indulgence and deification of people who have a glamorous virtual profile but, in reality are nothing but empty cans filled with stones making noise of nonsense. New age teaching means the soul’s stimulation to human appreciation and human interaction that is rich with meaning and grace.

Now look at these three legendary poets who, without the hype of all Twenty First Century stuff imbued wisdom in the hearts of the reader, opened the minds to rich debate and espoused wisdom in speech such that new vistas of learning emerged that changed the character of people.

These three poets are legendary in Urdu literature.

Ghalib (1797 -1869)

Iqbal   (1877-1938)

and Faraz (1931-2008)

Their views on the universality of God in these famous couplets . It was not a feud. At best, you can call it a poetic difference of opinion among witty intellectuals spread across centuries. 

Ghalib started it in the 19th century .

“Zahid, sharaab peene de masjid mein baith kar

Ya wo jagah bataa, jahaan Khuda nahin”

Translation: 

Let me drink in a mosque; or tell me the place where there is no God.’

Allama Iqbal was not convinced. He decided to reply about half a century later, his poetic reply to Ghalib. 

“Masjid Khuda ka ghar hai, peene ki jagah nahin

Kaafir ke dil mein jaa, wahaan khuda nahin”

Translation: 

Mosque is the abode of God, not a place to drink. Go to the heart of a non-believer because there God is not.

Faraz had the last word. (Later half of 19th century) .

“Kaafir ke dil se aaya hun, main ye dekh kar Faraz,

Khuda maujood hai wahaan, par usey pata nahin”

Translation:

I have returned from the heart of the disbeliever and I have observed that God is present in his heart too, but he just doesn’t know it.

Today, this will stir discussion and high debate because their education grew from the foundation of values that were touched by genuine experience shaped by world history that was still raw and and not adulterated like the news of today which is propaganda personified. The days of their lives were that where the pupil presented himself at the feet of the teacher and learnt with the cup of humility and obedience. Sadly, the modern age has subverted that and today; the child sits with the seat of self-indulgence not to engage rather to find fault therefore, the rate of truancy and disengagement on the online platforms is a cause of huge concern. The same attitude prevails in class in front of the teacher.

The concern is this real case scenario: In the classes I ‘visited’ there was less than 50 % attendance and the multi-tasking that goes on in the background tells you that the engagement is severely challenged. This is further obstructed by the lack of parental supervision for the older pupils resulting in poor critical thinking on new found knowledge or a revision on concepts. Therefore, it will take a dynamic teacher to tune into the minds of the online minds to capture their imagination. This means the teacher needs to bring the actor out and become a kind of celebrity in the virtual space because that is what the children are used to. However, this is not possible at every turn but, it does arouse the imagination to try and become a brand within the school setting. The new age teacher then is a competition with the entertainment industry on changing one heart and mind at a time. That is teaching and the rest is all an enhancement or, shall I say an augmentation to the reality that teaching cannot permeate the heart without the human touch.

Our children have never touched Micky Mouse and Donald Duck, but they adore them beyond everything else. Go to the elders like us, we have never touched the actors from Ertugul to Suits but, we act and behave in their styles all because the voice and screen came together creatively and gave you a character that became a role model. Extend this into the new age of teaching and yes, you will not get Keanu Reeves or James Bond, but you will get a reaction of sincerity that will lead to genuine character change which is embellished by an authentic real human being AKA the TEACHER. That is you and I, in the front line teaching the new age learners with values that stood the test of time.

The captivating thoughts are the the values that must have passed through the souls that were present then.

I looked at the above classroom in envy because the class symbolised a teacher who was neat, clean and well dressed. The neatness of the handwriting on chalkboard reflected a teacher with thoughtful action and affinity to order and rules. The graffiti clean desks spoke of children who valued life and that which enriched it. The old furniture reflects a society that cared not to waste and the floor Boards without gum in it tells of a people that wore respect as a crown. Today the reality is a stark difference! I leave it to your imagination. You were in school a while ago.

2006 was great year for me as I won the International MITA Peer Review Prize. 2007 was great too. I won the Microsoft SA National Peer Review prize and crowned to be a MITA judge in 2008 but all this illustrated that I came from a breed of teachers and professors who inculcated values in me that said I ‘should rage against the dying of the light’ for good men do that. This is a best award anyone can achieve because it certifies you everyday of your life. When I look to the future, the future for me is the value based approach to teaching because curriculum will always be in the hands of the authorities but, never the values we want our children to have. This is why, teaching is a ‘subversive activity’ and why teaching in the new age will demand greater creativity, innovation and moral strength.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Be the good teacher and pupils will rage against the dying of the light to be people of courage, generosity and valour. Thats what the new age needs. Going back to the future is taking those credible values into class everyday because that is where the future is made.

Abdullah Sujee

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