Sunday, October 5, 2008

Madame Deputy President, I presume?

On the final day of last term we had an assembly to celebrate Baleka Mbete, (South Africa’s new Deputy President)’s birthday. While this may sound strange, it happened to be something that was planned long before she was inaugurated as Deputy President and held her previous position as the Speaker of the National Assembly. Gugulethu and by extension Fezeka fell under her then-jurisdiction, and she has had a long-standing relationship with the school. Recently, and while she still held the Speaker position, a decision was made to donate some computers to Fezeka. Initially the pledge was to donate 12 computers, which was then upped to 20. When the day came however, there were 12 new computers that lay waiting in the gleaming and freshly-painted lab, waiting to be christened by Ms. Mbete.

The assembly that we had to accompany this visit was wonderful. Fully catered by the office of the Deputy President, we had about 500 students in attendance, and close to 50 officials from various positions within the Government. Speeches were made by the politicians and the Deputy President, as well as by our principal and English HOD. And then the students took over. The drama club performed, as did the choir, a ballet group of which one of our students is a part, and a couple students recited poetry they had read.

The day was capped off with lunch for everyone and the Deputy President ceremoniously cutting the ribbon that had been tied across the doorway of the computer lab, which was met with flashes and applause from the members of the media et al. who were also in attendance to capture the moment.

It was during the assembly that I came to find out that Fezeka holds a unique honor of being one of very few, and perhaps one of the only township schools in the Western Cape who has been visited by both the Deputy President and the President of the Republic of South Africa (Thabo Mbeki visited during his time at the helm). It was lovely to see the students swell with pride as this fact was brought to their attention, as it was (as always) to see their smiles and hear their cheers and laughter when they watched their colleagues perform.

It was only after the assembly however, after the cameras and bodyguards had left and school had reopened and we were back in full swing that I came to find out that despite taking the time to re-tile the floor of the lab, paint the walls, fix the broken desks, and install these shiny new flat screen PCs, they had not ensured that each of the computers was online, or bothered to install Microsoft Office on any of the new machines. Roughly half of the new computers cannot access the Internet, and none of them have Microsoft Word. Or Excel. Or PowerPoint. On high school computers at a school where we are trying to encourage digital literacy. After spending a tidy sum on the whole overhaul, they didn't think it important to invest another R1500 (roughly $200CDN), the cost of that a basic Microsoft Office 2003 package.



JN said...

Hi Alex,

First of all, thanks for your open and engaged communication.

Noting your concern about the absence of word-processing software, I wonder if someone has told you about Open Office, free (open source) software that is compatible with MS Office. It has word-processing, database and spreadsheet capabilities as well as a PowerPoint equivalent. I've used it for many years in my web design business and beyond, virtually problem-free. To find out more, go to
If you prefer, for a business rate of $US35 each for a minimum of five licenses, you can get Star Office, essentially the same software but with a service package.
For a relatively objective overview of Open Office, go to Wikipedia's entry

- Jeffrey, the EwB web site manager

Modi said...

Hi Alex..u r brilliant. Welcome to the reality that is Education in South Africa under the government of the ANC!!
Dearie what u r experiencing has been our cry for the last 13yrs.. nobody in govt listens!! Nobody cares.
Computers for schools "to bridge the digital divide"-(common clique in SA)has become a money spinners on one hand and a political/vote garnering exercise on the other.
It is not just about the R1500 for the Windows package..the teachers who have to run that lab have no inkling at all of what is expected of them in not only managing a computer lab but also to allocate those minimum resources to kids and draw up "competencies" for the kids.
Similiar project in Gauteng prov,called Gauteng on Line went belly up after a serious financial investment. Another new one is being planned where kids in schools will be given miniature laptops worth R4000 each.Imagine the "new 2nd hand goods" market that will spring up in tthe townships!!Check with Mercer/Mustek Modi.