After exhausting weeks of assessment and planning, the Keetmanshoop PLATO Centre finally re-opened last Monday (29 March). Still the lone full-time (and even part-time) force in the Centre, I could have had a truly painful re-opening.
Aware of the chaos-potential, I came to my senses and ran to a local senior high school on the morning of the Centre’s opening day, and gave an inspiring and captivating “value of community service” speech to grade 12 leaders. Five responsible young boys rose to the challenge (took the bait, hah!). These boys were Centre-saving and also morale-saving, I can admit.
Over the past two weeks, I have not had a single visit or check-in from my “partners” in the regional office or host Teachers’ Resource Centre, which has been frustrating. I submit regular (unsolicited) planning reports/updates; they knew that this was Opening Week. I was not sent to Keetmanshoop to plan and physically run the Centre alone. What will happen when I’m gone in less than two months? I have been weary about the non-existence of a counterpart since last October, when we discussed this assignment. (deep breath). Ok, so, my volunteer “Centre Captains,” as I’ve knighted them, were the bizzomb (great assets)! I must also give propers to the Teacher Ambassadors that have worked with me over two long meetings, and on various afternoons to support the planning and re-opening process. (Teacher Ambassadors are another resource I created and nurtured through compelling arguments at local school staff and principals’ meetings. I have one or two teachers tasked to represent the interests of each school in town and help market and support the Centre at their school).
I had to rush an orientation with the Captains and at different times throughout the first afternoon, I needed to corral them all outside to check-in and reinforce an expectation or rule (like learner-confidentiality) that I missed during the rushed presentation. Overall, though, I was pleased with the adeptness, sensitivity, and computer savvy of my young leaders. At the end of the day, they were also “complaining” about their hurting feet, from standing and moving around the classroom all afternoon; ‘twas wonderful.
The Centre Captains helped manage outside traffic; they helped orient new computer users to keyboarding and mouse basics; they helped users log-in and log-out of the educational learning software; they answered basic mathematics questions raised by young users; they guided learners on how to navigate through lessons; they alerted me to technical problems they couldn’t (and I didn’t want them to) address/fix; they kept me aware of time (there are three groups of full-time users registered for each day); and they helped me with some decorating of the Centre’s walls and doors!
During a recent business trip to meet with the learning software providers in South Africa, I collected t-shirts, which I will present to the volunteer Centre Captains. I will also create official applications and a formal description of their tasks/duties for Centre files and for their central reference. At the end of the term, I will present them with certificates of service. I will also leave the recommendation, for whomever is tasked to manage the Centre, to keep a record of their hours and author a letter summarizing their hours and service at the end of the next term. These boys are all college-bound; this community service may have a place in their admissions and scholarship/bursary applications. (I'm pictured with my top captain, Nahvad, who wants to become a mathematics teacher).
ABOUT THE REGISTERED USERS – Keetmanshoop Computer-Based Learning Centre
For the remainder of the 1st term and all of the 2nd term, there are now 150 registered learners, from nine(9) schools throughout the community. Learners were selected at the school-level, based on varying criteria established by each school. Each selected learner, along with a parent/guardian and a teacher, signed a commitment form and received an official registration letter/card, which the learner must bring to each of his/her assigned sessions (2 hours/week). The learners are in grades 5-12, and range in age from 10-22 years. The 22 year-old, is in grade 9! Actually, many learners registered to use the Centre are above the average age of learners in their grade, based on being held back or starting school very late; so, I'm happy that they may benefit from the additional instructional support. (I’ll write a post on social promotion or transfer policies later). I plan to have counseling sessions with all learners before I leave, to get more about their story, and to help them establish goals for their time in the Centre. I expect that the counseling sessions will present a few challenges, based on time, yes, but mainly based on language barriers. We’ll see. The main academic focus of the Centre is mathematics. PLATO is the name of the educational learning software used in the Centre.