10 Minutes on the TED stage

So what do you do when you find yourself on a stage underneath a blinding spotlight, a video camera flashing intermittently in front of you, and the intimidating letters “TED” lighting up the wall behind you?

Try to remember your lines? That’s actually the easy part. The difficult part is trying to convey in ten minutes a synopsis of the work that you have been passionate about for an entire decade.

Unfortunately I don’t have a link for the video yet but I will update everyone as soon as I do (well – let me revisit that promise once I have seen it). What I can do now though is tell you a little bit about what I said to the audience that had gathered to listen to my talk at TEDGlobal 2013 in Edinburgh.

It started off on quite a personal note.

I adopted my five year old daughter, Maya, when she was only a few months old. Her mother was a southern Sotho “schoolgirl” – only fifteen years of age – who had decided early on that she would put her child up for adoption.

The family – all living below the so-called “breadline” – could not feed another mouth, let alone imagine putting another child into a school uniform (never mind the books, stationary and extra-curricular activities).

Whichever way we look at it, in terms of the education that is available to her, fate dealt Maya a better hand. Today she has access not only to food and clean water, but also to a world-class education, art classes, extra-curricular sports, and – of course – a computer and iPad with “always on” internet.

I firmly believe that with access to love AND opportunity Maya has the tools to reach her full potential.

We had begun a number of community projects some years before Maya was born, but after her birth – more and more – I found I asked myself:

“Why can’t everyone have access to world-class education if they want it?”

Looking back, Maya was a “vision” trigger.

Whether I had adopted her or not, Maya should – from as young as five years old – have the opportunity to interact with the world, its technologies and most importantly, its ideas. She reminds me every day that it should never matter where a person is born.

However big and seemingly unreachable the vision might seem, we simply must use technology to bring education to those who want it, and bit by bit, we have an obligation to make the opportunity available to everyone, whether they live in a big city or a rural village, such as Madlala in Mpumalanga.

The response to my ten minutes on the TEDInstitute stage was interesting:

First, the audience was inspired not so much by the “technology” and “infrastructure” of Good Work Foundation’s projects and centres, but more by the spirit of what we are doing.

From learners gathering under the “Digital Tree of Knowledge” to share ideas at Hazyview, to our unique “ecosystem of learning” that includes lessons in ancient wisdom, life skills and moral character, what stood out was that we are claiming an education space that is digitally “African”. Donors the world over know that the “tech” can be bought, but the spirit cannot. Without elders, without passionate educators, without spirited mentors and teachers (people who are looking at problems from a “creative” space), it’s all just tech.

I realised in Edinburgh that as Africans we must never underestimate the role that we have to play. In the so-called “dark spaces” on the so-called “dark continent” people are innovating. In this environment, we have to innovate in order to survive.

Let’s share our stories. Let’s innovate together. Let’s support one another.

Second, the speech resonated because education is in a precarious, you might even say “stagnant” space all over the world, not just in Africa.

The world is changing, but classrooms are not. The classroom of the future is not simply a room full of computers or iPads; our entire approach to pedagogy must keep up with the democratisation of information and ideas. Imagine having an entire syllabus available on a handset. Imagine interacting with learners all over the world using social media platforms. The adaption to the digital revolution (for the majority) is happening too slowly, be it in Sydney, Shanghai or London.

But in Africa’s rural spaces, where a long and heavy tradition of established education practices does not exist, it should be easier for us to approach education innovatively. We have that opportunity, and we must take it!

Through Good Work Foundation’s partners in innovative education – Deutsche Telekom and T-Systems – I have had the opportunity to spend seven days immersed in some of the world’s greatest ideas. I have rubbed shoulders with neuroscientists, astrophysicists and even prime ministers.

Thank you to everyone who sent me kind messages and words of encouragement. The GWF Facebook page was full of support – and you have no idea how much those messages mean when your nerves kick in and you’re considering the first flight back to OR Tambo.

Lastly, thanks to the Good Work Foundation team who are more than just “tech”. They are the “Africanness” that gives our model for digital education soul. They are the force behind what we believe to be a revolution in rural education.

They are the light and the hope for so many young learners who would never otherwise have had the opportunity.

As Thulani Sibiya said in a recent blog post: “Munhu I munhu van’wana van’hu.”

I am because you are, you are because we are.

Yours in education and opportunity,

Kate Groch