Graduation Day at Hazyview Digital Learning Centre

On the 19th September 2013, 120 learners graduated at our Hazyview Digital Learning Centre in Tshabalala village, Mpumalanga. The majority of students received their International Computer Driving License (ICDL) Core certificates, but there were also a large number who received ICDL Advanced MS Word certificates as well as certificates of achievement in hospitality service.

Our goal at Good Work Foundation has always been to deliver “relevant” education. Skills that will empower individuals. And skills that will give them the best chance of being competitive in the marketplace. Once the European Computer Driving License (ECDL) course proved it could successfully raise levels of digital literacy throughout Europe, and was exported to the rest of the world (from Romania to Ireland, Italy and Korea), we thought, why not rural spaces in South Africa?

Computer literacy has become a basic competency like writing and reading and it was our mission to deliver that competency to areas on the “periphery”.

How do I describe the atmosphere in the “barn” and under our digital tree on graduation morning?

It was that amazing hybrid between African tradition and western convention that we try to harness at Good Word Foundation. So while we had the academic gowns and hats, the speeches and certificates, we also had joyous ululating from the crowd, Swazi drumming and dancing and unabashed merriment under the digital tree.

Imagine rows and rows of grandmothers (“Gogos”) and grandfathers (“Mkhulus”) who still gather firewood, who still have donkeys and carts, who never owned a landline telephone, let alone a cell phone.

Imagine these people watching their children and grandchildren graduate. Not just any graduation though. A graduation that means that these young people are proficient at preparing a word document or a spreadsheet. They can type and search the web. They can order new shoes for their grandparents online!

They have become “digital”, an almost sci-fi concept for the majority of residents in this area. Something that people in the city do, not subsistence farmers in the “country”.

70 of the mostly young graduates (the average age was between 19 and 30) enrolled in the year-long ICDL course thanks to generous bursaries from Absa bank and when Alfred Nkosi – the Absa spokesman – stood in front of the crowd to speak, he reminded them that he grew up in a time where there was no email, no internet and no smart phones.

Arthur wrote letters to his wife (with an ink-filled pen). And when he became interested in geology, Google and Wikipedia were not an option.

From his rural town on the border of Mozambique, Arthur would write a letter to an “information centre” in Johannesburg, requesting that he be loaned any books they might have on the subject, “introduction to geology.”

If the letter was received, if the centre had books that covered the requested topic, if they deemed Arthur a responsible recipient, only then would he be granted access to the information. Think about access to information today. What is so special about geology in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province? I bet you’ll find the answer (and further reading) in under five minutes.

But Arthur’s speech went beyond the technology. He reminded the graduates that with knowledge and education comes a responsibility: where possible, encourage your peers to advance their careers, and where possible, put your talent back into your own community. And perhaps most importantly, Arthur said

“Don’t look for a job. Create a job.”

I don’t need to say thank you to Absa on behalf of the students. They did that themselves. The graduation gowns and mortarboards, the beaming smiles and tears of joy.

And I am happy to announce that for the 2013/2014 academic year, Absa has agreed to increase the number of students that they sponsor from 70 to 200.

Thank you to Alfred Nkosi, Arthur Mbambalala and Rapule Mahlangu who attended the graduation as representatives of Absa Bank and more importantly, friends of Hazyview Digital Learning Centre.

Thank you also to our team at Hazyview. The last brick was laid over a year ago and already you have established yourselves as an intelligent, capable and sensitive team who are teaching, but also mentoring, guiding and encouraging.

And as for those “bricks”, this graduation would not have been possible without our partnership with T-Systems, a South African company that has shared our vision from the beginning and donated 3.7 million rand to the building of this world-class centre in Tshabalala.

Lastly, to all of our graduates, Hazyview Digital Learning Centre is your school forever.

If you are the young people who are going out into the world, I am confident that we are building a stronger society.

Kind regards and all the best,

Kate Groch