Powering the Grid



I was going to get to bed before 11 tonight, but I promised myself I would write everyday whilst I’m here.

I’ve some thoughts brewing on Monday’s workshop with EduNova and the principals’ boot camp, but they’re not quite ready for prime time.

Instead, let me recount the fulfillment of a prophesy.

Before I embarked on my trip, I was told I would hear a certain phrase at some point, likely multiple points, along the way. Today, it happened.

Amid a workshop in which the assembled Khanya facilitators were in the second-floor computer lab at Glendale Secondary School in Mitchells Plains, everything went dark. I don’t mean that we lost the Internet or that the server went down, I mean that the power was gone. Each of the 30+ computers went blank, the lights shut off and the projector I was using for demonstration wasn’t quite so demonstrative.

My face, I think, registered the appropriate surprise circulating in my brain because one of the facilitators toward the front said, “Welcome to Africa!”

The room laughed, and I took a moment to marvel at the truly genuine tone in my host’s voice as those I was participating in the foundation level of some sort of right of passage.

A few minutes later, the power was back and we rebooted.

The second time the power cut out today was during the first quarter of Noble’s afternoon session. I sat watching and expecting Noble to receive a greeting such as I had. He did not.

The power had gone off whilst one of the Khanya facilitators was asking a question, and she didn’t miss a beat in her sentence with a worthless tip of the hat to the fact that we were no longer with power. She had a point to make.

The same thing happened when the power returned the second time and when it cut out and returned the third, fourth and fifth times. Indeed, Noble was mid-sentence when one of the reboots happened, and it didn’t phase him at all.

All of this is to say that the educators in that room today adapted, rather, had already adapted, to the occurrence of something that’s happened to me maybe twice in my time as a teacher (and only then during intense storms).

My primary reaction was one of admiration. Messages were being sent and they were to be powered by their own ideas – not the room’s ambient electricity. We were making do with what we had.

My secondary reaction was one of cultural comparison. These outages took place throughout what would normally be school hours on a Tuesday and severely handicapped the connected learning possible within the school’s computer labs. The desktop computers cut out and had to be rebooted each time. Had conditions reached such a point in my own education, I can imagine ire on the part of my parents and community members. I’ve been trying draft a scenario all day in which my family’s reaction to multiple power outages would be simply, “Welcome to Illinois!”

My own brain answers back, “But this isn’t Illinois. Conditions are different. Politics are different. Needs are different. Thereby, expectations are different.” I get that, but only have my own experiences to compare against. The longer I’m here, the more diversified my experiences will be.

I’ve come to learn the day’s outages were more frequent than normal, but that SA’s infrastructure lags behind its population growth. Throughout the country, there are scheduled rolling outages whilst the government builds the nuclear plants to sustain the need.

I suppose I wanted outrage from the people in the room today. Outrage would have signaled these events were not in keeping with expectations for the schools. Even more, it would have signaled a lack of acceptance.

Educators in the US have been experiencing rolling blackout for the last few decades if only in the figurative sense. The power’s been cut so frequently that our expectations of our own abilities to connect and network ourselves and our learners with the outside world have sunken consistently. More frightening, our near acceptance of inconsistent access to the power to drive our own profession and careers has become commonplace.

If educators here are to have a hope of cutting class sizes of 45-55 learners, they must first demand power.

If educators in the US are to have a hope of owning our profession, we must first demand power.

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