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Digitech does not replace chalk

- Schalk Mouton

Professor Rehana Vally, Chair for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria, addresses graduates.

Digital technology is permeating almost everything in our daily lives, but the one thing that digital technology will never be able to replace is the passion and the love that a teacher brings to the classroom.

iPads instead of text books. Intelligent black boards. A stylus, instead of chalk? Paperless classrooms – everything has changed since Professor Rehana Vally, Chair for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria, completed matric.

Growing up in a small rural town – with only a primary school – most of the adults were only functionally literate, Vally told the audience members and graduates at the Wits Faculty of Humanities’ graduation ceremony on Wednesday, 1 April 2015.

“The teacher and the doctor were the only people who were literate. They had degrees. They had diplomas. In that time, the teachers didn’t even live in that town. They had to travel in from the city every day. They came to teach us, and they did it with passion.”

Owning a book was “community news”, she said.

“The person who owned a book – and only one book – they called him a “degreewanna”, meaning the person with a degree.”

People were even more impressed when they saw a child reading a thick book while buying a book – unless it was a religious text – was seen as a waste of money.

“You read a book once, and it is over. You have wasted your money. But, if you buy a religious text, you can read it over and over again,” she said.

“Children were encouraged to read them over and over again, because a religious text, the more you read it, the greater you increase your chances of going to heaven. So, hence, it was regarded as a good return on investment.”

Despite this, Vally made it to university to study anthropology. Due to the politics in the country at the time, she and her fellow graduates boycotted their graduation ceremony, and opted to rather celebrate with an “Oxford in the Bush” graduation ceremony.

It was when she started to teach herself – as an anthropology lecturer – that she started wondering what her teachers had done to get her interested in studying.

“I found that the magic formula of what they did – and I found it after much reflection – was what I would call communication and passion. Those teachers communicated to us. They talked to us. They made every one of us believe that we were special,” she said. “They did not just go through the motions. Learning was a relationship.”

“Teaching is one of the most noble careers anyone can follow. The National Development Plan of 2013 and Poverty Trends in South Africa all point to the same thing, and that is that education is a way out of poverty,” she said.

She said that 66% of adults with no formal education were found to be poor. However, only 5.5% of those with a post-matric education were classified as poor. “The world in which we live is a knowledge-driven economy, and people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have changed the world in which we live forever, but digital technology does not replace the chalk,” said Vally.”

“Use digital technologies as a tool, but do not lose sight of how important it is to recognise that the human project is important and will remain important even after digital technologies have (moved on).”