A walkthrough of #TEDxCapeTownED for @helenzille

Dear @helenzille, #TEDxCapeTownED took place this past Saturday. You were in Soweto at the time. A total of 19 speakers spoke about a range of educational issues close to their hearts. As one of the speakers, I can say that it was an incredible experience and that the organizers, in true TED style, created a world-class platform for all participants to share their ideas.

You should have seen Xola Sdiki take the stage just after lunch. At just 18 years old, he spoke of the importance of positive peer pressure and how he is personally committed to making a real difference to his community. I asked him if he'd run for president when he was older. He said he wouldn't, but I know I'm not the only one who really hopes he will. The audience gave Xola a well-deserved standing ovation. I hope he changes his mind.

Moments after the event ended, I was making my way out of the 500-person strong arena when one of the speakers asked me if I had heard what Helen Zille had said? Expecting the best, I wondered what praise you might have given to the organisers or to one of the speakers for the part they had played in making a difference to education in South Africa. Regrettably, I was much mistaken.

I know you tweet a lot, so I'll remind you of what you wrote:

“@helenzille: Except 4 Ian Scott, pedestrian quality at #TEDxCTED. The big challenge is fixing teaching in most schools, time management and good texts.”

Thanks for weighing in. Ian Scott was great, and his message of curriculum change was well received. And I agree - fixing teaching has to be a primary focus.

Malinga Nopote told us her story of becoming the principal at Sinenjongo High School in Joe Slovo in 2010 and related how, in 2 short years, she succeeded in taking the matric pass rate from 44% to 88%. She concluded by asking all principals working in the townships to roll up their sleeves and do the work necessary to change lives. I wish we could roll her out over all our township schools. Imagine the impact that more teachers like her would have countrywide!

These days time management is key to most business functions so I wholeheartedly agree with your concern and, as for good texts, if we could just get good textbooks into every high school learner’s hands, we'd make a monumental difference to our country's future.

As you weren’t able to attend the event, I wanted to give you a better picture of some of the ideas that were shared on Saturday.

Murray Gibbon opened the South African education debate by describing the importance of partnerships in education, with a specific focus on how Westerford High School has been an invaluable partner to Claremont High School and their success. It would be difficult to overstate the value of such support in educational terms.

Prof. Tim Noakes shared his deep understanding of sports science to confirm a major insight - people need coaches who believe in them. This was a theme that many other speakers emphasised in a range of educational contexts, including the crucial role that teachers, parents and peers can play in the educational development and social well-being of learners.

John Gilmour electrified the audience with his vulnerable, honest account of lessons he learned by realising he was wrong: that we can no longer ignore emotional health in our blind obsession with cognition. His personal account served not only to illuminate the awkward and frequently ignored question of listening and responding to students on a basic emotional level, but also provided a guiding light in the fight to deal with the underlying malaise in education which runs far deeper than poor academic performance.

Leigh Meinert emphasised the importance of education with soul and offered three ways in which this could make a material difference in education. She argued that such an approach would help students and educators find their passion and purpose; that it asks powerful questions with fewer (but better and more meaningful) answers; and that it helps teachers to become mentors.

Jos Dirx’s passionate talk on the harmful psychological effects of gender stereotyping emphasised the value of using sport as an empowerment tool. Through sport, girls are given the opportunity to acquire essential social skills like leadership to uplift themselves.

Prof. Laura Czerniewicz, head of UCT’s Centre for Open Education, exposed a fact: we need legislation to support the movement to allow open access to information resources that have become unaffordable and unsustainable.

Christoph Hagspihl is completing a Masters in mathematics. He has elected to teach at Mfuleni High School for a year before taking up a position at a large corporation. His message of passion: “teaching has changed my life”. He argues that graduates should be made to teach at underprivileged schools to circumvent the teaching crisis.

Louise Van Rhyn runs Symphonia, a programme that partners school principals with business leaders with the aim of allowing both sides to learn from each other. She brought some members of the audience to tears towards the end of her talk.

Rich Mulholland used offbeat humour to put across a serious message, namely, that the average useful span of employment is getting shorter. He argued that only focused, relevant and continuous learning provides an effective means to adapt to this new trend. His call for degrees to have a shelf life created some needed controversy.

Craig Charnock energized the audience with his Kwaito music video, “quite a white ou,” and gave the audience a mini-Xhosa lesson, calling on Mandela’s appeal that we should learn each other’s languages as the best way to promote transformation.

The final speaker, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, likened our current education crisis to that of a sinking ship and raised points not dissimilar to DA policy, namely, to scrap the SETAs that have suffocated our artisan and apprenticeship programmes.

At the end, audience members were asked to place their nametags in one of four boxes to rate the event. I was one of the last to exit and the only box brimming with plastic cards was the one that said “outstanding” on the front.

I hope this gives you a better idea of the power of #TEDxCTED. I'd hate for you to think it was pedestrian. Unless, of course, you're referring to the way everyone got to the event? The first few videos from the event are now available at http://tedxcapetowned.org/videos.

Next time, i'd like to suggest that you attend if you'd like a shot at participating instead of making empty comments under the pretense that Twitter let you into the intimacy of an event that was as powerful as this one.

The next local TED event is on the 21st of July in Cape Town. It's within walking distance.

Regards, @sampaddock