11 June 2015

Letter from the Head – 11 June 2015

Dear Parents

Once again I am pleased to be celebrating another wonderful success of one of our students. Manu Huyssen (Matric) has been placed in the top 15 in the National English Olympiad. More than 7500 students sat the examination. Manu’s achievement is exceptional and we are very proud of her. She has been invited to the prize giving at the Grahamstown Arts Festival where the final placements will be announced.

Congratulations are also owed to Nicolette Fernandes who was awarded a medal for her excellent performance in the Stellenbosch Kunswedstryd. She was also invited to sing at the prize giving ceremony where her performance was superlative. At the same competition the Somerset College Jazz Band won the best senior school Jazz Band section. Well done to Mr Chapman and the Jazzelites and to Mr Basson for organizing an exceptional competition for the Arts.

Jacques Morris and Matthew Durie have been invited to join the UCT Mathematics Circle based on their results in the UCT Maths Challenge, Competition and Olympiad. This is a wonderful achievement.

The classroom building block is progressing reasonably but there has been some delay in the process and the classrooms will only be ready during the latter part of the third term. The initial delay was a result of certain materials being unavailable in the Western Cape and now the few days of rain have been problematic and the proverbial rain delay has trumped progress. We are looking forward to the new space and the delay is a test in patience for teachers and students alike in both the prep and senior schools.

I would like to thank parents who have taken the issues that have arisen around social media seriously. A number of you have alerted me to the work of Emma Sadleir and Tamsyn de Beer. We have arranged for Ms Sadleir to speak to the students next term. It seems it is a message that cannot be reiterated enough. Although we speak about the perils and joys of the Internet superhighway on various platforms, the reality of how to adapt to its demands seem difficult for many people to understand. I feel sorry for our young people who have so much more to navigate in this high octane world of change and demand than any previous generation. Adolescents tend to exist in a dual time zone and social media mimics that duality. It appears private but is in fact viciously public. Having said this, however, it remains imperative that if we use social media we have to be aware of the consequences. Likewise it is imperative that our children are fully aware of these consequences.

Sadleir and De Beer cite numerous incidents of students who have been severely sanctioned for their actions on social media. Schools have every right to discipline students who are unable to navigate this space appropriately. Difficult as it may be, if students are not mature enough to manage this space they must not use it. Parents have to be part of this process as their children adapt to the world in which they find themselves. Obviously the rules for social media etiquette were not around when parents were growing up and so it is as if adults are forever playing a catch-up game as new concepts, products and challenges appear. Because we want our children to be digitally competent and capable on the internet superhighway, the challenge is compounded. Just as we use highways to get to destinations more quickly, only a few, rather desperate, would try to walk across a multi- lane highway. We know the rules. Likewise we need our children to use the superhighway to navigate and increase learning but they need to know the rules to do so safely. Paradoxically we must not be frightened to let them make use of the superhighway appropriately, but we must be frightened of the consequences if they do not use it cautiously, intelligently and relevantly.

Sadleir elucidates some of the consequences. She writes and I quote the extract directly (and with her grammar): “…what you say and do online – and even what you retweet, share or like – has the potential (for both you and your children) to:

●  Land you in prison;

●  See you sued and having to cough up tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of rand;

●  Seriously jeopardize your safety;

●  Result in the loss of your job, or expulsion from school or university;

●  Do significant damage to the brand and reputation of a company and

●  Most importantly, do irreparable damage to your personal reputation.”

The authors point out that because of social media, students’ private lives at the weekend have become public knowledge during the week because someone is likely to have posted something on some platform about the weekend escapades. The pressure on our students to be perfectly behaved is onerous. Their integrity is constantly on display. It has become increasingly difficult to have a meaningful private space and we have to help our adolescents understand this 21st century anomaly. Sitting privately in your home and engaging with the world on social media is like reading your private diary aloud on CNN, Sky News and MTV simultaneously. Privacy is becoming a precious commodity and it has to be guarded and cherished and valued while simultaneously embracing the wonders of what new technologies offer us.

As difficult as it is, please take this parenting challenge seriously. The College has to react when the College itself or College students are harmed accidentally or intentionally on a social media platform. Please warn your children not to post provocative pictures of themselves or others onto the Internet. Likewise they must not post slanderous or filthy comments.

Equally challenging is the issue of plagiarism – the cardinal academic sin – little understood by high school students. It has become very easy simply to download work from Internet sites, print it out and publish it as one’s own work. Students can and must do research. They can use other sources but they must acknowledge these sources. The IEB allows for any one piece of research presented by a student to have a 20% similarity to another work. The most successful work is that which is well researched, synthesizes the thoughts of others and makes new meaning or suggests different conclusions out of the research undertaken. This is difficult to achieve, especially at school level, but it is where we aim with our students. If nothing else they need to acknowledge resources and they will not be accidentally guilty of plagiarism.

It is an exciting time to parent children and to guide students. The world is incredible technologically and it is going to get even more exciting. We can’t put our heads in the sand but we can be prepared. Please let’s work together to help our young people navigate this part of their journey well.

Enjoy the examinations, the quietness they should bring and please try to reduce the anxiety around them. They are what they are and marks will be what they will be.

Yours sincerely