We were greatly privileged to be at the weekend camp at Achterbergh for first-year BEd students on 5&6 May 2018. Achterbergh is set in a valley, surrounded by rocky hills. The buildings are designed to nestle gently into this landscape. The small lake (which undoubtedly grows in size when the rains come) is a picturesque addition to this serene, peaceful environment.
The two-day camp was designed with a theme of human rights and responsibilities. The learning design for Achterbergh camp was a series of immersive simulations, followed by interactive debriefing sessions. The organization was superb; over 100 lively students were managed brilliantly in a full programme. The Faculty academic teachers who were involved were excellent, with humour and compassion combined in the exploration of challenging and important issues. A brief description of two of the simulations will make this clear.
The first was the HIV/ Aids game; the prelude to the activity was a discussion about sexuality and having sex. This is a highly sensitive topic (a taboo area for many of these students) that was gently introduced with sensitivity and humour. Each student was then given a cup with clear ‘genital fluid’ and a dropper to permit sexual encounters. After a while when most students seem relaxed and happily engaging in the activity, ‘medical staff’ with their own cups and droppers came to test the students. About 80% of the cups had pink fluid after testing (phenolphthalein was the indicator). Up to this point, the issue of HIV/ Aids and other STDs had not been mentioned explicitly. It was explained to the students that originally only 10% of the cups were ‘viral positive’ but, through ‘unprotected sex’, now 80% of the group were ‘infected’. This was a stunning wow-producing revelation to the students – much more effective than any formal lecture could have been.
The second simulation was an intensive and interactive simulation called the Social Justice Banquet. Each student received an envelope with a ‘passport’, containing a nationality and the money s/he had. Some were from poor countries and had only $5; some were stateless refugees with nothing. There were others from wealthy nations with hundreds of dollars. Students could ‘buy’ food from a long table. Five dollars buys only a slice of bread. Wealthy students had plates stacked high with snacks and juices. The skill in facilitating this simulation was in assisting students to explore their own emotions on finding out their situation – from desperate through to wealthy; then to discuss what might be done to reduce these inequities; and, finally, what their role as future teachers is in supporting their learners and the communities in which their schools are situated. The whole session was a fascinating personal exploration from both those in poverty and those with privilege.
Fun though the serious sessions were, there were also sessions designed to be just fun! The drumming session in the amphitheatre on Saturday afternoon had everyone involved! The students’ feedback on the whole weekend was very positive; the learning and the fun (and the food!) provided them with an excellent model of what excellent education really can be.
Many thanks to our UJ colleagues for allowing us to be involved in this amazing weekend.
Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Johannesburg
Visiting Professor, University of Johannesburg