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Brief History

Teachers’ Networking Conferences and the Eastern Cape English Educators’ Association


The generally poor roads and communication infrastructure in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape make it difficult for many teachers to sustain the collegial relationships that they develop during their studies at Rhodes University. To address this problem (and indirectly to challenge perceptions that writing is difficult by encouraging teachers and their learners to write and be published), the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA) started a newsletter called Writing is Fun in the late 1990s. 

The content of Writing is Fun is teachers’ writing, their learners’ writing and news about teachers who are making a difference in their schools, and tips for teachers on challenging aspects of the curriculum such as the teaching of poetry and the analysis of multimodal texts like cartoons. 

As the number of ISEA alumni grew, the opportunity to develop a network of teachers to sustain and foster professional ties across the province became pressing. Staffers in the ISEA mooted the idea of an association for English (and in the future, language) teachers, with an annual conference to rekindle their collegial connections. The broad aim of the conference is to enable teachers to improve the levels of English proficiency among learners in their classes. The more particular purposes were to give teachers, especially our past and current students, an opportunity to:

  • hear inspirational and informative keynote addresses from leading language educationists on topics relevant to their teaching practice;
  • participate in exciting language teaching workshops which will provide them with practical skills and ideas to invigorate their classroom practice;
  • present their own research and examples of best practice.

Thanks to generous funding from the Zenex Foundation, the first conference was held in 2008. The ISEA has neither the funding-raising nor staff administrative capacity to arrange an annual conference. So, a pattern of biennial conferences was decided upon. Further financial support from the Zenex Foundation enabled two more conferences, which allowed the establishment of a teachers’ association. Writing is Fun has become a means to advertise the conference, to stay in touch with teachers between conferences, to reach the wider language teacher community and grow professional ties among teachers and also between teachers and Rhodes University.

Conferences to date

2008 Networking conference for Eastern Cape English Teachers was hosted at Rhodes University, 26-28 March, with the theme: Reading, Visual and Media Literacy, and Assessment. The keynote speaker was Ms Penny Vinjevold, then Deputy-Director of Further Education and Training in the National Education Department. Her keynote address was titled ‘Can the Assessment Tail Wag the Teaching Dog?’ The idea of a professional association for English teachers was discussed at this conference and a steering committee was formed to work on establishing local small district-level groups and to inform other interested teachers about the proposed Association.

2010 Networking conference for Eastern Cape English Teachers was hosted at Rhodes University, 9-11 April, with the theme: Literacy and Language Teaching. The keynote speaker was Prof Brahm Fleisch, then Head of Department of the School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand. His keynote address was titled ‘Crisis in Primary Education’. The Eastern Cape English Educators’ Association was launched at this conference and an executive committee elected.

2012 Networking conference for Eastern Cape English Teachers was hosted at Rhodes University, 29 June-1 July, with the theme Networking Critical Literacy. The keynote speaker was Prof Hilary Janks, of the School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand. Her keynote address was titled ‘Critical Literacy questions: what do they look like and why do they matter?’ The Eastern Cape English Educators’ Association held its AGM and a new executive was elected at this conference.

Also at this conference, the ISEA launched a book, Crisis in Education: Perspectives from the Eastern Cape. The networking conference was a particularly appropriate setting for this book launch because the book is a reflection of the knowledge and experience gained by ISEA colleagues in teacher education over several years of working in the Eastern Cape. The classrooms described and the teaching practices analysed were those of many of the teachers attending the conference. More than an academic exercise, the volume intends to promote a process of systemic improvement in the quality of education available in the Province.

Last Modified: Wed, 31 May 2017 12:38:57 SAST