Local teacher wins at National Teaching Awards

Shanley Cyster, from Pniel is a teacher at Rietenbosch Primary School in Cloetesville, Stellenbosch. PICTURE: WCED

Shanley Cyster, a teacher from Rietenbosch Primary School in Cloetesville, Stellenbosch has been named first runner up in Excellence in Technology Enhanced Teaching and Learning at the 2023 National Teaching Awards (NTA).

As a special needs teacher, Ms Cyster has made it her mission to implement and increase the use of Information Communication and Technology (ITC) in her classroom and all the possibilities in using technology not only as a learning tool, but also a creation tool excites her tremendously.

Fondly dubbed as “Mrs ipad” by pupils, she has seen how the use of ITC as a learning tool in her own classroom made pupils thrive holistically.

“When I entered the NTA I was a teacher at Dorothea special school, teaching learners with severe intellectual disabilities as well as learner on the autism spectrum. It filled my heart with joy to see how my learners’ faces lit up when they understood and could do the activity,” she says.

But being recognised for her work on a national level was unexpected.

“When doing the task, teaching and learning, infusing ICT into the curriculum, seeing how the technology can better learner’s understanding and learning, I never thought about being rewarded, it was just all about the learner and the school and how I can help to improve teaching and learning via technology,” she says.

She is a strong advocate for the increased use and implementation of ITC in classrooms as a learning tool.

“The world is changing everything is now technological the workspace, communication, everything, and to get our kids ready for that world we need technology. We need to teach with technology, and they must be exposed to technology in classrooms in order to equip them for that world.”

She lists a few examples of how she implemented technology.

“Non-verbal learners or learners with limited speech capabilities was given and shown how to use Alternative Augmented communication (AAC) apps to communicate with teachers. The learner would type on the iPad AAC application, it’s called Chatterbox, (in case someone wants to know) and the device would speak for them.

“For learners with low vision, something as simple as the zoom function and or the camera function was amazing and helped them a lot. For example, if the learner can’t see far, they took a picture of it and zoomed in on it. If the print was to small, they could just zoom in. Having a device for the learners was very helpful.

“Teaching life skills is big in special schools, one of the ways how I use technology was to download an ATM app for them to practice on. In the former years the school took them to real ATMs, but this is too risky now,” she adds.

Ms Cyster knows some educators might still be wary of devices in schools being a distraction or give access to cyber bullies, but she says the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

“With the right management of devices brought by kids at school it can really broaden up the children’s world, children can become more motivated to work when working with devices and their discipline improves.”

The old traditional way of teaching is no longer conducive to creating a learning environment where all pupils will flourish.

“The generation growing up today, (millennials, generation Z) the way they learn now is more visual, more via videos, more audio based, picture-based, because they are so used to technology, and they learn visually and through animation.

“So, for them to now to go to a classroom where there is still a black board with the teacher as the main source of information and just books that are mostly written in with a few still pictures; for them it’s very difficult to learn that way because their minds are no longer accustomed to that way of learning.

“Gone are the days when I just give them the information and they have to memorise it like parrots; so that’s why I feel technology is needed in classrooms because kids are now learning in a different way.”

Entering the awards, she says has made her realise the amount and magnitude of her accomplishments thus far. “When I had to sit down and write and present my role and impact on education, I was surprised on how much I achieved thus far and when I got the recognition it felt so rewarding. I felt so blessed and it gave me the drive to pursue new challenges.”

One of the many challenges she took on to implement at her school is starting a Coding and Robotics club.

The new recognition, she believes, will be of great help in future career endeavours and help secure sponsors to help with the school’s ITC goals.

“Hopefully with this recognition I can convince funders in helping us with devices and services to enhance the teaching and learning, hopefully they will invest because they will realise that something will definitely come from their investment, learning will improve due to their investment as I will ensure it does,” she says.

The school’s principal Jardine Jappie, says Ms Cyster’s achievement is indeed a great inspiration to them. “We are overwhelmed with pride and joy and share in her success with this excellent achievement.

“Ms Cyster is filled with passion for education, especially with the integration of technology to advance learning and teaching. It’s good to know that she is part of our team and that pupils and fellow colleagues can benefit from her expertise in the field of ITC. We are excited about what the future holds for her and Rietenbosch Primary.

“She has recently joined our school but is already hard at work to get things for technology to be easily incorporated and become a regular part of learning and teaching. He describes her as an asset to the school.

“With regards to technology she is able to provide training, put processes in place, present lessons, give advice, manage e-admin as well as assisting in plans to get our school moving toward becoming paperless,” he adds.