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Hot off the press!
Southland Sun, South Africa: 24 September 1999
Siswe gives his all in web site design competition
Life! The Straits Times, Singapore: 28 September 1999
A Thinking Quest: Cyberspace bridge of friendship
By Jason, Sizwe and Janine (27629) on Thursday, November 11, 1999 - 10:14 pm:
29 October 1999, Southlands Sun, South Africa
Ningizimu School for the Severely Mentally Handicapped (SMH) pupils with a christmas tree they designed for a local airline. The students, Nobahie Jall, Sizwe and Ncumisa Nyipi are seen with their proud art teacher Robin Opperman.
Sizwe will soon be leaving for Los Angeles with Robin to attend the ThinkQuest Conference and Awards Event from November 19 to 23. Sizwe with two other students, Janine and Jason of Singapore worked together to design a web site, the theme of which was "The Last 100 years". Robin assisted Sizwe with his research.
Some of the pupils of the art class will attend an awards ceremony in Johannesburg on November 2 as they were national winners in a competition.
By Jason, Sizwe and Janine (27629) on Friday, October 8, 1999 - 09:53 am:
Cyberspace bridge of friendship
28 September 1999, Life! The Straits Times, Singapore
A THINKING QUEST
THE story began quite simply.
Jason and his sister Janine had been wanting to join the ThinkQuest challenge on the Internet for the last two years.
But somehow, they kept missing the deadline for the competition to set up an information-resource website for students and educators (see other story on ThinkQuest).
Finally, some time early this year, Jason, 17, and Janine, 15, got their act together.
It wasn't tough deciding on a topic for the site. As they explain on the "making of" part of the site:
"As millennium fever began to grip the globe, we noticed just how little our classmates, our parents and ourselves actually knew about the century."
So, they took on the daunting topic of the 20th century.
But that would not be the biggest of their worries.
One of the guidelines, Jason, a Raffles Junior College student explains, is that a team should be multinational, comprising two to three members from different countries.
They began looking for a third member over the Net.
Many K bytes of e-mails later, they had found their man -- Jacob, a teenager from the United States.
But this is where the story got more complex.
Just as Jacob was recruited, they received an e-mail from an art teacher from South Africa, Robin Opperman.
Another ThinkQuest team from Canada, knowing that the Yeos were looking for a team mate, had forwarded their e-mail address to Mr Opperman.
In his e-mail, the latter made a special plea: He was trying to find a team willing to partner one of his special-needs students at the Ningizimu School for the Severely Mentally Handicapped in Durban, South Africa.
"It was a very touching letter. He was very sincere. We had tears in our eyes when we read it," Jason says.
Mr Opperman's students had no access to phone lines, computers, and all the other technological toys wired teens in well-to-do countries have come to take for granted.
Funding for the school is cut every year and most of the students live in cardboard shacks in the impoverished townships.
"But Robin felt very strongly that his students should not be deprived of such opportunities," adds Janine, a Raffles Girls School student.
But the siblings had already promised to take on Jacob.
So, they worked out a way in which the students from Ningizimu could still be included -- they would contribute artwork, done specially for the website.
That settled, the Yeos got down to some serious research work.
"I think we must have read about 50 books each," Janine says, laughing.
"That is not counting reading magazine articles and surfing the Net," Jason adds.
Work on the site intensified as the deadline for submission in August loomed nearer. They would spend at least a couple of hours every day on the Net and on weekends and school holidays, they would be online practically the whole day.
Then, trouble began.
In July, a month before the deadline, Jacob pulled out, leaving the Yeos high and dry.
They had to find a partner fast. Their friends from Ningizimu came to mind first.
Mr Opperman, thrilled by the news, tried his best to help the Yeos. A 16-year-old boy, Sizwe, was thought to be the best choice for the role.
But it was not going to be easy taking on a special-needs student as a partner in an Internet- and information-based project.
This is something that has never been done before in ThinkQuest.
First of all, the Yeos had to contact the organisers to get approval for their new partner. Forms had to be filled.
But, coincidentally, the South African schools were having a month-long holiday. That is when the students disappear into the townships and it is virtually impossible to contact them, Jason explains. Unlike in Singapore, there are no telephone and pager numbers one could dial easily. And the school had also lost its file of the students' particulars.
After many hours of panicking, more K bytes of frantic e-mailing, the file was found, forms filled and permission granted.
"When the school found the file, they told us, they found it in the last space possible," Jason relates, laughing.
The ThinkQuest organisers were also very understanding and helpful, Janine adds.
"They said that there was nothing in the rules against a special student taking part, and as long as he contributed to the site to the best of his ability, it was okay."
But that was just the beginning of an uphill task.
Communication with Sizwe was a roundabout process that fused both technology and good old handwritten notes.
Sizwe spoke only Zulu, so the Yeos wrote their messages to him in English, e-mailed them to Mr Opperman, who would translate the e-mail into Zulu.
Sizwe would write a reply in Zulu and have it translated with the help of his teacher, who would then scan the handwritten note and e-mail it back to the siblings.
But to them, this longwinded process was no trouble at all -- despite a looming deadline.
"It made every word we got from Sizwe more precious," says Jason.
"We could tell that he was very happy to be included in the project," Janine says. "He was very positive about it throughout."
They may have been a world apart, but they definitely clicked through their connection in cyberspace.
And by sheer coincidence, again, both the Yeos and Mr Opperman had travelled to each other's countries and soaked up a little bit of the diverse culture.
The siblings went on vacation in South Africa in December last year, with their parents and sister Jenevieve, 11 -- who was also their "guinea pig" to test out the website on.
What hit them the hardest was the poverty they saw in the townships.
"It was the kind of thing you read about and hope never to see, and that it never existed," Jason says, in a sombre tone.
Mr Opperman, on the other hand, was here for a few days two years ago, in transit to an arts festival in Japan. He was impressed by the clean and green state of the city, he had told the Yeos.
And he was so touched and impressed by their gesture that he wrote a letter to the Singapore Embassy in South Africa to commend the two teens.
But right now, their only wish is that their site will win the ThinkQuest competition. It is now one of the 153 semi-finalists picked from 744 entries. The teams that make it to the finals will be announced in a month's time.
But whether they eventually clinch top prize, they hope that people around the world will continue to use their site as a resource on the 20th century.
Also, they had found a special friend in Sizwe.
"So much of it is coincidence," reflects Jason. "We feel really lucky to be in the right place and the right time. We feel really blessed to be able to do this."
Quest offers $3.2 m in awards
THINKQUEST is an international educational programme on the Internet, initiated by Advanced Network & Services, based in the United States.
It is also a non-profit, philanthropic programme for both students and educators.
ThinkQuest has established several competitions such as the ThinkQuest Internet Challenge, which Jason, Janine and Sizwe have taken part in. The others include challenges for younger children below the age of 10 and for teachers.
Every year, several thousand students and educators around the world compete for more than US$2 million (S$3.4 million) in scholarships and cash awards. The ThinkQuest master site (www.thinkquest.org) has about 1,000 student-created sites in its archives. The information and services provided on these sites are used by people around the world daily.
You can check out Jason, Janine and Sizwe's entry at http://library.advanced.org/27629
By Jason, Sizwe and Janine (27629) on Tuesday, September 28, 1999 - 05:24 am:
The Passing of a Century is now receiving media attention!
Thanks to all who have made this possible.
Jason, Sizwe and Janine
By Jason, Sizwe and Janine (27629) on Tuesday, September 28, 1999 - 05:20 am:
Siswe gives his all in web design competition
25 September 1999, Southlands Sun, South Africa
Siswe Ngcobo, of Ningizimu School for the Severely Mentally Handicapped (SMH) logs onto the web site he helped create, as part of an international design competition called Thinkquest.
SPECIAL learner Siswe Ngcobo, has participated in a joint venture with two Singaporean students, to enter "Thinkquest", an international web site design competition.
Siswe is a pupil at Ningizimu School for the Severley Mentally Handicapped.
His participation in the contest was as a result of his involvement in art teacher Robin Opperman's classes.
"When I head about the competition, I though Siswe would benefit from taking part," Mr Opperman said. "He is one of our most advanced pupils and I thought he would be able to cope with the demands set."
As there is no separate category for special learners, Siswe teamed up with Jason and Janine, and helped with their project, the theme of which was "The Last 100 Years". Siswe submitted art work for the web site and also contributed with research topics.
"Thinkquest" is an internationally-funded competition in which mainstream schools from around the South Africa participate.
Siswe is currently looking forward to the outcome of the competition to find out how his team fared.
Mr Opperman hopes to secure a category for special learners in next year's competition.
By Jason, Sizwe and Janine (27629) on Wednesday, September 29, 1999 - 06:59 am:
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