The “Not-so-smooth” Flight to Johannesburg

Flight plans never seem to go as you might like them to go. Such was the situation with our travel from Washington, DC to Johannesburg, South Africa by way of Atlanta, Georgia.

Our planned flight from DC’s National airport to Atlanta, Georgia should have gone out without a problem. But Mother Nature was brewing up some nasty storms that afternoon and the thunderstorms moving into the area disrupted flight travel for all three major airports in the DC area. As a result, we waited on the plane, on the tarmac/runway, for nearly THREE HOURS before another passenger on the flight demanded his “passenger’s bill of rights” and said they had to take him back to the airport (note: Congress passed a law that if a plane holds passengers more than three hours before taking off, the passengers have the right to demand return to the airport for de-planing).

The problem with this was that we were second in line to leave next for Atlanta. But because of the regulations, we had to return this passenger to the airport terminal. As a result, we lost our place in line and everyone had to de-plane at the airport terminal, then re-board. We then had to get back in line on the airport tarmac to wait for a long line of planes taking off once again.

Unfortunately, this took almost another three hours and about 15 minutes before the three-hour mark would have forced us to de-plane again, the plane was able to take off for Atlanta. As a result, nearly eight hours after we were scheduled to leave DC we finally arrived in Atlanta.

But we missed our connecting flight to Johannesburg, which had left on time. This forced us to stay overnight in Atlanta and leave on the next available flight, which would be the next day. We stayed at an Atlanta Days Inn, woke the next morning, and headed for the airport to fly stand-by on any available flights to Johannesburg.

The entire group of us, 30 in all (24 teachers and 6 group coordinators), would likely not get on the same flight. Three people were sent to Chicago and then on to Amsterdam, where they would then board a flight to Johannesburg. One person flew direct to Amsterdam and met up with the other three there. Another 20 people were booked on the regularly scheduled flight to Johannesburg from Atlanta.

And where in the world was Mr. Rodman? He was a member of the “Dakar 6.” He and five other teachers were sent, funny enough, from Atlanta back to Washington Dulles, then on South African Airways to Johannesburg (on stand-by) via Dakar, Senegal. Thus we were dubbed the Dakar 6 (see picture). At about 1 am, the plane landed in Dakar, Senegal, and we unloaded passengers and boarded new ones headed with us for Jo’burg.

Finally, at about 7:30 am local time, we finally arrived at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. Finally! Hooray! We were elated to have finally made it!

Soon we were reunited with 20 other participants from the Delta flight that left from Atlanta, and we went to the baggage claim terminal to find out … that almost everyone had lost their luggage!

We would soon find out that we would not have our luggage for another 4 days! Not pretty … But all in a day’s work for this group of flexible, go with the flow travelers. We were happy to be in Johannesburg and were looking forward to our adventures there.

A Capitol Hill Send-Off Reception for Teachers to South Africa

Concluding our orientation in Washington, DC, members of Congress and their staff joined us on Capitol Hill for a send-off reception to talk with us about our upcoming journey to South Africa and the importance of this type of teacher education today.

I had the privilege of hearing from staff member Sarah Schelling (at right) from Congressman Van Hollen’s office, who specializes in legislative issues dealing with education. She shared with me the many aspects of education issues the Congressman is tackling and how he is looking out for the interests of our students and our teachers in that process.

In addition to speaking with Ms. Schelling, I was also able to speak with Mr. Johnny Meloto, the interim ambassador from South African to the United States. He was so receptive to our visit and was very excited for our upcoming trip (he actually said he wished he were going with us!).

Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) also spoke to the guests at the reception about the importance of this type of trip and the vital role that education plays in our society.

“Education is for eternity,” Sen. Burris said. He mentioned many things that come and go, but the lasting impact of education on a young person, an older person, and on a generation will last for decades.

The Challenges of the Post-Apartheid Era in South Africa

Rounding out our orientation in Washington, DC was a great discussion on the post-Apartheid movement in South Africa and the successes it has created, yet the many challenges that it faces in a culture of classes. Some highlights include:

  • Major challenges for equal access to quality education for all races and classes, with white and wealthier South Africans still accessing a majority of the best schools, or moving to private schools
  • Better access to jobs for everyone, but much of their upward mobility is based on education (this is why so many South Africans see education as their key to success in life!)
  • While the bureaucratic system of education is providing more access to better jobs for black teachers who didn’t have that access during apartheid, learners in poorer schools will continue to lose out when better teachers move to better-paying schools
  • Urban schools include more experienced teachers and more access to better resources, where rural teachers are usually less experienced teachers with less access to resources for student learning
  • Corruption continues to be a problem at all levels of government, and the education system is no exception. The system is very bureaucratic, involving multiple layers of authority for even the most basic approvals, this makes it hard to root out corruption within the system

While the post-apartheid era has helped to level the playing field for many South Africans, the challenges that remain are very much based on class. While learners in poorer families see the advantages of education as their ticket to a brighter future, obtaining access to those resources is harder but more within their reach than during the apartheid era.

Learning More About South Africa

As the orientation continued in Washington, DC, we learned more about the economic conditions of South Africa and the impact of the FIFA World Cup on its economy. Some statistics and information about the country include:


  • 25th in the world in terms of overall area land mass, with about 1.2 million square km
  • Nearly 3,000 km of coastline, providing for many options with trade at sea and with other countries through its ports
  • Mostly semi-arid climate, with sunny days and cooler nights; warmer in summer
  • Their summer is winter in the U.S., so they are in the middle of their winter during the June-August months (our summer)
  • Many valuable natural resources, such as gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas
  • Very prone to prolonged droughts for substantially long periods of time


  • Population of 49.1 million people
  • 79% are Black African; 10% are White; 9% are Mixed Race; 2% are Indian/Asian
  • About 5.7 million people in South Africa are living with HIV/AIDS (about 18%)
  • Only 6 percent of people are over 65 years of age (high mortality/death rate due to HIV/AIDS and other diseases
  • 29 percent of South Africans are under the age of 14
  • The population growth rate is actually declining, at -0.051% (2010 est.)
  • South Africa has the 5th highest death rate in the world, behind countries like Angola, Mozambique and Zambia


  • South African GDP: $495 billion annually, but this is declining
  • The unemployment rate is 24%
  • GDP per capita (per person) is about $10,100; but this too is declining
  • Nearly 50 percent of South Africans are living BELOW the poverty line
  • Inflation rate is a very high 7 percent annually, at least twice as much as ours here in the U.S.


  • 66% of jobs are in the services sector
  • 31% of jobs are in the industrial sector (many of these are multinational companies)
  • Only 3% of jobs are in agricultural or farming occupations today

Given these statistics, we can quickly see the challenges facing the South African people, in terms of business and industry, jobs and economy, and life and family.

As our orientation drew to a close, we were welcomed at the U.S. Capitol by our members of Congress as well as by the Embassy of South Africa. In this photo (above), Mr. Rodman is being greeted by South African Ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Johnny Meloto.

The World Cup and South Africa

As the World Cup took the world by storm this summer, one can only imagine how our orientation began … with more discussion about the impact of the World Cup on South Africa and its economy.

To dig deeper into this discussion, we read numerous articles on the issue and discussed some key points as highlights of the discussion, which included:

  • Hosting the FIFA World Cup was a financial boost to the economy of South Africa. Visitors from around the world came, bought tickets, hotel rooms, food at restaurants, and souvenirs at thousands of shops and local businesses
  • The World Cup also helped change the world’s perception of South Africa … as a country that is becoming more industrialized, more technologically savvy and more forward-thinking in terms of how to best use its resources for the greater good
  • Despite this, struggles remain … outside investments have led to trickle-down economics in the country, with the wealthier benefiting and the poorer citizens not seeing much benefit
  • Xenophobia sparked after the World Cup led to fear among citizens from other countries, like Zimbabwe, in the country with jobs in the services industry … this does not help their perception around the world
  • What’s next? South Africa plans to compete to host the Olympic games in either 2020 or 2024 … but then the question is even if they do win, then what? They still have enormous problems and income differences among the classes of people that desperately need to be addressed

While the World Cup stadium will now be used as a national Cricket competition (I don’t understand the game either!), the country hopes to also utilize the new national infrastructure (roads, bridges, tunnels and highways) to help attract further international investment.

Orientation begins in Washington, DC!

Before heading to Johannesburg, South Africa on this study tour of teachers with the Council for Economic Education and the U.S. Department of Education, teachers who were selected for this tour met in Washington, DC for three days to get to know each other, learn more about life in South Africa, the education system within South Africa, how it differs from the U.S. education system, and to meet with Congressional delegations before departing.

One of the highlights of the orientation was meeting and hearing from Elzmarie Oosthuizen, a South African from the University of the Free State, who shared with us about the South African education system, the people of South Africa, the lingering effects of apartheid on the culture of South Africans and the effects it has had on poverty and unemployment there.

Some key points from her discussion with us included:

  • In a population of 49.3 million people, 12.3 million are children and are learners in South Africa¬† (note: they don’t call them students in middle and high school, but learners; they are called students when they matriculate/graduate and then enter university)
  • Approximately 6,000 schools for grades 8-12; about 21,000 for grades below that
  • There are no buses for learners! Some students walk as many as 5-6 miles to school each day. Many leave home as early as 5 am to get to school on time. They value education that much!
  • Many learners are the head of their household. Because HIV and AIDS are devastating so many families in South Africa, many older learners may be raising their younger brothers and sisters
  • The teacher-to-student ratio is about 32.5:1, meaning that in each classroom, on average, there are about 32.5 learners
  • Two-thirds of all learners have dropped out by the time they reach the 10th grade, many because of family issues, disease, or other outside factors
  • Less than 10 percent of learners go on to university

These are some sobering statistics about the odds that are stacked against these learners in South Africa. It’s amazing that despite the adversity facing them, so many of these students see education as their ticket out of poverty. They see education as the key to changing their life for the better.

Why Study Economics in South Africa?

The first question nearly everyone asked when I told them I was going to South Africa was, “Are you going for the World Cup?” My response was no, but it was amazing how many students and adults were tuned in to the FIFA World Cup and its presence in South Africa this year.

So after telling them no, their reaction, by both adults and students, about my upcoming trip is why study economics in South Africa? My first reply is, “Why not?”

Rather, when you think about the struggles the country has had with apartheid, with industrialization, with poverty and with competing in a global marketplace – South Africa seems a great place to see what students there are learning about economics and how we can help, as well as learn from their experiences to help our own students gain from it, too.

The main objectives for the Study Tour to the Republic of South Africa include:

  • better understand through contact with teachers, learners/students, administrators, and education leaders the evolution of the teaching of economics in South Africa;
  • gain an understanding of how economic education is delivered in South Africa and become familiar with education reforms related to teacher training, standards development, curriculum development, and assessment;
  • expand your knowledge about the economic, political, historical, and social conditions in South Africa in order to better understand the achievements made and the challenges facing economic educators;
  • share with South African trainers, classroom teachers, K-12 learners/students, and other leaders background on economic education in the United States and your experience teaching economics;
  • compare, contrast, and reflect on the similarities and differences between economic education delivery in the Republic of South Africa and the United States;
  • transfer knowledge gained during the study tour to U.S. students and other educators through post study tour activities and lessons;
  • integrate a global perspective into your classroom teaching to broaden student understanding of the global economy in which we live;
  • gain exposure to participation of various sectors of society in the delivery of economic education in South Africa.

Of course, using the economic circumstances of the World Cup will definitely be an added bonus when sharing these experiences with U.S. students upon my return. So there were many reasons for the trip and I look forward to sharing all of them with Maryland’s students upon my return.

– Mr. R.

Mr. Rodman goes to South Africa!

Mr. Rodman, economics teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, has been accepted as one of 24 teachers selected nationwide to accompany the Council for Economic Education and the U.S. Department of Education on a Study Tour to the Republic of South Africa!

I can’t believe it! I am so happy to be accepted for this honor, to represent my country, my state and my school in Johannesburg, South Africa. Wow!

What will we be doing there? We will be visiting economics classes of high school and university students to see how economics is taught in South Africa, where we might work more closely together, and where we can find commonalities to suggest additional teaching strategies and methods, and share ideas with teachers there.

– Mr. R.