1982. Volunteer building teacher in Zimbabwe. It was a challenging experience. The only Murungu (white guy) in a community of 1000 souls whose first language was Shona. I was bubbling with ideas but also frustrated with my headmaster and a legacy of rote learning. Trademark white boiler suit, standing next to my my bed, two mattresses on a cement floor. Classroom "in the trenches" Trying to integrate learning and production.
I dedicated one school break to using my previous experience of layout and illustration to create a "workbook" It was a mish-mash of ideas, a statement of intent, using an electric typewriter, a Rotring pen and a small can of cowgum. Zimfep the umbrella organisation for six experimental schools, including Rusununguko where I was based, ran off a bunch of copies.
That was another pivotal moment in my journey. No hint of the digital onslaught here. I had been projected back in time to a world with limited access to electricity, but it was coming and this little project pulled would pull me into head office, the curriculum development unit and my first encounter with the BBC micro.
The workbook I produced with Zimfep was instrumental in my recruitment to the Curriculum Development Unit in Harare, where I stayed for three years. This was such a positive period of my life. I had enjoyed teaching "out in the bush" but there were also many frustrations. Living conditions were challenging and the headmaster's leadership style rubbed me up the wrong way.
The practical teaching experience was invaluable as I threw myself into the business of creating teaching materials. Now I could get my teeth into some serious layout and illustration, with no shortage of ideas for the content, structure and didactic approach.
At first it was all done by hand, manual cut and paste. Oddly enough the most tedious element was the text. Getting it to fit the allocated space, reviewing the phrasing for clarity and age appropriateness. Careless typos.
My coworker Malcolm was typing up the galleys and he was also an avid networker. He soft talked the science team into letting us borrow one of their "BBC micro" computers. I was an instant convert to word-processing and spreadsheet software, crude as they were at that time, with a tiny green-screen monitor and 360k floppy as the only storage.
Almost 40 years ago, my digital journey was beginning.