Connecting with pop culture and tech to empower and understand students makes education relevant 

As we all know, nations shape their futures with education. In South Africa, education is even more important, because we have a particularly interesting history that created much of the challenges we face today. Education is how we break those social and economic barriers and make progress towards the kind of positive societal change we’d all like to see.

Doing this requires that we focus on empowering students and fostering inclusivity inside the education system, which is a challenge all of its own. But it’s not impossible; achieving it means we need to find the best ways to make education relevant to our students, to understand their needs, and to create a classroom environment that supports their growth and development as people.

Let’s take a closer look at how to make this happen.

Keeping education relevant

It can be tough for teachers to keep what they’re teaching their students relevant. Rote learning, which was how students were expected to learn 30 years ago, doesn’t work as well for students in this day and age, whose expectations and environments are very different to those of three decades ago. 

The solution is to align what is being taught with students’ interests, experiences, and cultural backgrounds. By doing this, teachers can create a more meaningful learning experience that meets students where they are by using ideas/topics/events/people/technologies they can relate to in order to foster a greater understanding of what is being taught. 

In this way, the knowledge that is presented resonates with students and curiosity and interest are sparked, further motivating them to learn more in their own time about the subjects they study.

Connecting with pop culture and tech

If you really want to engage students in the learning process, you must find out more about their interests, and familiarise yourself with their world. Like it or not, the internet and smart devices connect young people to popular culture and each other, often via memes. If teachers can tap into this, they can capture attention and make learning an interesting and dynamic experience. 

Talking to them about the latest memes on 9gag or TikTok, for example, is a great way to connect to students by making them laugh. But it also gives you the opportunity to relate what is funny to what you’re trying to teach, in a way that students will pay attention to. 

Understanding the learner

Every student has their own way of learning, with their own strengths, weaknesses, and challenges to overcome. Teachers that recognise this and put effort into understanding them have a much better chance of meeting their academic needs. 

Taking account of their physical realities is likewise important. Teachers that seek to understand the physical, emotional, and psychological changes their students are undergoing can offer the kind of sensitivity that creates an environment where all students can flourish. 

Overcoming Physical Limitations

Schools in South Africa are not all created equal, with resource disparities, teacher shortages, and infrastructure limitations differing quite wildly between public and private schools. 

Addressing those limitations is a huge challenge and can only be done by close collaboration among educators, policymakers, and communities. 

It’s only when all schools have access to the resources they need that the country can truly build an effective education system.


By making sure that teaching is relevant and going out of their way to understand students and embrace their uniqueness, teachers will shape future generations made up of informed, engaged, and with any luck, compassionate humans that can take the country forward into a brighter future.