ICT in Africa

How to fix South Africa’s education

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 | education, ICT in Africa | Comments Off

After the 2012 matric results were announced last week, the media – particularly the social media – were abuzz with comments from education authorities celebrating the results and defending the not-so-good aspects, and with criticisms from those who believe that education is failing the country.

A though provoking article written by Professor Mary Metcalf appeared in The Sunday Independent of 6 January 2013, highlighting the things that are amiss in our education system but giving clear suggestions of what can be done to improve matters.  Her recommendations are succinctly summarized by a paragraph towards the end of the article:

The five challenges are clear: improve success from primary school; reduce the dropout rate in Grades 10 to 12; increase the proportion of pupils who are passing at higher levels; focus on the provinces which have inherited the greatest portion of the apartheid devastation, and where the largest numbers of the poorest children live; and reduce the huge inequalities that are pervasive across the system.

This is a tall order!  And it will require us to pull out all the stops to overcome these challenges.

While addressing these issues, don’t overlook the possible contribution of technology.  How can technology help?   In some way, it can address each of the five challenges:

Improve success from primary school: Many teachers are already using technology in their classrooms to develop and improve literacy and numeracy skills of learners from Grade 1 up till Grade 12.

Reduce the dropout rate in Grades 10 to 12: After introducing technology, many schools have reported that it serves as a way of regaining and retaining interest in learning among learners who might have given up on their education.

Increase the proportion of pupils who are passing at higher levels: Technology can help to fill the gap where skilled teachers are not available, or where big learner numbers make it impossible for teachers to provide individual guidance.

Focus on the provinces which have inherited the greatest portion of the apartheid devastation, and where the largest numbers of the poorest children live: An injection of technology in these provinces, alongside other interventions, will accelerate the rate of improvement in the qualityof education.

Reduce the huge inequalities that are pervasive across the system: Technology has proved to be a great equalizer.

Who is responsible to address these challenges?  Professor Metcalf says that the state has a responsibility:

The Department of Basic Education has diagnosed these and other challenges, and has a clear and credible plan to address them in its Action Plan to 2014. The National Development Plan reinforces this. Achieving these goals requires strong educational institutions.

Both the Action Plan to 2014 (see Chapter 7: The Importance of e-Education) and the National Development Plan include the use of technology as important elements of a strategy to improve education.  But will the State be able to pull this off on its own?  The article concludes by appealing to all of us to make a play a part:

The first line of responsibility is with the department and its political and executive leadership. But it is also through citizens actively supporting teachers and schools, and working in partnership with provincial and national leaders, that implementation can succeed, and we can progressively make access to a quality public education for all a reality. To give this support is our individual and collective responsibility as parents and citizens, as is our parallel responsibility to hold officials accountable, to ensure fairness and that promises are kept.

The question now is: how can the private sector – particularly technology companies – work along with the national and provincial education departments to fix South Africa’s education?

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When an irresistible force meets an immovable object

Monday, April 2nd, 2012 | education, ICT in Africa | 1 Comment

What happens when an irresistible – or unstoppable – force meets an immovable object?  This has been the topic of many philosophical discussions.

Purists argue that this is a paradox: in a universe that allows for an irresistible force, an immovable object cannot exist, and likewise, in a universe where an immovable object is possible, an irresistible force cannot exist.

If, however, we ignore the laws of physics, this question becomes a useful metaphor.  Is it not an apt description of an encounter between a mother and a determined toddler or of what happens when a besotted man pursues an uninterested woman?  And does it not help to paint a picture of what happens when technological innovation tries to enter the ultra-conservative sphere of education?

The advance of technology is relentless.  It has penetrated most areas of human activity.  Medicine, engineering and commerce did not prove to be immovable but allowed technology to transform them for the better.

Education in South Africa is, to date, relatively unmoved by technology.  With the exception of a few pockets of technology adoption, little is done to allow technology into schools to enhance teaching and learning.
How long will it take for the waves to wear the rocks down?

The example of the unstoppable force of wave after wave bashing against immovable rocks has been used to explain what can happen in the hypothetical situation of an irresistible force meeting an object that’s immovable: eventual erosion of the object.  But this can take centuries!  We can’t wait for technology to wear down the education system over time – an immediate solution is required.

If technology continues on its unstoppable course (which is inevitable), and education continues to be unmoved by technology (which will be a tragedy), a disaster is inevitable … one that will leave South Africa with a digitally illiterate cohort of learners.

What can you and I do to avert this catastrophe?

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Why should teachers and principals bother about ICT?

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 | ICT in Africa, technology | Comments Off

So, what is this thing called ICT that principals and teachers are encouraged to use?

In the field of technology many abbreviations and acronyms are used and they can be confusing particularly if you don’t know their origin.

ICT is the abbreviation of Information and Communication Technology.

In the past, information was available almost exclusively in printed form.  Teachers used books to teach and learners used books to learn.  Modern technology makes it possible for information to be stored and accessed in other ways.

All these tools are available to teachers

Information technologies refer to electronic tools on which information can be made available.  A computer or laptop used to be the most common form of information technology but tablets and other mobile devices are now used widely.

Communication technologies refer to electronic tools used for communication.  The telephone and cell phone are examples of such technologies.

A few decades ago different information and communication technologies were represented by separate tools.  For example, a computer and a telephone were distinctly different tools and they were used separately.  Today, many information and communication tools have converged on single devices: you can make Skype calls from your computer; you can also use your cell phone to perform operations that you would normally associate with a computer, such as sending an e-mail. It should therefore be clear why the term ICT is used to include all information and communication technologies that are available for communicating information in the modern world.

ICT includes any tool that can receive, retrieve, store, manipulate and transmit information electronically.  It enables you to use tools such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Mxit, Whatsapp, the internet and email to share and communicate information around the globe.

The potential of ICT in education is great – it is up to you, the educator (teacher or principal), to explore the many ways in which it can help you in your school.

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White paper on e-Education

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011 | education, ICT in Africa | 3 Comments

The White Paper on e-Education, published by the former Department of Education in 2004, states the following:

Every South African learner in the general and further education and training bands will be ICT capable (that is, use ICTs confidently and creatively to help develop the skills and knowledge they need to achieve personal goals and to be full participants in the global community) by 2013.

Or are we chasing rainbows?

With only a few days left before we reach 2012 (and eight years after publication of the paper) one wonders … how far have we progressed towards reaching that goal?

What do you think … will we make it?

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Education week

Sunday, June 19th, 2011 | ICT in Africa | 2 Comments



How digitally literate are our children?

Thursday, June 16th, 2011 | education, ICT in Africa | 1 Comment

In an web article Are children becoming ‘digitally illiterate’? author Alex Hudson laments the fact that learners in the UK can’t write computer programs!  He said:

As computers become ever more complicated, there are concerns that schools and universities are not teaching the basic programming skills that underpin some of Britain’s most successful industries.

What are learners taught in schools in the UK?  The article states:

[Children] learn about Word and Powerpoint and Excel. They learn how to use the applications but don’t have the skills to make them, …

It’s the difference between reading and writing. We’re teaching them how to read, we’re not teaching them how to write.

The narrowness of how we teach children about computers risks creating a generation of digital illiterates.

Well! This concern gives some food for thought for us in South Africa.

If the guys in the UK are concerned about the fact that their learners are digitally illiterate if they “only” know basic computer applications, where does this leave our children, who do not even have access to technology?  How will we be able to compete globally if our children don’t even have an opportunity to learn the basic skills, which are taken for granted in the rest of the world?

We still have a long way to go to ensure digital literacy for our children!

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Was it only lip service?

Sunday, May 15th, 2011 | education, ICT in Africa | 5 Comments

During a recent round table discussion on ICT support for teaching and learning, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, said that an urgent need exists to further explore information and communication technologies (ICTs) to support administration, teaching and learning in schools.

Yet, during her budget speech no announcement was made about the availability of funds to make ICT in schools a reality.  The saying “put your money where your mouth is” comes to mind.

Or was it merely a case of …

... paying lip service to the use of technology in schools?

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Why should you even think about bringing ICT into a school?

Friday, May 13th, 2011 | education, ICT in Africa, technology | 3 Comments

Technology is brought to schools at great cost.  Some question whether one should even consider doing this, particularly in view of the many other needs of schools.  Ponder the following statements before you conclude that ICT should not be a high priority in a twenty-first century school:

If technology is used with great benefit in most fields of human endeavour, surely it must be useful in education too.

The digital divide must be removed as soon as possible – it hampers efforts to narrow the gap between rich and poor. 

It’s impossible for teachers to help learners cross the digital divide in a classroom that dates back to a pre-digital age. 

The new ways in which we receive and respond to information demands visual, media and digital literacies from learners.

Digital literacy is the new literacy – without it, it’s impossible to call yourself literate in this digital world.

The classroom blackboard was invented in 1801 – how can we teach digital skills on such an ancient device?

In a world dominated by technology we dare not let learners leave school without a deep understanding of the use of ICT.

The world around us dictates that ICT must be a part of school curricula – it is no longer a question of “why” but “how”.

It’s as if children are naturally inclined towards technology – cash in on this and use ICT to incline them towards learning.

These thoughs were tweeted by @e4africa with the tag #ictschooltip.

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A national agency for e-learning?

Saturday, April 16th, 2011 | education, ICT in Africa | 1 Comment

It has been reported that provincial education departments are to be stripped of their responsibility to procure textbooks for their schools.  The Basic Education Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga,  said:

“We will appoint a national agency to manage the central procurement of teaching-support materials, to deliver on our promise of one textbook per child per subject”.  

 Mothshekga indicated that this agency will be established during the current financial year.

The national minister of Basic Education takes control of textbooks

Should the Minister not likewise establish an agency to establish e-learning in all schools in our country?

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What are the right conditions for ICT to thrive in a school?

Saturday, April 9th, 2011 | education, ICT in Africa | 4 Comments

Orchid flowers have an enchanting beauty and allure, with incredible colours, shapes and scents.  Many gardeners are disappointed that these plants won’t bloom in their gardens.  The reason is quite simple: orchids don’t grow in soil like other plants.  They need a special environment but when you provide the right conditions, you can make your orchid grow, thrive and bloom.

You must realize that not all orchids are the same.  Each requires a specific climate in which they naturally flourish; so the right temperature and humidity levels are important.  Then you must consider the environment; the amount of light and airflow must be just right, as well as the surface on which it likes to grow.  And lastly, but most importantly, these plants need constant and loving nurturing; they must be watered and fertilized in the right way.

Making ICT flourish in your school is similar to cultivating orchids.

Schools need the right climate for ICT to grow.  This climate is created by the education authorities.  Sadly, a climate conducive to the use of technology in schools does not always exist.  Sufficient budget, technical support and teacher training opportunities are lacking.  The good news is that orchids from the Amazon rain forests can grow in the Karoo.  How?  By creating an isolated, in-door area with the right climatic conditions.  Schools can make a success of ICT in spite of a lack of departmental support.  With the help of donors, parents and other partners a climate which encourages the use of technology can be created.

ICT needs the right environment in which to grow.  This environment is created when the principal sets the lead and trained and motivated teachers support the use of technology in the school.  The importance of a safe and secure infrastructure should also not be overlooked.  Creating and maintaining an environment conducive to the use of technology is not easy – but it is possible.

Nurturing is required for the ongoing success of ICT in a school.  It is one thing to create the right climate (particularly an artificial one) and the right environment for technology in a school, but it is quite a different thing to sustain it.  Much nurturing is required.  Technology ages and must be refreshed.  Principals and teachers tire and must be encouraged.  New technologies must constantly be evaluated  with a view to using them for teaching and learning support.

Who is creating the right climate in your school?  Who takes responsibility for the right environment?  Who does the nurturing?

It reminds me of a line in a nursery rhyme: Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

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