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?
Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 | education, technology | Comments Off
Recently I saw the following two quotations tweeted on Twitter:
Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. (Oscar Wilde)
Tell me, I’ll forget; show me, I’ll remember; involve me, I’ll understand. (Chinese proverb)
From the re-tweets and re-re-tweets of these snippets of wisdom it seems as if the sentiments expressed in them find resonance with many who are serious about education.
Telling happens when a teacher teaches or a lecturer presents a lecture. A good teacher will also show … using diagrams, real world models, doing experiments, even showing video clips to serve as memory aids. Sadly, that is where teaching in the classroom often ends.
Involvement of learners is important … but how do you accomplish this? More than teaching and showing is required. Involvement means that the learners must jump in boots and all into the learning material and participate in the learning process. The result is that learners will make worthwhile knowledge their own because they have been active partners in the learning process.
You may have guessed where this is going – yes, technology is a powerful tool for teachers to involve learners. The following are just a few of the many ways in which technology can take the classroom beyond a mere lecture room:
As the name implies, an interactive whiteboard (IWB) makes it possible for the teacher to involve the learners in the learning process in many different ways. The good news is that some data projectors now have interactive features, which obviates the need for an expensive IWB, yet allowing for interactive learning to take place.
Learners love their cell phones and innovative teachers are already using these devices to draw learners into the learning experience. Tablets play a similar role (for those who can afford them).
Where learners have access to the internet, they can create their own knowledge by doing research. No more spoon feeding … learners can be taught to find, evaluate and analyse information and then synthesize what they’ve gathered into knowledge which they make their own.
Mathematical skills are acquired through practise, practise and still more practise. Drill-and-practice programs are available on technology devices and these can be used to help learners to hone and own mathematical skills.
The screens of cell phones, tablets or computers encourage reading and the keyboards encourage writing. Active use of these devices develop reading and writing skills … much needed in our country where the education system has not succeeded in “teaching” and “showing” these skills.
Let’s not just marvel at the wisdom of Wilde and the Chinese … put it in practice by harnessing technology to make learners active and eager participants in the learning process.
What learners will learn, experience and understand through active involvement is much, much better than all our well-prepared and smoothly presented lessons.
Thursday, October 11th, 2012 | education | Comments Off
With apology to Sir J C Squire, I reworked his poem, There Was an Indian, as follows:
There Was a Teacher
There was a teacher, who had known no change,
Who taught content within her comfort reach
Using books. She heard a sudden strange
Beep-clicking noise: looked up; and gasped for speech.
For in her class, where she had ruled before,
Appeared on desks, by magic, small machines
With blinking lights, and knowledge in their stores
And nimble thumbs that follow prompts on tiny screens.
And she, in fear, this teacher all alone,
Her hands forgotten chalk and board,
Her lips gone pale, a heart gone cold as stone,
And stared, and saw, and did not understand,
A cell phone reigning now as lord,
Clasped firmly in each learner’s hand.
Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 | education | Comments Off
Not everyone understands a flipped classroom in the same way. For the purpose of this discussion, I accept the following definition:
The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed.
According to this definition, a traditional classroom is one where a teacher first teaches by presenting a lesson or by giving a lecture (perhaps involving some class discussion); this is then followed by homework to practise the new things learned and to consolidate the knowledge.
In a flipped classroom, these activities are reversed: first the homework, which requires the learners to watch one or more videos of pre-recorded lessons or lectures. These lectures are either created by the teacher specifically for the class, or they could be obtained from on-line sources. They may contain on-line quizzes or other real-time activities. When the learners come to class, they already have knowledge of the topic and classroom time is used by the teacher to help students to work on projects or engage in activities that will help them to make sense of the content.
What are the advantages of the flipped classroom?
The advantage of flipping the order of lesson and homework is debatable. However, a clear advantages of this approach is that learners can work at their own pace. If a lecture is not understood at first, it can be watched again and again. Additionally, teachers can spend time in the class working more closely with individual learners, perhaps putting them in groups so that learners can benefit from peer engagement.
In a successfully flipped classroom a teacher’s contact time can undoubtedly be used in a more constructive way than in the old-style talk-and-chalk delivery mode.
Is the flipped classroom a new concept?
Studying material before coming to class is by no means a new idea. Many teachers prescribe a pre-reading of selected portions from a textbook before learners come to class. What is new in the flipped classroom is the way in which technology supports the notion. Rather than passive reading of a textbook, learning material can be animated and made available in a variety of presentation formats and on a variety of platforms.
Can the flipped classroom work in South African schools?
The flipped classroom should work in any place in the world. There are, however, two critical success factors that must be considered.
- The flipped classroom is dependent on the availability of technology.The child must have access to technology at home – technology that is connected to the internet. How many of our learners have this type of access? Some may argue that cell phones can be employed for this purpose – whether this is a practical solution remains to be seen. Until we can ensure that every child in the class has adequate access to a technology device and the internet, the flipped classroom is not feasible.
- The flipped classroom depends heavily on thoughtful preparation on the part of the teacher. The teacher must either create or source relevant lesson material and make this available to learners. This requires that the teacher: must understand the lesson material; has access to technology; has experience in the use of technology for teaching and learning; and is able to create a lesson plan that contains both pre-classroom and in-classroom activities. How many teachers in typical South African schools do you know who have these qualities?
It is encouraging to hear reports from schools in South Africa where teachers have successfully managed to flip their classrooms. But is this possible in all our classrooms?
Unless much more work is done to make technology available to learners, and to equip teachers with the necessary skills, it is unlikely that a flipped classroom will be successful.
Tuesday, August 7th, 2012 | education | Comments Off
The responses that you will receive to this question are likely to be loaded with much emotion! The facts, however, are rather simple.
When teachers own a personal computer or laptop they can do more work in less time with less effort; techonology also helps teachers to improve teaching and learning in the classroom. It follows that it is in the interest of everyone – the teacher, the school, the education authorities and, of course, the children – for every teacher to be equipped with the necessary ICT tools.
If education authorities are serious about productivity and improved teaching and learning, they will provide teachers with tools for personal and classroom use. Responsible employers provide their employees with the tools of their trade.
Where education authorities are not yet in a position to provide technology to all teachers (granted, in South Africa it is a huge undertaking to provide technology to about 400 000 teachers), school principals who are serious about productivity and quality of teaching will consider the investment required to provide teachers in their schools with relevant technology.
If the school or education department does not provide ICT to its employees, teachers should consider buying their own equipment. It would not be in their interest to wait indefinitely, while the world around them is becoming technology rich. Just as working for another qualification will enhance the professional stature of a teacher, so would acquiring technology and the skills to use it lift the teacher to new levels of professionalism. As they say, “no pain, no gain”.
Not too difficult to figure this out!
Thursday, July 5th, 2012 | e-Learning pioneers, education | 2 Comments
The book is entitled “Teaching and e-Learning in the South African Classroom” and is published by MacMillan. It was launced as an e-book and can be ordered on-line. Hard copies will be available soon.
Monday, June 11th, 2012 | education | 3 Comments
A thousand years ago a person could prosper without being literate; this is no longer possible today. Thirty years ago a person could prosper without being digitally literate; this is likewise no longer possible today. The workplace demands both literacy and digital skills and someone who enrols for a university course without them is at a disadvantage. These skills must be developed before a child leaves school.
It follows that the debate is no longer “should we use technology in school” but rather “how can we accelerate the introduction of technologies into our classrooms”. In other parts of the world technology has been a part of classrooms for decades but in South Africa we are lagging behind. While educators in other countries are already experiencing the power of technology as teaching and learning tools, we are grappling with the basics.
Technology can be used in a classroom in different ways.
The first one is to teach learners about technology. Just as good handwriting, spelling and grammar skills are basic building blocks for learning, so a sound understanding of technology is required. It is important to know how to use a word processor, a spreadsheet, presentation software and how to communicate effectively through email. These are basic skills and we may assume that learners will pick them up by themselves, but we only have to look at the way they write SMS messages to understand that much more is required than merely knowing where to press the buttons.
Teaching with technology is the second level for which to aim. Technology can be a powerful teaching aid. Think about a teacher who uses a laptop and a data projector in the classroom to spice up lessons by showing interesting pictures or video clips. This can spark off interesting class discussions, focussing the attention of learners on the learning material. An interactive whiteboard can take this one step further, encouraging further interactivity. If a teacher has a trolley with netbooks available, she can use this for drill and practise exercises to reinforce numeracy skills. Innovative educators will find many ways in which technology can be used as a teaching tool.
Teaching through technology is the third level to which teaches must aspire in the classroom: technology devices can assume the role of tutors to assist teachers with teaching and learners with learning. It becomes a tool for learners to find information, evaluate it, analyse it, and synthesize it to build knowledge. Collaboration skills can be developed as well as other critical thinking skills required for twenty-first century living.
We have a long way to go to reach this third stage – most schools are still battling to bring technology into classrooms to get stage one off the ground!
The state alone can’t make technology in education happen, even though we are looking at the national and provincial education departments to take the lead. NGOs and corporate organizations can play a major role in making technology in the classroom a reality.
The education system faces many challenges – making technology a part of the classroom experience is only one of them. It is, however, a critical one if we do not want the digital divide to widen even further.
The image of a school is determined first and foremost by education outcomes. These outcomes could be pass rates, the number of learners entering tertiary institutions and even the number of sports stars produced by the school.
Why is image so important? Principals want their school to be the one of first choice in an area so that the best learners are drawn to the school. A good image attracts desirable learners, as well as good teachers.
ICT often serves as a draw card. In the belief that technology skills will put them in an advantageous position when they are looking for jobs or when they are about to enter tertiary institutions, parents want their children to be exposed to technology. They are not wrong feeling this way.
The image of a school is further enhanced when ICT is seen to achieve educational outcomes. For example:
If a school has an arts focus, graphic design technology will give it an edge over schools that do not have this type of technology.
A school’s image will be boosted when it uses technology to improve literacy and numeracy results.
A school offering computer subjects is seen to be preparing learners better for the future than schools that don’t.
The time is approaching – in many areas it has already arrived – when it is no longer a matter of technology improving the image of a school, but rather one where the absence of technology detracts from its image.
While an enhanced image is a welcome bonus, it should not be the main motive why ICT is brought into a school; the aim of technology must always be to improve teaching and learning.
Monday, May 14th, 2012 | education | Comments Off
Computers can’t think – teachers must think how these tools can be used to stimulate the thinking of their learners. But how can we motivate teachers to use technology at school? The following suggestions may help:
ICT makes it easier for teachers to build a personal learning network (PLN) with fellow teachers, subject experts and gurus.
The payback for the investment a teacher makes in time to learn ICT must be measured in terms of improved teaching.
Explore the way teachers in other schools use technology – you will get ample tips for your own classroom.
It may also help to remind teachers who find it hard to change to the use of ICT of the technological changes with which their learners must contend. It is their duty to prepare children in their care for life in the twenty-first century.
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.
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?
- Wayne of BlackBoard applauds the #motheoconf2013 for having a Twitter stream, displayed to all conference attendees. Tweeted 12 hours ago
- "Lecturers, e-learning starts with you," says Wayne of BlackBoard. #motheoconf2013 Tweeted 12 hours ago
- Since this space is now used for advertising ... MUSTEK and LEZMIN are your premium technology partners in the Free State. #motheoconf2013 Tweeted 15 hours ago
- Seeing that this space is now used for advertising... remember that MUSTEK and LEZMIN are your premium Free State technology partners. Tweeted 16 hours ago
- #motheoconf2013 The Telkom guy says connectivity is key for FET education... he would say that, wouldn't he! Tweeted 16 hours ago
A calender of all posts to date