Reality check

This article appeared in Issue 13 of Khanya – Education through Technology – 2008

Many studies show that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can make a significant difference to teaching and learning.  It has been the experience of many schools in the Western Cape that ICT makes a valuable contribution to curriculum delivery.

It is interesting to note that there are some respected education gurus who challenge the apparent success of ICT in schools.  In his book Overpromised and Undersold, Larry Cuban claims:

When outcomes are considered – that is academic achievements and attitudes towards learning – there is no evidence to show a moderate linkage between the use of computers and these outcomes.

This statement should be seen in the context of the book.  Cuban argues that huge amounts of money (billions of US dollars) have been spent in American schools to provide computer equipment.  These computers have not made much of a difference, and he questions their value.  The whole message put across by his book is that ICT, promised as a panacea for many of education’s ills, has failed to deliver.

This view is not altogether incorrect.  If one throws hardware and software at a school and expects it to make a difference, one would be in for an unpleasant surprise.  Experience in the Western Cape shows that, unless ICT is embedded in a system conducive to teaching and learning, it will not have an impact at all.

Let’s face the facts: equipment can not simply be delivered to a school in the hope that it will be installed and put to good use.  Teachers are neither project managers, nor technicians.

The school therefore needs support to manage the preparation of a suitable infrastructure: one that will provide an environment that is safe for learners, and one that will keep the equipment secure.

Similarly, schools need to be supported with technology skills.  When the hardware and software fail and there is nobody available to fix the problem, the school will be, in effect, without technology.  The fact that there may be a hardware warranty in place does not help much either – an expert is still needed to identify the source of the problem.

At present, the education authorities have not yet created posts for technicians in schools.  One hopes that this situation will change soon, but while we await this happy day, there are two options open to schools.  One option is for schools to reach an agreement with a service provider who will give technical support.  There are many small companies operating at community level that could provide this.  Of course, the school will have to budget for it.

The other option is for some of the teachers to step up to the challenge and avail themselves of training opportunities.  Khanya, through its technology partners, offers such training courses, and principals are urged to ensure that appointed school technology leaders take advantage of these.

Of course, the greatest reason for ICT not yielding promised results is that it is not utilised.  An assumption is made that if computers are installed in a school, they will be used: this is misplaced optimism.  A school, in particular the principal, needs to ensure that the investment in technology is used optimally.  It starts with something as simple as a timetable that allows access to the facility.

In many cases, teachers are reluctant to take their classes to the computer room, because they do not feel comfortable with the use of computers – but some of those teachers to not make use of the opportunities created by Khanya facilitators and other partners of the project to provide them with the required skills.

We appeal to all principals and teaching staff to face reality: computers will have no effect unless we pull out all the stops to make them work for us.

For more published articles, click here.

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