The challenge of technological independence

This article appeared in Issue 6 of Khanya – Education through Technology – 2005

Khanya is approaching its fourth year of operation. During this period about 300 schools have been assisted in acquiring technology facilities, thousands of educators were trained to use technology as a teaching tool and hundreds of thousands of learners are already benefiting from state-of-the-art facilities at their disposal. The project has recently been honoured by receiving the Standard Bank CPSI Public Sector Innovation award for innovation in service delivery in the public sector. The award recognises the huge role that Khanya plays in improving the lives of many.

From all outward appearances, Khanya is indeed doing very well. It is, however, a dangerous period for a project of this nature since all the praise and accolades could make one complacent. A measure of introspection is therefore in order. What can we improve? What are the opportunities over the hill that we may not see at present?

Technology is changing at a rapid pace and this brings challenges of its own. Consequently, we need to examine constantly whether the best technology is being used to satisfy educational requirements. It is vital to continue asking: Has open-source technology matured enough to play a significant role in our technology offering to schools? What about alternative connectivity modes, such as broadband, wireless or satellite? Shouldn’t we move computers, data projectors and electronic whiteboards into classrooms, as opposed to, or in addition to, computer laboratories?

In order to answer these questions sensibly, Khanya will continue to experiment with new manifestations of technology, while looking at the rest of the world to learn from emerging best practice paradigms. There is enough flexibility within the project to incorporate the best modules to meet changing educational needs.

While we are moving ahead with putting technology in place, an important requirement is emerging that touches on the sustainability of the project. Who is going to manage and maintain these technologies in the future? It would be an impossible task for Khanya, or the agencies used by Khanya at present, to take care of all the technology needs of schools in the future. It is therefore necessary for schools to move towards technical independence- to accept responsibility for managing and maintaining their facilities. The goal should be that every school becomes autonomous as far as its technology is concerned.

What does technical independence mean? In the first instance, a body of technical knowledge must be established in each school. Educators must be empowered to have a full understanding of how to use technology as a tool in education; but a school also needs technical expertise to install, manage, replace, fix and manipulate the technology. Some schools are in the fortunate position of having a full-time LAN administrator dedicated to this task. Other schools need to consider how they are going to achieve such independence. Is it possible to assign this task to some of the educators as part if their portfolios? Could community members be involved? Could skilled learners play a role? Each school will have to consider its own circumstances while developing a road map towards technical independence.

Over the next few months Khanya will be assisting schools in consulting with all the relevant stakeholders to develop a tailor-made plan towards becoming technically independent.

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