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?
Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 | trends | Comments Off
MOOC is the new buzzword in education – particularly in the higher education lexicon.
What is a MOOC? It is an acronym for a Massively Open Online Course. Let’s unravel the meaning of this phrase in reverse order:
It is a course, since it is courseware prepared by universities (or other education institutions) for accredited programmes of study.
It is online, since anyone with an internet connection can access it.
It is open, since you don’t have to pay for it. Well, most of the time a MOOC is free; sometimes you are only charged for assessment and/or accreditation.
It is massive(ly),since internet access makes the course available to anyone, anywhere on the planet. The student body is no longer restricted by location or accommodation. In theory, hundreds of thousands, even millions of people can enrol for a particular course.
One may wonder on what technology platform MOOCs will be made available. This is not altogether clear at this stage; the idea of free, open, online courses is appealing to many but the definition of the technology engine is still in its development phase.
The movement towards MOOCs seems like an attractive option for the beleaguered education system in South Africa, but time will only tell how useful it will be. Poor internet connectivity, a lack of access to technology devices and low levels of understanding of e-learning are some of the barriers that we have to overcome to make MOOCs viable alternatives to class-bound courses.
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.
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.
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?
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 | education, technology | 2 Comments
The proponents of technology say, “YES.” The education fraternity says, “NEVER.”
This question is discussed in an interesting blog posting on the blog Education Land, maintained by a teacher of English in Saudi Arabia. A few interesting comments, giving some food for thought, are found in this posting. For example, the following observation is made:
Computers and technology already serve as teaching aides. Whether it’s teaching children their ABC’s or helping a college freshman memorize the periodic table, technology for educational purposes is already available.
It is already possible for technology to take over some of the functions of teachers.
As technology tools become cheaper and more readily available, we can anticipate that it will take over more functions of teachers.
Will technology ever replace teachers? Perhaps not completely, but it can go a long way towards filling the void where there is a shortage of teaching skills.
Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 | education | 4 Comments
A page on the website of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) contains three statements pointing to the importance of the use of technology in education.
The first one is embedded in the logo at the top of the page:
The second technology hint is found in this statement:
The aim of the DBE is to develop, maintain and support a South African school education system for the 21st century.
An education system for the 21st century without a rich presence of technology is like a soccer match without a vuvuzela … you can’t have one without the other.
A third suggestion of the importance of technology in education is the Mission statement:
Our mission is to provide leadership with respect to provinces, districts and schools in the establishment of a South African education system for the 21st century.
Once again, mention of the 21st century, with the implied significance of technology, and a promise that the national department will support the provincial education departments to move in the right direction.
He hear the right noises from the national education authorities … let us now hope for some action. But we can’t just hope and wait – what contribution can you and I make to support these noble goals?
Sunday, December 11th, 2011 | education | Comments Off
When you are about to take off in an airplane you are given safety instructions. Among other things you are told about the oxygen mask that will drop from a panel above you in case of an emergency. “Only when your own mask is secure, assist children or fellow passengers,” you are instructed.
Have you wondered about this? My natural instinct – and I suppose that of most parents – is to help my child first.
But if you think about it, the instruction makes sense. If you don’t have a steady oxygen flow you may not be capable of assisting your child or others.
The airplane oxygen mask is a perfect metaphor for other situations: we must make caring for ourselves a priority if we hope to be of assistance to those around us.
Let’s apply this principle to the use of technology in the classroom: “Only when you are secure in the use of technology as a teaching tool, assist children and fellow teachers to use it as well.”
The point is: you can only help others to use technology as a teaching and a learning tool when you know how to use it. Some children may learn quicker than you how to use technology, but many will need your help. Even those children who manage to operate the technology will need your guidance to learn how to use it as a learning tool.
What about your fellow passengers – those teachers who are travelling with you on the e-learning road? With your skills and experience you will be able to help your colleagues in your own and neigbouring schools – even your curriculum advisors and other education department officials – to become expert e-learning practitioners.
You may wonder what you must do if you are battling to come to grips with technology. A flight attendant will help you if you can’t manage to secure your oxygen mask. Similarly, you can call on your technology advisors to assist you. In most cases these will be your hardware or software suppliers, or the agency that provided your initial training.
The bottom line: secure your own technology position to enable you to render technology support to others.
Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 | education | Comments Off
A one-size-fits-all technology model for education does not exist. Schools vary greatly:
A primary school is different from a secondary school.
Rural schools have challenges different to urban schools.
Large schools have needs different from small schools.
Existing accommodation and infrastructure place schools in different categories.
The requirements of schools where some technology is already present is different from schools where technology is introduced for the first time.
In view of these differences, it is important to assess the circumstances of a particular school before you finally decide on a technology solution.
Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 | education | 4 Comments
For centuries Swiss watches were known for their reliability and superb design. During the late 1960s the Japanese began to compete with the Swiss in the mass production of mechanical watches and later moved to quartz watches. Soon the Japanese became the world leader in the production of watches. The adoption of new technology in watch making by the Japanese put the Swiss watch manufacturing industry in jeopardy.
But then Swatch came to the rescue. In 1983 they put a plastic, inexpensive quartz watch on the market as a fashion product. The conservative mind-set of traditional Swiss watchmakers prevented them from trusting these watches – yet it saved the Swiss watch market.
The “Swatch legend” is often used to illustrate the importance of keeping up with changing conditions. If Swatch refused to recognize the changing technology in watch production, and did not re-invent their product using technology and marrying it with fashion demands, their business would have been dead. A part of their success is also attributed to a change in marketing strategy.
The education system reminds us of the old style Swiss watchmakers: conservative, unbending and distrustful of new ways of doing things. Technology is changing the environment around us, even the school yard. Learners come to school with technology in their pockets: cell phones, ipods, games and other devices. They communicate with each other digitally, while their teachers are stuck in a talk and chalk mode. As children increasingly lose interest in learning, owing to the antiquated ways in which they are being taught, their literacy and numeracy rates drop. The quality of matric passes is decreasing. Education is in trouble.
On the positive side, there are some “Swatch schools”. Education thrives in these schools. Entire schools, as well as individual teachers in other schools, have embraced technology as a teaching tool. Like Swatch, they have re-invented teaching in their classrooms. Technology is no longer viewed as a hindrance to learning, but as a way to grab the interest of learners. Of course, more is required than simply bringing technology into a classroom – it has to be used skilfully to improve learning. But the starting point is the recognition of the value and role of technology in twenty-first century education.
Many Swiss watch makers lost great opportunities to retain their national reputation, simply because they did not recognize the part technology could play in watch production. Education has likewise lost great opportunities to retain its status as a major influence in shaping the minds of children. Technology – such as television, the internet and video games – has overtaken education as a force moulding the thinking of children. Teachers no longer enjoy the respect and status they had several decades earlier; the poor performance of schools has become an object of ridicule.
It is not as if technology opportunities did not present themselves in the world of education. There were – and still are – plenty of them. But most of these opportunities are being lost by individual teachers, by schools and by the education system. Some parts of the world claim successes in the use of technology in education but in this field Africa is, by and large, a continent of lost opportunities.
How can we turn this situation around? We can only do so if we recognize what we’ve lost, understand why we’ve lost it, and then be determined to work hard at recovering our losses.
- Education has been in a downward spiral for some time ... has it now gone into free fall? Tweeted 3 days ago
- Whose responsibility is it to train teachers to use classroom technology? wp.me/p23NXx-6H Tweeted 3 days ago
- @markcarolissen Latitude allows for expanding the mind and to develop workable solutions ... I applaud you for using the opportunity. Tweeted 4 days ago
- @neiltyson @RichardDawkins Fortunately ample data is available in the physical world around us to support belief in creation and a creator. Tweeted 4 days ago
- Moving from a no-technology classroom to one that is rich in technology is not an easy journey ... but it's possible. Tweeted 4 days ago
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