education department

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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The Outoilet case proves: where government fails, industry can succeed

Friday, November 26th, 2010 | ICT in Africa | 4 Comments

“… the industry has shown that it can act a lot faster in this regard than Government ever could.”

This is the closing statement of an article published a few days ago under the heading “How Outoilet was taken out”, which explains how various organizations co-operated to end Outoilet.

Parents were in despair and communities up in arms when Outoilet surfaced as a social networking site accessed by Cape Flats school children via their cell phones.  This vice soon spread to other provinces.  Gang violence, sex, pornography and every imaginable (or unimaginable?) form of filth are discussed on this forum.

Learners flocked to the site.  Schools could not stop it.  Teachers were perplexed, since many of them felt out of their depth in the world of technology.  The education department could not stop it, even though legislation exists which can outlaw it.

Then industry stepped in and did the right thing by breaking the back of Outoilet.  Kudos to the industry!  This incident proves an important point.

Where government can’t succeed, industry sometimes can.

I am confident that the same is true as far as the use of technology in education is concerned.  Up till now government paid lip service to e-education – even published a white paper on it – but failed dismally in making it a reality.

Captains of industry … you proved what you can do with Outoilet.  Won’t you take up the e-education challenge as well?

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Should the education department not take responsibility for technology training of teachers?

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 | technology | 8 Comments

An essential part of professional development of teachers is learning to use technology.

Education departments should take responsibility for the professional development of teachers but teachers must also take ownership of their own growth – it is generally accepted that this is a shared responsibility.  You can rightly look to your education department to provide some support when you want to learn how to use technology as a teaching tool.

The situation in different districts, provinces and countries is poles apart when it comes to technology support for teachers.  In some cases adequate provision is made and in others little – or none – is made.  Your first step must be to explore what is on offer to you.  You may find that one or more of the following are available to you: 

  • formal training courses
  • workshops
  • seminars
  • mentoring or coaching.

These services are usually offered to you at no cost and time is allowed for you to make use of them.  When an education authority supports the technology aspect of your personal development the chances are good that the backing offered will be classroom oriented.  This is a good thing, since training offered by non-education institutions is often generic and may not have any bearing on what you do in the classroom.

A down-side of education department training is that a one-size-fits-all approach is usually adopted.  You may find yourself in a group where people have different levels of technology expertise.  If you are a novice, you may feel intimidated if the training is pitched at too high a level; if you come to the event with some expertise, you may feel frustrated if too much time is spent on basics.

Don’t wait for your education authority to urge you to make use of what is on offer.  Find out if such training opportunities exist and then take advantage of them.  If they don’t exist, don’t sit around complaining while you wait – you will only make yourself unhappy, you won’t learn anything, and you may wait for a long time.  Take personal responsibility for your technology development by exploring alternative ways to become proficient.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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