Mariaan Bester is a curriculum advisor in the EdenKaroo district of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). She is passionate about her subject, Science, and she is also an excellent example of what an e-pioneer should be like. With the Khanya project soon coming to an end, and WCED staff taking over the tasks performed by Khanya staff up till now, a need exists for more e-pioneers: those people who understand how technology can be used effectively in teaching and learning.
I believe that many curriculum advisors can take a page from Mariaan’s book. So, I interviewed her in the hope that her experience, views, concerns and encouragement can serve as useful advice for other curriculum advisors.
The result of the interview (that was conducted by email) is as follows:
Question: When you were a teacher, how did the use of technology benefit you?
Mariaan: My great passion is teaching. There are so many things to do and so little time. Technology helped me to save valuable time – to work smarter, not harder. For example, a spreadsheet proved to be an aid in maintaining discipline. When learners in a class were unruly I would open a spreadsheet and project it on a screen for all to see and quietly tick off the names of disruptive learners. Without a word and little effort the class would quiet down. I was not always a good Science educator (in fact, I’m still learning) and made many content mistakes in class. High quality technology teaching aids for Physics and Chemistry helped me to put fun in teaching.
Question: Do you see any obstacles in using technology in schools?
Mariaan: Technology is merely a vehicle. A vehicle can only be as effective as the driver allows it to be. School management and educators do not always believe that they are capable of using technology. Some still believe that computers, cell phones, ipods and other technologies are good for the next generation but doubt whether they will ever be able to master the use of such equipment. It is also sad to see that administrative systems (for example, collecting marks for report cards, or recording behaviour problems of learners) are ineffective, whereas it could have saved a lot of time.
Question: What are your suggestions to overcome these obstacles?
Mariaan: Technology takes time to master. So many things can go wrong and probably will. Realize that you are working with people; carry on with patience and determination and keep all stakeholders involved at all times.
Question: In your current role as Science curriculum advisor, how do you use technology in order to provide a better service to the teachers in your area?
Mariaan: The Eden district is large and many unproductive hours are spent on the road. Electronic communication saves many hours. An internet connection helps to render greater support to teachers. As a matter of interest, my most regular contact at present is with an educator who teaches 350 km away from the office.
Question: You were seconded to the Khanya project for a while – did this benefit you in any way?
Mariaan: Definitely. Not only did I get the opportunity to master educational software and electronic devices, I was also privileged to work with a team that encouraged me to think “outside the box”. Technology develops continuously. Khanya taught me not to fear change and not to get stuck in my comfort zone but rather to investigate and to evaluate new methods.
Question: How do you feel about the fact that the Khanya project is coming to an end?
Mariaan: It is a crime to education. Circuit teams and curriculum advisers are now supposed to take over the role of Khanya facilitators. I am one of the few curriculum advisers that know exactly what this means, since I was a Khanya facilitator. Initially I was very excited about the idea of combining my Khanya experience with my current position as curriculum adviser. I simply do not have the time to do what is required.
Question: How do you see the future of technology in schools in the Western Cape and the rest of South Africa?
Mariaan: I am worried. Technology is a vehicle that needs a dedicated driver.
Question: What can be done to create a greater awareness of the value of technology among the education fraternity?
Mariaan: Technology will only be used if educators believe that it can solve their current problems; we must not present solutions to educators and then expect them to come up with problems where these solutions would fit.
Question: Do you have any advice for teachers/schools who want to make a success of technology?
Mariaan: Too often the management team at a school decides to use technology and neglects to bring all role players on board. Spend quality time to identify teachers that genuinely want to use technology successfully. Educators that are serious about technology will be willing to spend money to do so; if they are prepared to buy their own laptops, award them with an interactive whiteboard in their classroom. When learners experience the increased quality of lessons, they will put pressure on other educators to use technology as well.
I thank Mariaan for sharing her views and wish her well as she continues to promote the use of technology in schools in her district.