Documenting the challenges of implemening ICT in schools in South Africa.
Ample evidence exists that technology can make a huge difference in education. Many teachers in South Africa use technology right now to improve their own teaching and to help learners to learn better.
Some teachers use interactive classroom devices to keep learners interested and involved in learning material. Others have flipped their classrooms: learners access content at home on mobile devices and teachers then use class time for stimulating discussions and making practical application of the material. Older computer labs are still used with great benefit by teachers for reinforcement, drill-and-practice and research. In all these cases teachers report significant improvements in learning outcomes.
However, we have not seen that technology has improved the quality of education in general. Pockets of excellence exist, which proves the potential value of technology in education, but in the vast majority of schools in South Africa technology has had no impact on education outcomes (even in some schools flush with technology).
Technology is a wonderful patch to improve teaching and learning. But why can’t the patches stick? It has been said that one can’t put a new patch on an old garment. Why? Because the fabric of the old garment may be too weak to hold the patch and so the patch is simply torn off.
Is this the problem in education? Is the education system so threadbare that it cannot hold onto, incorporate, and integrate technology into the system? If so, what can we do about the situation?
It was recently announced that the word of the year 2013 is selfie.
What is a selfie? It is defined by the Oxford Dictionary Online as:
… a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.
We’ve all seen people taking selfies. A picture is needed to complete a profile for a social medium or blog or other online engagement, and the easiest way to do so is to turn your cell phone around and snap.
The word selfie was first used in 2002 in an Australian online forum, and has steadily gained popularity until it was so widely used (both the word and the action) that it became word of the year in 2013.
It is wonderful how language evolves – new words are born every day and ubiquitous technology is accelerating the process. Now that it’s the word of the year, teachers will have to accept selfie when a learner uses it in an essay.
I wonder when LOL and b4 will gain the same acceptance.
The results of the Annual National Assessments (ANAs) for 2013 have been released this week by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga.
The progress in most cases is encouraging; the different initiatives to improve matters seem to have had an impact. Minister Motshekga said: “I am confident that performance in the education system is on an upward trend and all our interventions and programmes are beginning to produce the desired outcomes.”
One of the areas where progress was less than satisfactory is Grade 9 mathematics. In 2012 the national average was 13%. An improvement of 1% was made during the past year … but the fact remains that only 14% of Grade 9 learners are on standard in mathematics.
If anyone disputes this statistic: a special task team looked into the way the tests were conducted and confirmed that the assessment was fair, valid and reliable. This means that the situation is really as bad as the ANA results indicate!
So what can we do about the matter?
Many initiatives and interventions will likely be launched to remedy the situation. I believe, however, that there is one option that is underestimated: the use of technology.
Many superb software programs are available to assist learners with mathematics. One such program is CAMI, a South African product, fully integrated with our CAPS curriculum. CAMI can be used in schools with school laboratories, and is also available in the form of a home version for parents who want to sharpen the mathematics skills of their children at home.
The value of products such as CAMI is that it covers mathematics from Grade R to Grade 12. Those learners who perform below par in a specific grade can be diagnosed with regards to gaps in their understanding and will then be directed to material to remedy the situation. Through regular use of the programme, learners are helped to learn concepts and practise skills necessary to perform well in mathematics. By using this program, schools and learners around the world have already dramatically improved their performance levels in mathematics.
Should we not investigate technology as an option to improve mathematic outcomes?
With the growing trend towards mobility and the popularity of tablets in the field of education, is there still a role for a dedicated computer laboratory (lab)?
There is most definitely a place for both. The whole idea of using tablets (or other mobile devices) is for learners to have continuous access to technology as a learning tool. A computer lab has the disadvantage of being physically separated from the classroom, hence making it more difficult for the teacher to integrate classroom teaching with what technology can offer. However, until such a time that every child in a school has a mobile device, the computer lab will continue to fulfil an important role: it may be the only way in which to bring every learner in touch with technology.
It therefore makes sense to keep the computer room in good repair, while phasing in mobile devices – in big schools this may take a few years, owing to the high cost of technology. The need for a computer lab can be re-evaluated once a one-to-one state has been achieved, but until then, resist the temptation to dismantle the computer room in favour of mobile devices.
My advice to learning institutions is to continue using whatever technology is available, making sure that it is used optimally, and then adding more and new technologies.
[This is an extract from a recently published interview … click here to read the full article.]
“What a bold statement,” you may say, “particularly in view of the current proliferation of tablets and other mobile devices.”
Well, consider history.
In 1922 Thomas Edison reportedly said:
I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize [transform] our education system and that in a few years it will supplant the use of textbooks … The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture where it should be possible to obtain 100 percent efficiency.
Did this expectation come true? In spite of the fact that some teachers used motion pictures with great success in their schools, we know that this medium did not manage to transform the education system. What went wrong?
Edison based his prediction on a number of assumptions about this potentially powerful tool:
Content: He assumed that sufficient relevant content will be available in film format to cover all learning areas for all grades.
Affordable and available equipment: He assumed that motion picture equipment will be affordable and will be made available to every classroom.
Technology stability: He assumed that the motion picture will not be replaced by other technologies in the short to medium term, and will continue to be the first choice technology for entertainment and education of the masses.
Classroom integration: He assumed that all teachers will become skilled in using motion pictures as a substitute for textbooks and will change their teaching practices accordingly.
We now know that none of these assumptions proved to be true. Yet, in later years, the same assumptions were made with regards to radio, TV, PCs, laptops, interactive whiteboards … and are now being made about tablets. Let’s look at these assumptions again:
Content: In contrast with the erroneous assumption about content availability when the 1922 motion picture prediction was made, we can safely assume today that sufficient digital content is available as ebooks, educational software and even open education resources. But now we are making another assumption: learners (and their teachers) will know how to find their way through the plethora of available content; the current under-utilization of such resources proves that this assumption is wrong. This is clearly a case where more is not better, and the mere availability of content in no way guarantees that it will be used.
Affordable and available equipment: This is a more risky assumption; tablets are less costly than its PC and laptop predecessors, but how much will it cost – and how long will it take – to provide every child in the country with a tablet? For education to be transformed, more than a sporadic presence of technology is required; every teacher and child needs access to technology for it to have a significant effect.
Technology stability: Technologies have replaced each other rather rapidly over the years and the rate of change is accelerating; we can’t assume that the tablet as we know it today will be the device of choice in a year or two from now. In fact, based on the history of technology, we can safely assume that it won’t!
Classroom integration: This is the most dangerous assumption of them all; it can almost be stated as a fact that it will take years – many, many years – to train and educate all our teachers to become comfortable in using technology for teaching and learning.
The flawed assumptions made in 1922 about a particular manifestation of technology are still being made today. And we’ve only discussed four of them.
Until these suppositions become realities we can’t expect the tablet, or any other technology device, to revolutionize education. A mere change in tools does not bring about transformation.
The full potential of technology can only be achieved if it is part of a complete rethink of education structures and practices.
Tablets will not transform education … unless we empower our teachers to become skilful users of technology!