THE Department of Basic Education has defended its decision to use Microsoft and Delphi as standards for the teaching of a beginners and an advanced information technology (IT) programme in public schools.
The decision was criticised by many in the IT industry, some arguing it would stifle innovation and competitiveness in the country. The department issued a circular to schools earlier this month.
Panyaza Lesufi, the spokesman for the Department of Basic Education, said yesterday that only 0.09 percent of grade 12 pupils studied IT as a subject and 9 percent of grade 12 pupils took computer applications technology at school. The department said it had consulted structures that represented provinces and teacher unions.
Critics have been up in arms about the department’s decision to use proprietary Delphi as a programming language instead of Java for the advanced IT progamming course, claiming that Delphi was an outdated language used by few programmers globally.
A Microsoft South Africa spokeswoman yesterday distanced the company from the department’s exercise. She said the department had not specifically contracted Microsoft to provide the software.
Meanwhile, the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry will be hosting an open meeting tomorrow to discuss how the policy affects pupils and the competitiveness of the local business environment.
“The Cape chamber would like to look at possible solutions to improve the state of basic education and to advance the use of technology and development of software skills,” it said in a statement.
The department said the standardisation would be implemented in 2015 for Grade 11 classes and would apply to Grade 12 classes the following year. The department circular said the standardisation was applicable to schools that wrote the National Senior Certificate examinations.
Lesufi said discussions about the standardisation began almost a year ago. “It’s an industry that has many players and people want to put their products there,” he said in response to the criticism. He said the standardisation allowed conformity across the provinces because fragmented standards made it difficult to develop an appropriate national assessment. “It becomes difficult to set a paper.”
He said the department remained open to input about the most appropriate technology to adopt over time but that it had to kick-start its standardisation policy without delays.
The department had identified costs associated with the training of teachers.
Embarcadero, which owns Delphi, would provide free software licences to teachers and pupils for a limited period and JSE-listed firm EOH, which distributed the software in South Africa, would provide support.
Derek Keats, an IT strategist, argued last week that the new policy contradicted the government’s policy of using free and open source software. “The cost implications are the least concern,” Keats said, adding that the policy would create a situation of using proprietary software like “coding in a box. Most of us doing programming didn’t learn from books. We learnt from looking at others’ source codes,” he said support of the use of open source software.