Johannesburg - You don’t go on a training workshop to figure out how your new flat-screen television works and your child didn’t take social network lessons to learn how to use Mxit and Facebook.
Why then, when technology is introduced in education, is it always in the form of complicated programmes and systems that aren’t user-friendly and are time-consuming?
This was asked by Abdul Chohan, director at Essa Academy, a UK school that was the first in the country to introduce iPod Touches for all pupils and staff members before devices like the iPad were available.
He said the iPod Touch, on which apps and other material was freely available, changed how pupils were learning and allowed both pupils and teachers to do a lot more with less.
“These devices had become (the pupils’) digital pencil cases and this was quite powerful for us,” he said.
Chohan said the move to integrate technology in all aspects of the school’s functions – from delivering education to the daily operations – was prompted after he overheard parents talking about how their babies, who couldn’t yet read, could operate their parents’ smart phones.
The intention was not to start a “technology project” but to holistically change how learning was done with technology “wrapped in the DNA of our learning”.
“We’ve been able to do much more with less money. The focus on technology isn’t about the technology itself – it’s allowed the school to do things we’ve never been able to do before,” he said.
Chohan spoke in Sandton on Friday to share the lessons the school has learnt with other education specialists.
“Typically, schools… are very good at doing the wrong things really well. We take stuff that doesn’t work and we just stick with it,” he said.
At Essa, this approach had been changed – only simple, reliable things were used.
“If those two ingredients were absent we wouldn’t use the technology. Any technology that is introduced to a school that is simple and reliable… people use it. And that was key for us,” Chohan said.
One of the stumbling blocks in effectively rolling out technology in education was that the systems were cumbersome, difficult and time-consuming.
“When a school introduces technology, usually smartboards, interactive whiteboards and laptops that are connected to a flaky network… where the control around that is not managed by the user and is done by somebody else… it creates problems and teachers ask for more training (and) support.
“That same teacher (who’s) asking for training with their smart boards… will go to a shopping mall, buy a television and never ask a professional, and they use that technology day in and day out. The problem is not with that teacher using that technology, it’s the type of technology that we’re employing in schools,” he said.
“Simplicity and reliability is key for adoption. In education our product is learning and we need to be able to deliver that product without busyness – stuff that just takes time – with a focus on business,” Chohan said.
Essa, situated between an affluent area and a poorer side of town, had pupils who collectively spoke 46 different languages and mainly came from low-income households.
When the school started rolling out the iPod Touch and iPads, it was interesting to see the reaction of the people from the affluent side of town.
“They said your kids are gonna sell these devices, you should give them cheaper ones, this is gonna be a waste of money.
“We wanted to change beliefs so we continued giving out the best technology we possibly could. Our kids are using the technology that chief executives of companies use and you know what that allows us to do? It allows us to develop (executive) skills, to solve problems and look for new tools that allow us to do things differently. That’s really transformational,” he said.
Chohan said the school no longer bought textbooks.
Textbook content, presented in texts and illustrations, could easily be found online in much more diversified forms, from text and audio to videos and pictures.
He said the money the school would have spent on the textbooks now went towards developing technology infrastructure and connectivity.
He said this had enabled the school to be much more efficient and to focus more on its core business.
For example, marking test scripts, which can take up to a week to complete, could now be done instantaneously.
Pupils typed in their answers and the teacher saw their input and could immediately provide feedback when the assessment was done.
“If I get feedback from this room, an inefficient way would be me asking: ‘Does everyone understand?’ and a few people nod their heads and I move on. An efficient way is that I can see what feedback each and every one of you is giving me using apps that show me (your input).
“This gives me a temperature check of each and every one of you and if 40 percent of the people didn’t understand what I was saying that’s a reflection on me as a teacher,” Chohan said.
This insight that the technology could provide assisted the school in informing and developing professional development for teachers.
Technology allowed the teaching and learning to be a lot more personalised.
“Children are different but in a classroom environment you have 30 kids, everybody starts the same time, everybody finishes at the same time, everybody’s doing the same task, everybody’s got the same textbook. It doesn’t work… There’s no ‘one size fits all’,” he said.
Michelle Lissoos, managing director of Think Ahead, an education solutions company that specialises in the ICT integration in schooling, said technology also enabled children with disabilities to engage in education in ways they had not been able to do before.
She added that schools shouldn’t be deterred by the seemingly high costs of fully integrating technology.
“It’s not about the costs of the device. Look at the total cost and the kind of education our kids will be receiving… they deserve the best,” she said. - The Star