e-Education roll-out surfs into turbulence

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ST Arnold Lamont185a INLSA VIRTUAL LEARNING: Arnold Lamont at his home office from where he runs an online school project. Picture: Itumeleng English

NONTOBEKO MTSHALI

nontobek[email protected]

IF THE Department of Basic Education succeeded in implementing its policy, by the end of next year every pupil and teacher would have access to, and be capable of using, a computer.

It has been more than eight years since the department released its ambitious White Paper on e-Education 2004.

The policy, which spells out how information and communication technology (ICT) will be rolled out in the education system, was supposed to be gradually implemented in three phases – the last being from 2010 to 2013.

The policy states that by the end of the first phase, 2004 to 2007, half of all schools were to have access to a “networked computer facility for teaching and learning”.

st sacred heart NEW FRONTIERS: Primary school kids of Sacred Heart College in Observatory near Joburg learn computer skills at their computer centre. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya INLSA

During the same period every teacher and manager would have access to a computer for personal use, administration and for the preparations of lessons.

The policy says that by the end of the second phase, 2007 to 2010, half of all teachers will be trained in “basic ICT integration into teaching and learning”. Also by the end of this phase, the number of schools that have access to a computer facility should have increased to 80 percent.

But the department is nowhere near delivering these and many other targets contained in the 46-page document. With just over a year to go before the end of the final phase, only 52.2 percent of schools have access to computer facilities.

The Teacher Laptop Initiative – which would have ensured that the department met its 2007 deadline of equipping each teacher and manager with a personal computer – was only launched in 2010.

Even then the initiative was not successfully implemented. A new deadline has now been set for the end of next year.

The roll-out of teacher training in ICT, which was supposed to have reached half of all teachers by 2010, is at 36 percent.

Various reasons have been given for the slow and sporadic roll-out and integration of ICT in the education system. In a recent survey among 24 people and organisations involved in ICT in education, those interviewed said there was no clear implementation strategy for the department’s ICT policy.

The survey was done by Bridge, an education non-profit organisation and commissioned by the CoZa Cares Foundation in partnership with the Department of Basic Education. It’s findings were released last week.

Mthobeli Tengimfene, the head of corporate social investment projects at the Vodacom Foundation, was part of the survey and said that while the policy was there, there’s no clear implementation plan.

“The policy is quite ambitious and needs a lot of resources, a good dose of political will, someone to crack the whip, and flexibility because technology is constantly and rapidly changing,” he said.

John Thole, CEO of Edunova, a skills training and entrepreneurship organisation, said the varying conditions in the provinces and the different ways the provinces interpret ICT policy was also a hindrance in scaling up ICT facilities in schools.

Lack of appreciation and understanding of what technology can do for schools was another stumbling block.

“Many people are not aware [of] what technology can do in a school and how effective it can be for learning. The lack of knowledge becomes a barrier to how the schools approach installing IT systems,” Thole said.

Kobus Roux, manager at the CSIR Meraka Institute, was more blunt.

“Technology that is introduced into a working system can be an enabler, but bringing it into a broken system is a waste of time… The education system is broken… putting in technology is a waste until the education system is fixed,” he said.

Neil Butcher, of Neil Butcher and Associates, said technology had changed many systems, including education, but the delivery of education has remained the same.

“We have not yet internalised the extent to which ICT has created massive social dislocations and how it has disrupted several core systems, one of which is education.

“It is imperative to rethink very urgently education curricula and the role of educators in the 21st century. However, there are no serious attempts to deal with this,” he said.

On the availability of content, cited as another challenge to the mass roll-out of computer facilities in schools, Butcher said it was no longer about the availability of content but the quality of the content.

“In terms of open content, the internet has priced content, but it is now so low that it is widely available. The real issue in this matter of content is to decide how to reorganise content to ensure that people have access to high quality content,” he said.

Michelle Lissoos, the managing director at Think Ahead Education Solutions, said there needed to be a more streamlined approach to ICT solutions because there are many stand-alone ICT initiatives and “a lot of chopping and changing”.

“The result is that often technology sharing is not well thought through, which is what is needed urgently,” she said.

On ICT in education, Lissoos said: “There are very strict guidelines for the submission of textbooks… there needs to be some guidelines for the implementation of technology in the country.”

The director of curriculum innovation and e-learning at the Department of Basic Education, Phil Mnisi, who was also interviewed for the survey, admitted that the funds allocated to ICT were insufficient.

He said the ICT funding, which is usually incorporated into the learner and teacher support material budget, needs to have a dedicated budget, like the feeding scheme does.

Mnisi said there’s a huge divide between children, who are inherently technologically savvy, and teachers, who don’t completely understand technology and therefore fear it. The problem had to be addressed while teachers were being trained.

Mnisi said the department’s short-term goal was to continue rolling out the Teacher Laptop Initiative. Initially, implementation failed because content was not available and those who sourced it on their own used it in an unco-ordinated manner.

Online school makes pupils pay attention

THE OFFHAND habit of posting lesson plans online by a Pretoria teacher has turned into a fully-fledged business and online school.

Arnold Lamont, founder of the SSir Online School, traded his chalk for a computer keyboard when his pupils started paying more attention to the lesson plans he posted online than to his class lectures.

Lamont, who was a teacher for over 20 years before focusing on the online school full-time in 2009, teaches advanced maths, information technology (IT), computer application technology (CAT), physical science and, from next year, accounting.

He has some 200 pupils – in Grades 10 to 12 – from public and private schools and a few who are home-schooled. He also provides teacher training.

Lamont said his pupils were mostly from schools in which the subjects he teaches aren’t available because too few pupils wanted to take it.

Last year, all his matric pupils passed.

Over the past number of years he’s seen a decrease in the number of pupils who take information and communication technology subjects. “This is a major concern for schools and the department.

“I suspect it has to do with the fact that it’s not a lightweight, easy subject. Pupils who take it must work hard,” he said.

That teachers needed to be highly skilled to teach IT had also contributed to the decline.

“You can’t teach IT without maths. After training [to teach IT] these colleagues of mine disappear into the private industry,” he said.


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