Rasha Miril is given lessons on how to use a tablet by fellow Sunward Park High pupil Ingrid Montja. The Boksburg school will be one of the first to move completely away from textbooks onto tablets. Photo: Bongiwe Mchunu

As the Gauteng Education Department prepares to spend more than R2 billion on paperless classrooms and e-learning, technology commentators and industry insiders are calling for extensive use of cloud-based software in the country’s educational resources.

About 2 000 education experts will gather in Sandton to explore how technology can better be used to enhance education in South Africa at the African EduWeek conference from today until Friday.

South Africa is known to be at the margins of decent education compared with other countries with a similar socioeconomic standing. Many schools in rural areas still lack the basic resources to empower learners.

There are cases in South Africa where children walk for kilometres and cross dangerous rivers only to be given lessons under a tree.

To make matters worse, there are frequent media reports of public schools around the country being robbed of valuable equipment and educational tools by thugs, costing taxpayers an arm and a leg.

However, even though the education system still grapples with these challenges, technological advancement in classrooms around the country is key to ensuring efficiency when lessons are conducted.

EduWeek, which is billed as Africa’s premier education event with presentations by more than 85 exhibitors, will put technology at the forefront of paving the way to a decent education. According to the event organisers, speakers will present technical workshops and demonstrations.

The conference provides training and development for delegates, with a focus on sharing strategies from pan-African institutions and universities on the implementation of literacy and numeracy programmes, e-learning, and overcoming the shortage of qualified teachers on the continent.

Last month, Gauteng’s newly appointed MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi, said his department had set aside as much as R2bn to realise paperless class rooms with plans to replace textbooks with e-books on tablet devices.

Last year the department said at least 2 200 public schools would have access this year to uncapped wi-fi and 3G connectivity; and 88 000 tablets will be distributed to students from next year as part of the province’s e-learning solution.

The initiative was inspired by the government’s inability to deliver textbooks to pupils in Limpopo in 2012.

Steven Cohen, the managing director of Sage Pastel, told Business Report that the simplicity, security and low upfront cost of cloud software made it a good match for the classroom.

“The news that the Gauteng Education Department is looking to go digital is welcome. It will help eliminate many of the costs and difficulties of getting affordable and up-to-date learning materials into kids’ hands.”

Sage Pastel is a developer of accounting, payroll and business management software for the small, medium-sized and large enterprise market.

Cohen said that once pupils were equipped with notebook or tablet computers and internet connectivity, “they will have access to unparalleled information and other services from the cloud”.

“With IT forming such a critical part of the workplace, paperless classrooms will prepare the youth for their careers. For example, children who are studying accountancy could pay a small monthly fee to use a business accounting package via the cloud, giving them hands-on experience with a tool used in the business.”

Videsha Proothveerajh, the country manager for Intel South Africa, said the use of technology and the proliferation of social media had changed the way people communicated and collaborated with each other. She stressed that many technology companies and the government had to stay on the cusp of innovation constantly because it was important for the youth to have the right tools to succeed for a better tomorrow.

Proothveerajh highlighted that innovation had the power to reshape the classroom and enable tomorrow’s inventors, innovators, and leaders to change the face of the future.

She said Intel had been proactively involved in “the holistic education” space for the past 40 years. “We have seen how technology, innovation, active citizenship and enabling partnership models can, and does, drive clearly improved learning results at all levels.

“One example is that of turning disinterested or previously disadvantaged learners into highly motivated content experts that can use a broadband internet connection as a ‘library card’ for accessing the world’s information.”

In addition, she highlighted that the youth of South Africa provided the answer to solving current and future global challenges because they were tomorrow’s leaders.

“Our role is to empower them with 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and logical problem-solving. We also need to expose them to all possibilities for a greater future and enable them by introducing them to and providing a reach into the science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects.”