The media reports that South Africa is again looking at a massive rollout of tablets for education should be welcomed. Photo: AP

CAPE TOWN – The media reports that South Africa is again looking at a massive rollout of tablets for education should be welcomed. The idea of a One Device Per Child was first championed by Nicholas Negroponte from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). One of the pilot programmes was conducted in the rural parts of Ethiopia. 

It was introduced by dropping ruggedized tablets from the air as part of a research study. The targeted audience was illiterate children and at the time the outcome of this process was unclear. How could illiterate kids use digital devices? How would kids who had never used tablets begin a process of using this foreign object? Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them.

The results were amazing, as the kids had figured out on their own how to use these tools. Some of them learnt how to write. In one media report, it was indicated that one boy, exposed to literacy games with animal pictures, opened up a paint program and wrote the word “Lion"

Will they work in South Africa?

As South Africa is beginning a process of rolling out digital devices, it is important that it takes lessons from the programme that was undertaken by Negroponte.

It is easy to dismiss the idea of handing out tablets to learners as useless or something that will never work. Whilst the reasoning behind objection to this process has merit (considering local inadequate infrastructure context) it is also important to consider potential benefits. One that comes to mind is related to access to quality content. 

One of the most ignored realities about South African education system is that it suffers from the poor education legacy of the past. 

Some young people who are taught in South Africa are taught by teachers who were themselves victims of poor quality education of the past. Those teachers pass on to their new students what they’ve learnt. 

A combination of technology and human intervention is required to improve education. 

To change the legacy effects of the poor education of the past a new pool of educators would have to be trained and teach young people. Most teachers were not taught during the digital age and, therefore, are less likely to assist learners to adapt. Tablets with the right and quality content can bridge the gap. 

The tablet for each learner programme could allow South Africa to break with the past. The tablets offer the country an opportunity to provide quality content. In doing this it will be important to work with current teachers as facilitators and use the technology effectively. Tablets are great for content delivery, however, further support would be required for learners to get value from education.

As the world is moving towards the 4th Industrial Revolution, the education system will have to swiftly adapt. 

Towards the end of 2018 Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, donated laptops to all the kids at a school in Flint state, US. This move by  Musk was commended by many who understood its importance. When Musk was donating these digital devices he understood the education challenge at Flint and he knew that technology could assist.

The education challenge in South Africa is massive. The poor infrastructure in some local schools should not be used as a reason not to invest in technology for education.If anything, tablets and technology can make a big difference and bridge the classroom gap of inherited problems in the past and equip learners to deal with the challenges of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of The Infonomist and founder of Kaya Labs.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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