Our Lady of Fatima pupils from left: Cara Tombleson, Joslyn Lambert, Rachel Ferguson and Amahle Mkhize show their devices as IT teacher Ingrid Edwards looks on. Picture: Bongani Mbatha
Durban - The digital age has been embraced by Our Lady of Fatima Dominican Convent School, eliminating books and paper with the introduction of tablet schooling.
It has also lightened their loads: “My bag doesn’t have so many books,” said pupil Yuvika Maharaj.
“Most of our books are on our iPads,” her friend Bianca Francis added as they moved through the corridors, between classes. 
Through their devices, they interact with teachers and one another, much like people in a modern business environment.
The Durban North school wanted to move away from education suited to the era of the industrial revolution, said principal Dee Horsfall.
“There’s often a criticism that education is not keeping up with the real world,” she said. “So, we needed to bridge a gap for the girls so they go out into tertiary environment with some (digital) skills.”
In the classroom, they follow the teacher and the iPads on which their textbooks are loaded and access extra information teachers may drop in. The teachers can also see who is logged on.
Through the app, miEbooks, they can also watch their peers’ progress on projects and carry on with school if they’re off sick or away on sports tours, said IT teacher Ingrid Edwards. “I feel that using the e-book is more efficient,” said Grade Eight pupil Olwethu Khumalo.
“If there’s a question I need to answer that needs some added information, I just slide across and get it. Everything is quicker and that’s the new generation.”
This year’s matric class will be the last of the paper-only generation. Pupils start using it in Grade Eight.
“I think it makes abstract concepts, which science deals with, a lot more visual so they can see the images and interact with them in their hands and not just see the images on the screen,” said science teacher Dr Catherine McFarland.
“We follow the textbook together so I’ll enlarge an image and explain more on the screen while they can see it on their iPads as well.”
The new library Reading Cloud recommends books, makes book reviews available, shows pupils what their peers have been reading and recommends books.
“And tells them when they are overdue,” noted librarian Phillipa Wyllie of the school’s hard copy books.
There’s also a digital solution for any anxiety brought about by the “I’ve lost my iPad” line: IT manager Justin Bennett is able to locate it.
While the pupils’ generation is tech-savvy, the school discovered during the early implementation phase that things were not always as they seemed, Horsfall recalled.
“We discovered that although girls knew how to play on devices, they didn’t know certain essential ways of accessing data and researching.
“So it has been a learning process for girls and teachers. Some were naturals, some were nervous.”
Teacher Susan Tramonito spoke to The Independent on Saturday, having slipped out from a Grade Eight class that was busy with a test. By having used an app, all she needed to do was to invigilate.
“I’ve set the test with multiple choice questions and true and false questions. The iPad marks them automatically. It takes a lot of time to set up the test but once it’s done, it’s done.”
The girls’ input has been a key part of developing the system. Grade 11 pupil Naomi Maujean said girls had asked that the programme be tweaked to allow them to write notes on whatever page they had up on their screens. 
The digital era is also changing the look of the classroom. “Some teachers have moved their desk to the back of the classroom, so that while the pupils are working the teacher can see what is being worked on the iPads,” said Edwards.
“You can’t have girls sitting in rows. They need to interact more so we are looking for a plan of action to change the furniture in the classrooms. 
“The girls are keen to stand or sit on beanbags. The way they work becomes more flexible. This was something that happened automatically the minute they all got iPads.” 
The Independent on Saturday