Educational technology has huge potential: a response to Nikki Stein

| Panyaza Lesufi
Gauteng MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi.

Last week Nikki Stein from SECTION27 expressed reservations about the piloting of paperless classrooms at seven township schools in Gauteng. MEC for Education in the province, Panyaza Lesufi, responds here.

Sometimes people get preoccupied with things which give them joy and resist change. They backtrack from those which they find difficult to achieve. This is human nature. The truth is if we prioritise our needs in life, other virtuous things will follow us.

The introduction of a “Classroom of the Future”, Information Communication Technology (ICT) in education”, The Tabletisation of Classrooms,” “The Paperless Classroom”, “E-Learning,” “Digitisation of Education”, “The Big Switch On”, call it whatever you want, is a case in point.

The piloting of e-learning at seven schools in Tembisa, Duduza and Phomolong at the start of the 2015 school calendar year, where learners are experiencing for the first time state of the art technology to support effective teaching and learning in class, has sparked debate on matters of readiness and prioritisation.

I am not surprised by the debate on the pros and cons of the digitization of education. After all, sometimes we are all engrossed in one thing or the other and overlook our priorities in life.

Maybe as human beings, we just resist change in the face of even radical changes. After all, an individual’s predisposition toward change is highly personal and deeply ingrained. It is an outgrowth of how one learns to handle change and challenges in life.

Psychologists tell us that people resist change because of the fear of the unknown, erosion of power and influence, difficulty in breaking old habits, inconvenience and sometimes legitimate concerns about proposed change.

Take Nikki Stein, Deputy Director of Litigation at SECTION27, an education pressure group. She recently wrote, “Tablets are not a guarantee of good teaching and thorough curriculum coverage. They don’t guarantee that learners will be provided with quality education and equipped with the necessary skills. They do not address problems of poor content knowledge among teachers. Teachers have in fact expressed concern that they will not be able to make use of technology without proper training.”

She then went to mention “crumbling infrastructure”, “pit toilets,” “shortages of textbooks, workbooks and stationery” and what she called “gaping and ever-increasing holes in basic education.”

While Ms. Stein can be forgiven for confusing what is happening in Gauteng with challenges faced by other provinces such as pit toilets in Limpopo, the truth is, all of the above have been and are being addressed. The Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has achieved relatively good progress in infrastructural development, including providing water, electricity and sanitation over the last few years.

For example, the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure has been allocated R1.13 billion for the 2014/15 financial year to undertake various programmes for the Department of Education. These include fencing, septic tanks and upgrades of full service schools. Eight new schools will be completed and handed over to the Department of Education, while construction will begin on another 11.

The GDE is also involved in the Smart Schools Programme to place current and future learners on the high tech path, enhancing their competitiveness and skills relevance for the future economic climate. The Smart Schools Programme incorporate technological learning in classrooms, boasting connectivity, promethean boards, visual screens and technology training centres.

True, much still needs to be done to deliver adequate provision of these services.

The question is, should we be hamstrung by other socio-political and infrastructural challenges and not move with the ever changing times of the digitization of education? Not at all. As curriculum meshes with technology in the classroom, we are all discovering that the digitization of education is a game-changer.

Why is ICT in education a game changer? Learners can now research without leaving the classroom, teachers can project and manipulate 3-D objects on a screen and a virtual library is available at the swipe of a fingertip. Backpacks will soon be lighter.

In short, teachers can teach subjects, while students can learn and understand and further attend assessments and quizzes all through the tablets.

So, teachers won’t need blackboards and chalks, nor would students require textbooks, pens or pencils. This progression towards e-learning is but natural and going ahead and should be live in all Gauteng public schools by 2017.

Among the positive impacts will be the improvement in standards of literacy and numeracy through exploring more creative uses of ICT, resulting in a positive impact on pupils’ spelling, reading, writing and mathematical skills and an increase in the number of pupils wanting to learn, particularly learners who had historically become disengaged with elements of their education.

Education remains a top priority for the GDE and the digitization of education will ensure we can make further progress with our plans to provide learners with the best opportunities to achieve their potential.

We live in an ICT age. Our children need access to the latest technology. Instead of criticizing the digitization of education, let us all embrace it.

Panyaza Lesufi is MEC for Education in Gauteng. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. No inference should be made about whether these reflect the editorial position of GroundUp.

TOPICS:  Education Provincial

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