Tech is an en­abler, not a so­lu­tion

CityPress - - Voices - Lindiwe Mat­lali voices@city­press.co.za

It was en­cour­ag­ing to hear Gaut­eng Premier David Makhura talk about how the prov­ince was con­tin­u­ing to in­stall “smart class­rooms” in a num­ber of our poorer schools dur­ing his state of the prov­ince ad­dress this week.

He men­tioned that in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy (ICT) had been rolled out in 377 of Gaut­eng’s no-fee schools, ben­e­fit­ing 64 000 ma­tric learn­ers as a re­sult.

We hope the teach­ers are be­ing prop­erly trained in how to teach tech­nol­ogy to young, hun­gry minds in these pa­per­less class­rooms, given that com­put­ers may be alien to many of them.

While it is heart­en­ing that the govern­ment is in­vest­ing in tech­nol­ogy for schools, sadly, the cost and ex­tent of such a roll-out will in­evitably ex­clude the im­pov­er­ished mi­nor­ity for a long time to come.

In the mean­time, the gap be­tween these poor chil­dren and their tech-savvy coun­ter­parts in bet­ter re­sourced schools is widen­ing, and the for­mer will un­doubt­edly con­tinue to be left be­hind as the rest of the world ad­vances at a gal­lop.

This is a cry­ing shame in a coun­try – and, in­deed, a world – that is des­per­ate for science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics (Stem) skills.

These are the skills that will be in de­mand in the 21st-cen­tury work­place. Not only will they in­spire peo­ple to train as soft­ware pro­gram­mers, but they will also pro­duce a new gen­er­a­tion of crit­i­cal, cre­ative and an­a­lyt­i­cal thinkers and prob­lem solvers who are adapt­able and in­no­va­tive.

Hence, we should adopt an ed­u­ca­tional ap­proach that reaches be­yond lap­tops, tablets and in­ter­net ac­cess. We should be re­gard­ing teach­ing tech­nolo­gies, as well as teach­ing with tech­nol­ogy, as con­cepts which are not mu­tu­ally exclusive – be­cause you do not nec­es­sar­ily need com­put­ers to teach ba­sic com­puter science skills.

I run a non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion that teaches cod­ing to chil­dren in a bid to cul­ti­vate a gen­er­a­tion of boy and girl “geeks” who get a kick out of tech­nol­ogy.

We of­fer two pro­grammes – Knit2Code and Knock­2Code – which use knit­ting and wood­work con­cepts to teach the ba­sics of pro­gram­ming with­out the need for ac­tual com­put­ers. These are but two of the cheap, sus­tain­able so­lu­tions out there that could be used to en­hance the ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum.

We have chil­dren as young as six be­ing chal­lenged and stim­u­lated while try­ing to de­velop a game, an app or a web­page. It is pos­si­ble.

We need to ex­plore in­no­va­tive ways to en­able tech­nol­ogy to be an in­te­gral part of ed­u­ca­tion, in­stead of only giv­ing learn­ers the tools. In other words, in­stead of just giv­ing them the prover­bial fish­ing rod, let us teach them how to fish.

By em­bed­ding tech­nol­ogy as a way of life early on, we can help learn­ers de­velop a healthy in­ter­est in Stem as it will be seen as nat­u­ral and fun, rather than in­tim­i­dat­ing.

Cur­rently, ICT is taught in pub­lic schools only from Grade 10 on­wards, and even then, mainly in for­mer Model C schools.

I be­lieve some form of com­puter pro­gram­ming, not just com­puter lit­er­acy, should be made com­pul­sory from pri­mary school level if we are to be com­pet­i­tive in the 21st-cen­tury knowl­edge econ­omy.

If we prick an in­ter­est in Stem sub­jects at pri­mary school level, chil­dren are more likely to fo­cus their ed­u­ca­tional ef­forts on the skills needed to work in these ar­eas. This, in turn, can help raise the num­ber of South Africans who even­tu­ally pur­sue ca­reers in these fields.

In ad­di­tion, an early in­tro­duc­tion to cod­ing in all schools can en­hance di­ver­sity in the work­force of the fu­ture.

Un­for­tu­nately, many young peo­ple from pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds turn away from ca­reers in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy be­cause of the cur­rent lack of di­ver­sity in those fields and the dearth of suitable role mod­els and ed­u­ca­tional sup­port.

Teach­ing cod­ing to all chil­dren will help lower some of the bar­ri­ers as­so­ci­ated with un­con­scious bias around Stem fields.

It will also give more op­tions to those who may have orig­i­nally been in­ter­ested, but lacked proper ex­po­sure to the skills.

Trag­i­cally, it is a fact that giv­ing chil­dren ac­cess to com­put­ers is not enough to make them com­puter lit­er­ate, let alone tech­no­log­i­cally savvy.

I have seen town­ship schools with fancy com­puter lab­o­ra­to­ries do­nated by cor­po­rates that are white ele­phants be­cause no one knows how to use them.

Gaut­eng’s pa­per­less class­rooms are un­doubt­edly a step in the right di­rec­tion, but the high costs of such a roll-out mean that many dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren will re­main dis­ad­van­taged – and the cy­cle of dis­ad­van­tage will con­tinue.

Let us look at in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions to get our youth ex­cited about tech­nol­ogy and give them equal op­por­tu­ni­ties to suc­ceed and ex­cel in life. Mat­lali is the founder and “chief vol­un­teer”

of Africa Teen Geeks

TALK TO US Do you have any cre­ative so­lu­tions to help dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren to bet­ter grasp Stem and/or tech­nol­ogy skills?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word SMART and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

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