From iPod to iS­chool

Novel ap­proach to tech­nol­ogy in the class­room

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & Technology - FRIK ELS frike@fin­week.co.za

“WHY SHOULD chil­dren from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds have to be fur­ther dis­ad­van­taged by forc­ing them to use in­fe­rior tech­nol­ogy?” So says Core Group ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor RJ van Spaandonk. Core Group is the exclusive mar­keter and dis­trib­u­tor of Ap­ple prod­ucts in south­ern Africa. Van Spaandonk was speak­ing at the con­clu­sion of the pi­lot phase of Core’s iG­nite pro­gramme to bring tech­nol­ogy to SA un­der the iS­choolAfrica ban­ner. “It has been proven that if you give chil­dren from dif­fer­ent so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds ac­cess to the same tech­nol­ogy at school, their aca­demic re­sults tend to con­verge.”

The pi­lot phase ran from Jan­uary to end April this year in 13 schools in Gaut­eng, KwaZulu-Natal and Lim­popo. In con­trast to the trou­bled Gaut­en­gonline project that aims to put a 35-seater com­puter lab into ev­ery pub­lic school in the prov­ince, the iS­chool project is mo­bile. The R600m+ Gaut­en­gonline ini­tia­tive that was ini­tially sched­uled to be com­pleted in 2006, has been plagued by a lack of teacher train­ing, theft and van­dal­ism of equip­ment and prob­lems with In­ter­net ac­cess. Many of the labs sim­ply sit and gather dust and many schools in the prov­ince have pulled out of the project.

iG­nite in­volves dis­patch­ing trained fa­cil­i­ta­tors and a lock­able cart con­tain­ing 10 of the lat­est Mac­Book lap­tops, 10 dig­i­tal cam­eras (called Flip, a sim­ple to use video cam­era aimed at the YouTube gen­er­a­tion) a pro­jec­tor and a wireless In­ter­net router to schools. The equip­ment can fit into the boot of a car. As with all Ap­ple com­put­ers, the lap­tops are pre­loaded with a suite of video, mu­sic and pod­cast, Web­site cre­ation and photo applications called iLife. The iS­chool phi­los­o­phy says that com­put­ers should not be taught as a sub­ject in school, but rather be used as a tool for ac­cel­er­ated and col­lab­o­ra­tive learn­ing.

Core al­ready has deals with a num­ber of pri­vate schools, in­clud­ing Craw­ford Schools, and its teacher-train­ing in­sti­tute has seen 250 com­plete an iLife cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. “Teacher train­ing is an es­sen­tial – th­ese type of pro­grammes of­ten fail be­cause teach­ers feel un­com­fort­able and in­tim­i­dated by the tech­nol­ogy. The kids on the other hand take to it very quickly. There were even in­stances of ses­sions be­ing gate-crashed by other stu­dents,” says Van Spaandonk. Videos of chil­dren’s projects dur­ing the pi­lot phase can be viewed at www.youtube.com/user/ is­choolafrica. Tak­ing into ac­count that the chil­dren made th­ese videos by them­selves in the 12 hours each would’ve had ac­cess to the tech­nol­ogy without ever hav­ing touched a com­puter be­fore, it’s quite as­ton­ish­ing.

The iS­choolAfrica model calls for a 50/50 pub­lic pri­vate part­ner­ship. A spon­sor – a cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity pro­gramme or NGO – foots the R1,5m bill for the cost of the mo­bile lab, and pro­vides some­one (typ­i­cally a com­pany schol­ar­ship holder from a sim­i­lar back­ground) to fa­cil­i­tate at the schools. This amount will cover the costs of the project at five schools for a pe­riod of three years and in­cludes the cost of the hard­ware, tech­ni­cal sup­port, main­te­nance and in­sur­ance. It works out to just over R10 per learner.

Sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy means sim­i­lar re­sults. RJ van Spaandonk

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