From iPod to iSchool
Novel approach to technology in the classroom
“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