Lap­tops are ‘or­na­ments’ – teach­ers

Com­put­ers gather dust in the homes of East­ern Cape ed­u­ca­tors who haven’t been trained to use them

Mail & Guardian - - News - Bongek­ile Macupe

The East­ern Cape depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion has spent mil­lions on an in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies pro­gramme, which in­cludes pro­vid­ing foun­da­tion phase teach­ers with lap­tops that they aren’t us­ing.

In March, MEC of ed­u­ca­tion Mandla Makupula an­nounced the pro­vi­sion of lap­tops to 16817 grade R to grade three teach­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the Daily Dis­patch, the depart­ment had set aside R250mil­lion for the first phase of its dig­i­tal ini­tia­tive, which in­cluded lap­tops for foun­da­tion teach­ers and lap­tops and tablets for prin­ci­pals. The lap­tops come with two gi­ga­bytes of data each month.

But the Mail & Guardian spoke to sev­eral teach­ers from dif­fer­ent dis­tricts in the prov­ince who all said they have never used the lap­tops since get­ting them in Au­gust and early last month.

This is be­cause the ma­jor­ity of these teach­ers — based mostly in ru­ral schools — are not com­puter lit­er­ate. The lap­tops were their first ex­po­sure to the gad­gets.

The teach­ers who spoke to the M&G said they were told to fetch the lap­tops. No one told them what they would use them for. On the day they re­ceived them, they were “vaguely” told that they would be used for les­son plans, to cap­ture pupil’s marks and to reg­is­ter at­ten­dance.

And that was it. There was no train­ing on how ex­actly they were sup­posed to do all this.

“It has been in my wardrobe since I came back with it. What am I sup­posed to do with it?” said a grade one teacher from Mount Fletcher. “I have never used a com­puter in my life and I am not now, as a grown woman, mirac­u­lously go­ing to learn how to use it with­out any train­ing from those who ex­pect me to use it.”

Other teach­ers echoed her sen­ti­ments.

A grade one teacher from Mbizana district said the clerk at her school had to show her how to switch on the lap­top, shut it down and how to use the mouse. The clerk also showed her how to cap­ture marks, but she finds the lap­top use­less with­out train­ing and now leaves it at home.

“These things have be­come or­na­ments in our homes,” she said.

The teacher said she con­tin­ues to do her lessons plans and pre­pare for as­sess­ments the way she al­ways has.

“I don’t see how the lap­top is sup­posed to make our job eas­ier if we have not even been given the tools on how to use it. For me, it’s a waste of money that could have been used to cater for other re­sources that we des­per­ately need.”

Her school strug­gles with a lack of sta­tionery, read­ing books and the ba­sic teach­ing and learn­ing tools.

“When I buy sta­tionery for my chil­dren I also buy for my­self, be­cause we ei­ther don’t get it or when we do it’s not enough. I mean, I use my own sta­pler be­cause we don’t even have that at the school,” the teacher said.

Ateacher from the Barkly East district said she would have been pleased if the pro­vin­cial depart­ment had ad­dressed the press­ing needs of her school — rather than giv­ing them the so far un­used lap­tops.

This teacher also said she doesn’t even take her lap­top to school.

“Class­rooms are fall­ing apart, the pot­holes in the floor are so big that you some­times fear that you will break your leg. There is no elec­tric­ity, so where are we even sup­posed to charge these lap­tops?” said the grade three teacher.

“We don’t even have black­boards. We use the old black­boards that we bal­ance us­ing a desk. This lap­top busi­ness is the last thing we need.”

Other teach­ers spoke of over­crowd­ing and be­lieved that the money could have been used to build schools.

“I teach two classes that have 62 pupils each and yet the gov­ern­ment goes and spends money on lap­tops. I think it would be right to fix the more press­ing is­sues, be­fore we look at lap­tops that we have not even re­ceived train­ing for,” said a grade three teacher from Ma­luti district. Oth­ers said, even though they have tried us­ing the gad­gets, they still be­lieve ap­pro­pri­ate train­ing is im­per­a­tive.

“My sense is that the depart­ment took it for granted that peo­ple are com­puter lit­er­ate and will find their way around the lap­tops, but that is not so, es­pe­cially in re­mote ru­ral ar­eas,” said a grade two teacher from Barkly East district. “I’m lucky that I at least know the ba­sics of us­ing a lap­top. How­ever, I have col­leagues near re­tire­ment who have never seen this thing be­fore and they aren’t in­ter­ested. So their lap­tops are at home gath­er­ing dust sim­ply be­cause they can’t even switch them on.”

Teach­ers also say the lap­tops are not in­sured. They were told that they’d have to pay if they lose them.

The pro­vin­cial ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment spokesper­son, Malibongwe Mtima, said the depart­ment was work­ing to en­sure that all teach­ers in the foun­da­tion phase re­ceived them.

The depart­ment had spent about “R260-mil­lion” on the lap­tops and Mtima said that teach­ers were ex­pected to use them for “ad­min [such as] les­son plan­ning, et cetera, and teach­ing”.

He said that train­ing for the teach­ers had been hap­pen­ing since the “early 2000s” and that the teach­ers who had re­ceived the lap­tops were be­ing pro­vided with “in­ter­me­di­ate, ad­vanced [and] in­te­gra­tion cour­ses”.

The train­ing was on­go­ing, he said, would cover all teach­ers and that the dis­tri­bu­tion of lap­tops was part of the depart­ment’s strat­egy to im­prove ed­u­ca­tional out­comes.

He dis­puted al­le­ga­tions that teach­ers had to in­sure the lap­tops be­cause they were part of the school’s as­set reg­is­ter and that schools were re­quired to in­sure them.

The Teacher Lap­top Ini­tia­tive was launched in 2008 and aimed at train­ing teach­ers in com­puter lit­er­acy and ped­a­gogy. It was ini­tially man­aged by the Ed­u­ca­tion Labour Re­la­tions Coun­cil. Later the depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion took over, with pro­vin­cial de­part­ments hav­ing to lead it.

Pow­er­less: Ed­u­ca­tors in the East­ern Cape say that the money used to buy lap­tops would be bet­ter spent on in­fra­struc­ture. Photo: Made­lene Cronjé

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