Valu­able in learn­ing, teach­ing

Cape Argus - - METRO - Sup­plied

THE Western Cape may have slipped in rank­ings with a drop in its ma­tric pass rate from 84.4% in 2017 to 81.5% last year, but a con­certed fo­cus on up­ping the dig­i­tal en­vi­ron­ment in the prov­ince could see re­sults back on track for pupils and teach­ers.

With the gov­ern­ment com­mit­ting to in­creased spend­ing on ed­u­ca­tion in its next fis­cal year, and Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa hav­ing an­nounced a par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on bol­ster­ing the dig­i­tal en­vi­ron­ment in class­rooms with ap­pro­pri­ate hard­ware, the Western Cape is now look­ing to­wards how best to har­ness dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy to im­prove on its ma­tric re­sult rate.

How­ever, for ed­u­ca­tional tech­nol­ogy (EdTech) to up the ante in class­room re­sults and suc­cess­fully ad­dress a num­ber of the is­sues en­demic in the South African ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, the real fo­cus must first be on con­tent over hard­ware, says Dr Cor­rin Varady, chief ex­ec­u­tive of IDEA Dig­i­tal Ed­u­ca­tion.

“There is no doubt tech­nol­ogy will have a valu­able ef­fect on ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, but be­fore we con­sider the hard­ware re­quired, we must cre­ate ex­cel­lent and rel­e­vant con­tent in a way that will de­liver high-qual­ity, in­ter­ac­tive re­sources for learn­ers, while at the same time en­abling pro­fes­sional developmen­t for teach­ers.

“The most out­stand­ing re­sults seen in­ter­na­tion­ally oc­cur when high teacher prac­tice com­bines with high tech­nol­ogy con­texts.”

To this end, the Western Cape Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion has en­tered into a partnershi­p with EdTech com­pany IDEA Dig­i­tal Ed­u­ca­tion to roll out a mea­sur­able, out­comes-based ap­proach for both learn­ers and teach­ers this year, fol­low­ing a ro­bust test phase of the pro­gramme which has been run over the past two years in se­lected schools via the WCED ePor­tal.

“What’s been miss­ing so far in South Africa has been an out­come-driven so­lu­tion for stu­dents and par­ents that builds dig­i­tal teach­ing and learn­ing prac­tices, as well as tools cre­ated specif­i­cally for teach­ers to de­velop them pro­fes­sion­ally and pro­mote ed­u­ca­tional ex­cel­lence,” says Varady.

This is of great im­por­tance, notes Varady, with the qual­ity of South African teach­ers hav­ing been high­lighted as one of the fo­cus ar­eas in the re­port Pri­or­i­ties for Ed­u­ca­tion Re­form in South Africa, de­vel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch, the Al­lan Gray Or­bis Foun­da­tion En­dow­ment and Funda Wanda – the lat­ter be­ing an NPO that works to­wards lit­er­acy.

Pre­sented to National Trea­sury on Jan­uary 19, it forms part of the ba­sis of the gov­ern­ment’s re­newed com­mit­ment to ed­u­ca­tion and notes that “no ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem can move be­yond the qual­ity of its teach­ers”.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that the ma­jor­ity of South African teach­ers do not cur­rently have either the con­tent knowl­edge nor the ped­a­gog­i­cal skills to en­able them to suc­cess­fully teach the set cur­ric­ula, the re­port notes, among other con­cerns, that in a national rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of pri­mary schools, 79% of Grade 6 maths teach­ers could not them­selves score 60% or higher on grades 6 or 7 level ques­tions.

“The most im­por­tant fac­tor here, how­ever,” stresses Varady, “is not for a teacher’s con­tri­bu­tion in a class­room to be re­placed by a dig­i­tal en­vi­ron­ment but rather to en­able them to evolve as ed­u­ca­tors and learn­ing fa­cil­i­ta­tors within that en­vi­ron­ment. The ques­tion then be­comes: Are we pre­pared to sup­port our teach­ers in the ways we ex­pect them to sup­port our chil­dren?”

There are nu­mer­ous stud­ies around the world that have re­vealed the im­pact of EdTech on learn­ing, but Varady be­lieves it is im­por­tant to con­cen­trate on com­pa­ra­ble con­texts in the developmen­t of pol­icy around con­tent and soft­ware for South African stu­dents and teach­ers.

With the con­tent de­vel­oped by IDEA’s global and lo­cal teams, and with the back­ing of the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion, the South African Coun­cil of Ed­u­ca­tors, the Jane Goodall In­sti­tute, and Mi­crosoft, the ex­per­i­men­tal IDEA pro­gramme in Western Cape schools has proven we are well on our way to­wards meet­ing the spe­cific chal­lenges to be found in South African class­rooms.

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