Cape Argus

Valuable in learning, teaching

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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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