Uncer­tainty over the pres­i­dent’s tablet plan

Crit­ics ques­tion how tech­nol­ogy will fix the bro­ken ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - LUKE FOLB

SOUTH Africa’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is set for a ma­jor over­haul with the in­tro­duc­tion of a tablet com­puter for ev­ery pupil in the coun­try’s 23 700 gov­ern­ment pri­mary and high schools.

The am­bi­tious plan to help pre­pare young­sters for the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion has been met with mixed re­ac­tion from both ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts and the pro­vin­cial depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion.

Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa is due to out­line the specifics of the pro­gramme when he de­liv­ers his State of the Na­tion Ad­dress in Par­lia­ment at next month.

The depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion said the pro­gramme would in­clude com­puter cod­ing for grades 1 to 3 and the digi­ti­sa­tion of the cur­ricu­lum with text­books, work­books and teach­ing ma­te­rial uploaded to the tablets.

Pi­lot pro­grammes have been in­tro­duced or will be in­tro­duced this year to schools with spe­cial needs and at ru­ral schools.

West­ern Cape Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment (WCED) spokesper­son Jes­sica Shelver said the depart­ment in­vested more than R252 mil­lion to­wards e-learn­ing in the 2018/2019 fi­nan­cial year and over R1.2 bil­lion over a fiveyear pe­riod.

These projects in­cluded smart class­rooms with de­vices for teach­ers, ICT labs and an e-learn­ing por­tal with ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als among oth­ers.

Shelver said six schools have a ra­tio of one-to-one for pupil and de­vice and by the end of 2019, the depart­ment would have de­liv­ered over 32 500 de­vices.

Ed­u­ca­tion MEC Deb­bie Schäfer said there was “a des­per­ate short­age of teach­ers and in­fra­struc­ture. Given the in­creas­ing num­bers of learn­ers in our schools, and I am al­ways told that there is no more money. How is there sud­denly money for tablets?”

She said the depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion was digi­tis­ing state-owned text­books for pupils but claimed this did not suit all pupils, with in­ter­ac­tive con­tent a bet­ter so­lu­tion.

Dr. Daniel le Roux from Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity’s depart­ment of in­for­ma­tion sci­ence called the roll out “techno-op­ti­mism” be­cause he was scep­ti­cal of the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to de­liver.

“It’s this think­ing that we can just throw tablets at a bro­ken ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and we’ll fix our prob­lems through tech­nol­ogy, but it doesn’t work like that. It’s also one thing to man­age a cou­ple of tablets across a few schools, but to do it on over 23 000 schools is a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing that needs in­fra­struc­ture,” said le Roux.

“I’m cer­tain that tablets will bring a mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ence to chil­dren, but in terms of learn­ing per­for­mance, the re­search is not clear.”

Ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist Nic Spaull said while it was im­por­tant to keep pace with the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion greater em­pha­sis needed to be placed on the ba­sics like read­ing.

“Cod­ing is an im­por­tant skill for the 21st cen­tury but not more im­por­tant than read­ing. If you can’t read, you can do very lit­tle else at school.

“If we don’t get the ba­sics right in ed­u­ca­tion, then all the work higher up in the sys­tem is des­tined for fail­ure. Sixty-one per­cent of our Grade 5 learn­ers can’t do ba­sic math­e­mat­ics, 78% of our Grade 4 learn­ers can’t read for mean­ing in any lan­guage,” said Spaull.

| ZANELE ZULU African News Agency (ANA)

A teacher gives pupils as­sis­tance with us­ing their new tablet com­put­ers.

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