Technology can put the spark back into SA’s classrooms
As the debates around matric pass rates and the numbers of maths and science students in South Africa rage on, one thing is certain: we need to actively create as many opportunities as we can for South Africa’s young people to get the 21st century skills they need to live and work in a global economy.
Across the country, school leaders, parents and education stakeholders are asking tough questions: How can we make learning more accessible and relevant? How can we engage the natural desire of students to learn? How can we prepare our young people adequately for a successful future?
These are questions that need to be confronted right now. The US-based National Science Foundation estimates that up to 80% of the jobs created in the next decade will require some mastery of technology, maths and science. A recent McKinsey study shows that two-thirds of those jobs don’t even exist today.
One of the tools that can help us is right under our noses: technology. This is the single biggest weapon we have to help improve teaching and learning in our classrooms, and help overcome historic inequalities in our education system.
Using technology, teachers can breathe new life into relevant lessons. They can geo-locate a region on a historical map and integrate videos and music clips. Learners can take digital photos and make their own documentaries. The possibilities really are endless – and research shows learners respond better to this type of learner-centred, creative teaching style.
A growing body of studies suggests that once technology appears in the classroom, there is an almost immediate improvement in student behaviour. They become more attentive in class, are more willing to speak up during lessons, start coming in to school early, and get more homework done.
Cloud computing is one area of technology that holds great promise for education. Essentially, cloud computing is all about providing content and services through the internet (the cloud). With content or e-learning resources hosted in the cloud, there is nothing that prevents learners from accessing material from home, if they have a suitable device – and that doesn’t have to be a notebook or a PC.
Today, learners can use mobile phones to access and share educational material, with several examples of mobile-based programmes that help learners with subjects like Mathematics and Science.
Teachers can create learning opportunities across multiple devices, including mobile phones. They can share e-Libraries, e-textbooks and workbooks, create curriculum resources, record lessons and publish them online in class sites in the cloud where students are able to view, open, produce, edit and share their homework.
Cloud-based technology even allows school IT departments to save money and free up critical time by counting on external providers to manage routine tasks such as applying server updates and software upgrades.
But it’s not just about the technology. Our education system will not be miraculously transformed by giving schools computers, and training teachers how to use them. It’s about bringing innovation to learning, teaching and the management of education. How do you personalise the education experience? How do you incorporate new modes of classroom design and curriculum, or think about assessment differently? How do you change a learner’s vision of his or her future?
Once we answer those questions, though, we’ll find technology to be not only a dynamic way to deliver interactive educational resources, but also the first line in teaching fundamental information and communication technology skills that will help learners develop and become more creative and productive when they enter the workforce.
(by Kabelo Makwane, Public Sector Director at Microsoft South Africa)