State’s education channel awaits digital migration

2014-10-12 15:00

The department of basic education intends to launch a free-to-air, 24-hour education channel next year to help pupils and improve teaching.

There is only one snag: it is dependent on the country’s digital migration, which was stalled by a fiercely contested debate between DStv and e.tv.

Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga this week said the education channel would be one of 18 that the SABC would broadcast once it had fully migrated to digital terrestrial television. The public broadcaster said it planned to start the migration in January.

“It will be a dedicated channel owned by government. We will manage and deliver curriculum content that will go directly into the classroom,” said Mhlanga.

“The channel will assist us in bringing the curriculum, policies and intervention programmes directly to pupils. Currently, there is no free-to-air channel dedicated to education. The channels we have now are on pay TV and very few people can access them.”

But Mhlanga admitted that it all depended on the digital migration – which has already faced lengthy delays.

“We are almost ready to roll. Our plans are at an advanced stage. But it all depends on when the SABC migrates from the analogue format to digital terrestrial,” he said.

The planned channel, Mhlanga said, would be versatile, and used for winter and summer classes for Grade 12s. It will disseminate important information, facilitate teleconferencing and enable the training of teachers.

“There is so much content that we need to share with both pupils and teachers. No one else can do this except us. We have the content.”

He said teachers were also in need of help.

“Teachers are not always competent. We have established through research that teachers skip sections they do not understand. In such cases, we will rope in experts to break down and explain those issues to them,” Mhlanga said.

Rural schools, which are hard to reach, would benefit the most, he said.

“It will certainly bridge the divide between urban and rural settings, and avail the same potential to all pupils, regardless of where they are.”

The move was part of the department’s strategy to gradually introduce innovation and technology, and move away from traditional methods of teaching, said Mhlanga.

The department has already completed a programme to digitise the entire curriculum and all textbooks, which are now available for tablets, iPads and computers.

“By 2019, all schools need to be connected to the internet, and be ready for information and communication technology,” he said.

The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union is piloting a channel – 319 on DStv – which will deliver content directed specifically at teachers.

The union’s general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, said the channel was launched in July and was being piloted in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The channel will be used for a variety of things. It will assist teachers with how to prepare for lessons,” he said. “It will be an interactive channel where teachers will be able to ask questions and share knowledge. We will also use it to communicate important announcements.”

Maluleke acknowledged that being on pay TV was a shortcoming as not all teachers had access to DStv.

“We are looking into ways of establishing the channel on free-to-air television. We should have that in the next year or two. We are doing all this in order to advance the profession.”

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