The risks facing smart schools

Meso Thekiso (18) says his tablet has made learning easier. Picture: Msindisi Fengu
Meso Thekiso (18) says his tablet has made learning easier. Picture: Msindisi Fengu

Grade 12 pupil Meso Thekiso (18) has embraced the technology at Steve Bikoville Secondary School in Hammanskraal, Gauteng.

He says he feels “privileged and blessed” to be a pupil at a school that was chosen to pioneer the province’s paperless information and communication technology project, in which matrics use tablets instead of textbooks as learning aids.

Thekiso says he no longer has to walk long distances to school carrying a bag weighed down with books, nor does he need to crisscross his township in Kekana Gardens in search of a friend who has access to the previous year’s exam papers.

He says the tablet has everything he needs – text books, pervious exam papers and other types of learning materials.

“I now spend most of my time going through material in my tablet. It also saves me from getting into trouble because, sometimes, when we share the same space as teenagers, we influence each other to do the wrong kinds of things and not focus on our studies,” he says.

The tablets are pre-installed with lessons for maths, science, life sciences, geography and history.

The deputy principal of the school, Watson Musuko, says security remains a concern after thieves broke into their offices and stole 40 tablets. He says this also raises concerns about the safety of pupils and teachers.

Teachers are also worried that four smart boards that have been installed in Grade 12 classrooms will be stolen.

In addition to smart boards in classrooms, the department provided 30 teachers with laptops, and 121 Grade 12 pupils received tablets.

In 2015, thieves broke in and stole tablets destined for grade 8 and 9 pupils. The incident was reported to the police and education district authorities, but no arrests have been made and the stolen items have not been recovered, despite the fact that they are equipped with tracking devices.

Musuko says the risk of losing the access to this technology remains high because the school does not have a proper fence around it and the classrooms cannot be adequately secured. However, a security guard was employed after the incident.

Musuko says a drawback regarding the project is the lack of regular visits from technicians to fix the tablets and related technical glitches that occur.

“Tablets sometimes freeze and we have to contact the district for help. Tablets with cracked screens take a while to get fixed,” he says.

However, he is impressed with how the technology has affected the academic performance of the pupils.

“They enjoy being taught with this technology, and the teachers are also doing well. There were challenges initially, but I am able to help in some areas because I studied IT at university,” he says.

On a discouraged note, Musuko is critical of the school’s prefab classrooms, saying they are not conducive to learning because it is so hot in summer and so cold in winter.

Gauteng education department acting spokesperson Oupa Bodibe says the department plans to replace mobile schools in the province with brick and mortar structures – including Steve Bikoville Secondary School – despite budgetary constraints.

“Currently, the school is accommodated in proper prefabricated classrooms. However, the department, in conjunction with Gauteng treasury, is in the process of sourcing alternative funding,” Bodibe says.

He says the cost of a new brick and mortar secondary school is about R80 million.

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