Gauteng digital school initiative 'doomed to fail'

Tablets powered by Android like this Mecer M785 are increasing market share at the expense of Apple's iPad. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Tablets powered by Android like this Mecer M785 are increasing market share at the expense of Apple's iPad. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - Paperless education in SA will remain a pipe dream, unless there is definitive and sustainable funding to implement the policy, says a retailer.

News24 reported that the Gauteng Provincial government was intent on rolling out a R17bn digital education project that would see pupils equipped with mobile technologies to boost education efforts.

But there are serious concerns about whether the costs of the project will be met.

"The Gauteng Education department’s plan to introduce a paperless education programme is ill conceived as there will simply not be enough funds to provide each pupil with a tablet or a laptop," said Christopher Riley, CEO of laptop and accessories retailer, The Notebook Company.

In the Western Cape, the Khanya Project was tasked with equipping schools in the Western Cape with computer technologies.

Ambitious programme

In the decade that the Khanya Project ran as a public private partnership, R1bn was spent and 27 000 teachers trained to use technology in the classroom.

But it wasn't a walk in the park. Some computer labs fell into disrepair as a lack of training and support reduced the effectiveness of the programme.

The Gauteng programme is far more ambitious, and while technological advances and economies of scale should reduce the cost of devices, there are specific challenges in following the example of countries such as South Korea and Japan.

"It is a noble attempt, but I just don't see how the government can afford all the tablets. Most students' parents will certainly not be able to pay for tablets or laptops," said Riley.

Bergvliet Primary School in Cape Town is a first adopter of digital education with a tablet teaching programme sponsored, in part, by the Intel Education Alliance. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

In India, a government-sponsored programme to promote Aakash tablets for use in tertiary institutions has had mixes results as some students complained that the devices were inadequate for their purpose.

Despite the optimism, the government has conceded that there are significant institutional challenges in pushing technology in schools.

In terms of the National Broadband Policy, SA Connect, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele said that 8 491 schools had been connected with broadband in the past five years.

One-stop-shop service

"I am aware that not all these schools are utilising their facilities as effectively as we had hoped. The Department has started an audit of the schools we have connected to identify the challenges they face," Cwele said on Mandela Day in Nelspruit in 2014.

Well-resourced schools are moving fast to adopt mobile technologies and a number of providers are filling the gap, providing a one-stop-shop service.

The favoured device is often an Apple iPad even though the device costs far more than Android-based tablets. In some cases schools are able to secure bulk discounts for devices.

Inevitably though, parents have to deal with the cost of the jump toward technology, and those who cannot afford it risk being left behind.

Riley said that the idea to go paperless was focused on solving short term problems, rather than finding a sustainable solution.

"Introducing a paperless education system would certainly help to end the embarrassing non-delivery of school text books which have been plaguing the country for some time now, but it remains an unobtainable goal simply due to the cost of implementation. This could be summed up as a case of covering the problem of text book delivery, rather than finding a solution."

Watch this video on how Bergvleit Primary School runs a Computer 4 Kids programme sponsored, in part, by Intel Education Alliance.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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