Effective training 'key' to SA paperless education

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 - Training of educators and officials is a key component before technology strategies are implemented in schools, says an expert.

Recently, the Gauteng Education department launched its paperless education system, expected to cost around R17bn.

"We are officially burying the chalk board, we are officially burying the duster, we are officially burying the chalk," said Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi at the launch event at Boitumelong Secondary School.

But unless there was a buy-in from all stakeholders, a programme of technology in education would not succeed.

"Training, training and then some more training of teachers, as well as education department officials.  The major reason for under-utilisation (or in many cases, non-use) of technology in schools is the lack of understanding on the part of teachers of the way in which technology is to be employed in the classroom," Kobus Van Wyk, head of e-Learning at Mustek told Fin24.

Expensive programme

Van Wyk was responsible for the Khanya Project which was tasked with equipping schools in the Western Cape with computer technologies.

In the decade that the project ran, he spent a budget of R1bn and trained 27 000 teachers to use technology in the classroom.

While Van Wyk conceded that teachers would generally know how to use a tablet, laptop or smartphones, the training should specifically focus on how these technology tools should be used in the classroom situation.

"So, when talking about teacher training, I don’t mean training a teacher how to use technology devices (although in many cases this is also required); rather it is training as to how to use technology to improve their own teaching in the classroom, and how to use technology as tools for learners to improve learning.

"Bear in mind that technology is not part of the traditional classroom with its chalk boards, books, pencils and so on.  Teachers are accustomed to these tools, and this familiarity forms the basis of their pedagogical skills.  They are completely out of their depth when given technology tools," he added.

Bergvleit Primary School runs a Computer 4 Kids programme sponsored, in part, by Intel Education Alliance. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

The Gauteng project is an expensive one. Even if the project doesn't go over budget at R17bn, it represents almost as much as the funding for the department of basic education's R19.6bn annual budget, or around 10% of the entire country's R186.1bn education budget.

Teacher training is also not always effective.

Effective training

In the Western Cape, teachers are obligated to attend education workshops on Saturdays and during school holidays without being compensated.

"A small part of the training is useful, but most of it is shit," said a teacher with over 20 years experience who wishes to remain anonymous.

Van Wyk said that if the training was not effective in helping teachers see the value of technology in education, it was doomed to fail.

"With close to 400 000 teachers in South Africa, it should be clear that the training (perhaps we should call it up-skilling) of teachers is a massive task. It will be an expensive and a labour intensive exercise. But unless it is done in tandem with the roll-out of technology devices in schools, there will be minimal return on the technology investment."

He said that best practice has shown that the cost of technology should only make up half of the capital outlay for a technology programme with the rest of the money being spent on training.

That implies that the cost of the Gauteng programme should be double its estimated budget if this practice is taken into account.

Van Wyk said that as technology allows children to find information themselves the role of the teacher will change dramatically, and the training should reflect this reality.

"These are skills [facilitation] teachers must be helped to acquire through progressive training sessions.  It takes time, particularly for those teachers with deeply ingrained traditional pedagogical habits."

Watch Kobus Van Wyk explain how teachers should be using technology in the classroom in this News24 Live video.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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