Tech education needs careful expansion - expert

Technology is set to revolutionise education. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Technology is set to revolutionise education. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - Shifting the focus to technology's role in education is an admirable move on the part of SA's government but policy makers should tread carefully to ensure that resources are not wasted, says a UK company involved in the industry.

The Gauteng provincial government recently announced a massive technology in education programme set to cost around R17bn.

Part of the programme is expected to see the roll-out of devices such as tablets to school children.

But technology's ability to boost learning is multifaceted and should be looked at from all angles, explains an executive from an e-learning company.

"One of the things that we've noticed as a result is that the partners we work with are all trying to innovate in the e-book space as opposed to the print space," George Burgess, CEO of Gojimo told Fin24.

Burgess founded the firm while still at school as a way to distribute educational content and recently launched his company's application in SA.

He said that the expansion of technology in educational programmes across the globe has been mixed, even in Europe where there is more infrastructure to support mobile technologies.

"You can look to the UK and the US and point to examples where this has worked, but for every one that's worked, there are also cases where this hasn't worked particularly well."

Education spending

In SA, the government has committed to spending a large chunk of the budget on education.

"Over R640bn will be allocated to basic education during the next three years," Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said in his maiden budget speech this year.

While technology programmes are coming into vogue, the minister indicated that a significant portion of the projected budget will go toward books for learners in the medium term expenditure framework (MTEF).

However, a digital programme that includes e-books, mobile devices and infrastructure support such as internet connectivity is difficult to achieve.

"When you're trying to do this at scale, the most important thing is to look at instances where it hasn't worked and learn from this and also consider what is the infrastructure and local conditions like," Burgess said.

The Gojimo application has free content for Grade 10, 11 and 12 as well some undergraduate content in Biology, Marketing and Politics among others.

"One of the things we've done in the technology that we've built is we've actually made it so that the student only has to download their content once," Burgess asserted.

Training

Vodacom recently launched its e-school portal at a cost of around R5m where learners are able to download content and engage with the platform at zero rated data charges if they have Vodacom SIM cards in their mobile device.

A large component of the programme consists of teacher training and Vodacom has trained over 1 000 in the use of ICT.

"We help train teachers on the integration of ICT in the classroom. We’re moving away from having a blackboard in the classroom and the teacher just standing and instructing," Suraya Hamdulay, Vodacom executive head for corporate citizenship, told Fin24 recently.

The Gojimo application supports the South African education curriculum. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

"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.

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.

Local conditions

Burgess agreed with this sentiment, saying that local conditions in SA demanded a specific technology methodology to address education needs.

"Often there needs to be this investment and this thinking around 'What technology can we implement giving our local conditions?'

"And those conditions will be very different from SA than they are to the UK or US or other p[arts of Europe where there has been this shift to tablets."

What do you think is the ideal technology for education in SA? Let us know.

Watch George Burgess, CEO of Gojimo explain the best practice to implement technology in education in this online video:

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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