Breaking tech illiteracy at South African schools

President Cyril Ramaphosa has taken an aggressive stance on tech in schools, saying that he wants coding to be a compulsory subject.

Ramaphosa has also said that within the next 6 years, he wants every school child to have a tablet for academic use.

However, education expert Nic Spaull has claimed that ensuring schools have access to functional computer labs is much more important than giving learners tablets.

To learn more about how to implement technology in poorer schools in a way that is practical and provides value, MyBroadband spoke to the head of Educational Technology Programmes at UCT, Professor Dick Ng’ambi.

The value of tech education

Ng’ambi said that it is important to break the cycle of tech illiteracy.

“Of course teachers’ readiness to teach with technologies is critical, but so is the need for learners to be exposed to technologies, without which, learners will be further disadvantaged and the cycle will continue to repeat itself.”

“Use of technologies among learners also impacts on their motivation, creativity and on the general positive outcome of the possibilities of what they can do in life,” he added.

He cautions that it is crucial to use technology in education in a way that actually improves the learning experience, rather than just as a gimmick.

“There is a difference between using technologies in teaching and teaching with the technologies. If a teacher teaches with technologies (e-teaching), and enables learning with technologies (e-learning), opportunities for technologies to unleash creativity, initiative and innovation in both teaching and learning become possible.”

According to Ng’ambi, this would also allow for the acceleration of learning beyond the limitations of the teacher.

He added that it is crucial that the technologies used add value at a variety of levels – including how a topic is taught, how the learner understands the topic, improving the frequency of feedback received by the learner, and administrative benefits.

Ng’ambi added that there is even more benefit to using tech in education at underprivileged schools than there is at historically affluent schools. This, he said, is because it is easier to see the value that technology provides when there are economic or infrastructural constraints present.

Implementing tech in underprivileged schools

“What is important for schools facing constraints is not to give up but to continuously explore innovative ways of making the most of what they have available,” said Ng’ambi.

One way to do this, Ng’ambi said, is through sponsorships from private sector institutions.

According to Ng’ambi, the private sector institution could sponsor a computer lab, or even just Wi-Fi. He said that this model already seems to be working in some parts of South Africa.

“Given the high licencing costs, schools could consider using free cloud based tools,” Ngambi added.

Another big struggle for economically disadvantaged schools is a lack of electricity, while if these schools do have electricity, data proves to be an additional deterrent.

“The use of a grid extension or solar panel systems can solve the problem of lack of electricity and provide the much needed power for technologies to be used in schools,” suggests Ng’ambi.

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Breaking tech illiteracy at South African schools