Delphi, MS-Office forced on SA schools

In a circular dated 9 September 2013, the Department of Basic Education has declared that it will only be using Microsoft Office 2010 and 2013, and Delphi to implement the SA government school curriculum.

Outrage at the decision hit social media this week as the circular was made available to a wider audience, with a blog post by Derek Keats in particular being referenced by a number of commentators.

A trusted sourced has told MyBroadband that some teachers expressed surprise at the news and questioned the veracity of the circular being distributed online as they had not yet been informed about the change.

It has since been confirmed with educators that the circular is indeed real.

However, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has not responded to questions regarding the decisions to standardise on MS-Office for the Computer Applications Technology (CAT) and Information Technology (IT) school subjects.

The Institute of Information Technology Professionals (IITPSA) issued a statement on Thursday, 10 October 2013, in which it outlined the current state of affairs and argued that the DBE’s decision will have massive implications.

According to the IITPSA, the Western Cape, the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, and KZN teach Java while all the remaining provinces teach Delphi.

“The language debate has been whether to standardise on one of the existing languages (ie Delphi or Java); to allow both languages to continue; or whether the time is not right to switch to a more modern language, such as Python,” the IITPSA said.

It added that there are pros and cons with all languages, especially when they are taught as a first language at school level.

The IITPSA said that over the past three years provinces have expended significant resources training teachers to teach the new Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) material.

“The last training courses for teachers to equip them to teach the ‘CAPS’ Grade 12 material were held in the last June/July holidays,” IITPSA.

The IITPSA provided a list of implications it said the decisions will have, which are reproduced verbatim below:

  • Teachers currently in training might have to change the programming language they are being taught mid-stream.
  • Teachers in those schools where Java is being taught will need to be retrained during 2014 so that they are ready to teach Delphi in Grade 11 in 2015. Some may resist, as they know they will be retiring in the next year or so. Who will provide this training?
  • Many schools have had problems with sustaining IT as a subject. This from a cost perspective and also from the difficulty they have had in finding a suitably qualified teacher. They may decide that enough is enough and decide to start phasing the subject out from next year. In other words, this year’s Grade 10 class could be their last class. This could severely impact on the subject in the rural areas, which will be hard pressed to find suitably qualified teachers.
  • Most tertiary institutions are teaching C++, Java, Python or other similar languages. Can you see universities switching to teaching Delphi? So where will the trained teachers required in future years come from?
  • The SA Computer Olympiad finalists have, in the main, either been self-taught or have come from schools where Java has been taught. This will change and may start to impact on SA’s standing in the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) and elsewhere. Over the past number of years, only Pascal and C++ have been used in the IOI, but there is a strong possibility that Java will be used as from 2014.
  • In South Africa, we are taking a step backwards into the past as far as the teaching of IT in schools is concerned. In the rest of the world, the move is to Java and now possibly Python. Delphi is hardly taught in any school system elsewhere in the world.
  • The Delphi bias is towards teaching “commercial computing”, ie there is always a database of some form behind what is being taught. We are not training learners about “scientific computing”, which this country desperately needs. Where does the STEM focus slot into this decision?
  • The dropping of the provision for open source software seems to be contrary to the government’s declaration that state departments use open source unless they can show reason why open source products will not work. Many school systems around the world are seeing the benefits of using open source. Learners are using Android and iOS on their handheld devices – why shouldn’t they be exposed to using other operating systems, such as Ubuntu?
  • Many schools currently teaching CAT will not have the funding to move from MS Office 2003, MS Office 2007 or LibreOffice to the versions prescribed in the circular, and so could drop the subject. This could mean the numbers of learners taking CAT will start to decrease – and SA desperately needs IT-literate citizens.

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Delphi, MS-Office forced on SA schools