South Africa says it is pushing ahead to grasp the many opportunities presented by the fourth industrial revolution. President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed a commission of experts to explore what this fusing of the physical, digital and biological worlds, driven by technology, will mean for the country.
One of the areas in which technology is already playing a major role is the school system with some South African schools having already embraced it. President Ramaphosa announced in his 2019 state of the nation address that tablets would be rolled out to all South African schools. There’s also been extensive research in recent years into the potential role of electronic and mobile learning in the country’s schools.
But are all South Africa’s public schools ready for this shift? As an academic whose research focuses on educational technology, I would suggest that five important factors must be considered before the answer is a resounding yes.
Of course, schools in the country are not homogeneous. But, broadly speaking, infrastructure, ongoing teacher training and support, appropriate localised content, technical support and safety and security must all be prioritised so that educational technology actually does what it’s supposed to: enhances teaching and learning.
The first important area is infrastructure.
Schools need technical infrastructure to support both online and offline access to digital resources. That physical infrastructure needs to managed and properly maintained. For this, proper planning is needed: hardware tends to be the last priority for schools when they have many other financial needs. A sustainable financial plan for hardware maintenance is crucial in the introduction of any technology in schools.
Data costs are another major concern. Software, related applications and learning content need to be available offline so that pupils can keep working beyond the school premises.