Public schools in South Africa can look forward to joining the digital education revolution as some of their private school counterparts have been experiencing for the past few years, but education experts have cautioned against a rush to provide tablets and other digital infrastructure before a solid strategy and fundamentals have been put in place.
“In the rush to get on board with the 4th Industrial Revolution – a term many are invoking without truly understanding the issues involved – private schools have increasingly been offering coding, robotics and digital learning on their campuses,” says John Luis, Head of Academics at ADvTECH Schools, which has been at the forefront of introducing tech in South African classrooms for several years.
“However simply offering content that previously used to be in book or paper format, and not investing time and money in an holistic approach to content and delivery, as well as proper educator and support staff training, will render such initiatives futile and expensive mistakes,” he says.
Luis says while there is much talk about coding and ICT in schools, the key success factor when introducing technology in classrooms is the development of an appropriate and defined curriculum. And very importantly, tech in the classroom can never replace the fundamental core skills required for academic excellence.
In his State of the Nation address this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that government would, over the next six years, provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.
While the sentiment is welcomed, there is much work to be done before the time arrives to unbox devices.
“It is extremely important to understand that learning is served and not defined by technological tools,” says Dr Neelam Parmar, renowned global tech-ed expert.
“All too often we think that the technology will fix our teaching and learning problems in school but what is truly important that the technology is embedded firmly and seamlessly within the curriculum and lesson delivery in the classroom,” she says.
The digital strategy at ADvTECH schools was designed and implemented in conjunction with Dr Parmar, whose stellar career includes leading the implementation of technology and learning across The London Preparatory Schools in South West London and now in Ashford School, one of the United Learning Trust Schools. She is an award-winning professional, international researcher, author, thought leader and speaker on effective technology, pedagogic, and content integration within education.
“There is great potential in creating online learning systems to close the widening educational gap,” she says, “but to get to this point in education, it is vital that the government first understand the relevance of emerging technologies and the means of how to offer the necessary digital literacy skills for our next generation”.
She says the right curriculum is essential for successful and sustainable digital transformation in classrooms, and while the market is inundated with companies that claim to offer bespoke educational solutions, private – and now also the public education sector in South Africa – must realise that one solution does not fit all.
“At ADvTECH, we embedded a digital literacy curriculum which follows a structured format, and affords a flexible approach to adapt to the requirements of the classroom. The curriculum takes into account industry-wide key digital skills in areas of Computational Thinking and Programming, Creativity and Communication and Computer Networks and Collaboration.
“There is a great deal of hype around the 4th Industrial Revolution, and undoubtedly change is taking place at a phenomenal level, yet any change at this level needs to come with a vision, and with a vision we need a strategy.”
The risk is often that visions are little more than ideas without substance or structure, Dr Parmar says.
“For technology to become relevant in education, a strategy considering the grand scheme of systems, teaching and learning, curriculum redesign, teacher training, community, new partnerships and the relevant stakeholders, has to be considered. It is now time to act on delivering the right education to our students, by using the technology we know can make it happen.”