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Technology Training Is The New Benchmark For South Africa’s Teachers

teacher and learner holding tablet devices

Reducing the digital divide between under-resourced schools in both rural and non-rural communities is essential for South Africa’s workforce of tomorrow. This has become more urgent and the disparities even more glaring following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Left unchecked, the digital divide is going to grow even wider.  

The best place to start in reducing the digital divide is to be found in the empowerment of the educator. This is because teachers not only teach but command respect from their learners and play a critical role in shaping the future workforce. A teacher that is empowered with ICT skills is also likely to be passionate about people development through technology which is the bedrock of tomorrow’s development.

Considering the impact teachers have on children and youth this World Teachers Day, it is our desire and trust that they are fully technologically equipped to deal with the ever-changing classroom. According to Tatenda Zingoni, Senior Researcher at Birguid “Educational technology is the combined use of computer hardware, software, and educational theory and practice to facilitate learning.”  Sadly, in many South African classrooms, this has not yet been realised.

According to NPO Teach with Africa, teacher shortage is at the heart of South Africa’s education challenges. We do not have nearly enough new teachers coming into the field and, of those who do, ICT skills, and the severe shortage of teachers with critical subject competencies such as maths and science make the situation even dire.

If we focus on one subject alone – mathematics – we can see the issue more clearly. Between 2015 and 2019, the number of high school learners taking mathematics dropped by 16%. The shortage of teachers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) subjects combined with the low ICT penetration in the classroom is a contributing factor in this decline.

The result is South Africa performing poorly in mathematics education, knowledge and understanding with fewer matriculants passing the subject each year. This could have easily been made easier with the employment of technology in the classroom which amongst others, will make it possible to optimally use the scarce STEM resources to reach as many learners as is possible- especially those in the township and rural communities.

With the Department of Basic Education announcing earlier this year the plan to introduce coding and robotics to the CAPS curriculum, there are further opportunities to drastically improve teacher development especially in the use of ICTs.

The pandemic demonstrated the vast difference in response to a changing learning landscape between schools in the highest and lowest quintiles. While some schools were able to immediately implement e-learning systems, others struggled to simply get classwork printed and distributed to their learners- further emphasising the importance of teaching with technology

It is no longer enough for teachers to simply have a qualification; they have to incorporate technology into their teaching practice. Expertise in their particular subject has to be augmented with technology training as the new pinnacle of creating well-rounded educators. Technology training can help teachers be more productive, as it allows for more personalisation of lessons. It can also enhance communication between teachers and their learners and creates more opportunities for collaboration.

Introducing coding and robotics to the curriculum will require teachers who are competent in these subjects and there is a long way to go to achieve that when many teachers might not know how to properly use standard computer programs, send an email or create a digital presentation for teaching. To level the playing field, we must empower teachers with the requisite ICT competencies and soon.

To their credit, many teachers quickly adapted during the pandemic and learnt how to use virtual meeting platforms, created WhatsApp groups to distribute lessons they filmed on their phones and used social media to reach learners who needed to access their lessons through different platforms. If they are so willing to find solutions under the most trying circumstances, why can’t we give them the help and the support they need for future classrooms?

The benefits of properly training teachers include better response and academic performance from learners, potentially sparking their interest in other STEM subjects, discovering future tech whizzes whose aptitude is met with proper exposure and education even in the most resource-strapped communities, and nurturing a generation of youth who can ensure South Africa competes on a global level to open opportunities for greater investment in tech-related sectors.

Now is the time for private sector organisations, Government Departments, and educational institutions to build effective partnerships that put the focus firmly on preparing teachers for a digital world. Collaboration may present solutions for funding challenges and rollout of training initiatives as well as supply of the necessary equipment to lower quintile schools. As the saying goes, “Many hands make light work” and this is certainly the case to lift a heavy burden upon the education system.

It is true that not addressing this issue means we have much to lose. But, we have even more to gain by focusing on the preparedness of our Educators. We expect the highest standards of our Healthcare workers, our Law Professionals, our Engineers, and our Financial Services Professionals.

We must have that same level of concern and willingness to support continuous empowerment and Educator Development in line with the fast-changing teaching and learning environment. Technology is changing our present, our everyday life and our future.  So, let us make sure it positively changes the prospects for our teachers and ultimately our learners.

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