Education analyst and development activist Graeme Bloch criticised the poor standard of South African education at the recent BHP Billiton Skills Development Summit. "We are amongst the worst (educated) in the world, certainly in Africa, we don't have the required high level skills because we don't get the basics right. Even when there are textbooks our children still can't read and count."
The core of the 2030 vision focuses on capabilities with critical and scarce Information Technology (IT) skills identified in all fields of industry. It makes sense therefore to make technology more accessible to learners at school.
This could happen if Professor Johannes Cronje, Dean of Informatics and Design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology has his way.
Addressing the media recently, he said he believes that technology is an essential key to addressing the current education crisis. "We need to realise that the days of textbooks are over, especially in South Africa where textbooks are not as freely available as Internet access, so we should make use of this technology in the classroom."
He said there are hundreds of open educational resource programmes, such as Wikipedia online encyclopaedia, YouTube and Google, as well as Wiki Educator that is specifically tailored towards education.
Professor Cronje cited a South African initiative, Siyavula that was started in 2008 by Mark Horner, with seed funding from the Cape Town based Shuttleworth Foundation. Its aim is to support teachers to work collaboratively sharing and developing openly licensed resources (OLR). The advantage of using OLR is that resources can be adapted to cultural relevance, refreshed and printed without the barriers associated with textbooks, which fall under restrictive copyright license.
"The sharing of knowledge and online resources saves teachers time and allows them to focus on delivering quality education, backed up by a team of expert community facilitators, so that they gain maximum benefit from the support team and portal," says Horner.
According to Professor Cronje, a teacher's role in educating learners has changed from presenting information to one of motivating learners and pointing them to online resources to gather information.
However, he suggests that as learners have access to cell phones and MP3 players these could be used by learners to download text files and record lessons, it is not necessary for schools to purchase expensive equipment. "Let's start using the technology that we already have, as open source learning is there for the taking and is accessible to everyone."
Spurgeon-Haddon Wilson, project manager of Media24 Rachel's Angels Trust, echoes the sentiments and says, "the lack of access to educational programmes and tools are one of the largest contributing factors to poor performance in our schools.
Learners and teachers do not have the access to necessary resources but I am confident that should we be able to provide, even only basic IT resources, this will go a long way to improving performance." Wilson added further, "this has become far too big a project for government alone, reaffirming the need for organisations such as Rachel's Angels."
Rachel's Angels, Media24's largest corporate social investment project, aims to make a difference in education that goes beyond academics only. Their mentorship programme, involving senior students from the University of Stellenbosch as mentors, works to improve the academic lives of Grade 11 and 12 learners from multicultural and previous disadvantaged schools, by building confidence and preparing students for life after school.
Capetonian, Kobus van Wyk who has been in the computer industry for thirty years and 12 years in education, feels that because of the workplace demands for IT literacy, that these skills must be developed before a child leaves school.
"It is no longer a case of should we use technology in schools, but rather how quickly can we introduce into the classrooms." Van Wyk said that while educators in other countries are already experiencing the power of technology as teaching and learning tools, South Africa is still grappling with the basics.
He added that NGOs and corporate business need to play a major role in making classroom technology a reality as, "The state alone can't make technology in education happen, even though we are looking at the national and provincial education departments to take the lead."
Although technology may still be in its infancy in public schools, the local IT industry is growing and entrepreneurs have joined forces in various initiatives that are funded by government, industry and Sectoral Education Training Authorities SETAS).
The initiatives were formed to create a network of top local technology experts spanning a variety of fields, to keep skills and employment opportunities in the region, but they have seen the need to expand into the local community through training and skills development programmes.
The Cape IT Initiative (CITI) is an NGO that was established in 1998 and its main stakeholders are the Western Cape Provincial Government, local ICT companies, creative, technically minded individuals, as well as collaboration with National Government.
One of its programmes is CapaCITi 1000, a multi-stakeholder training, internship and research initiative aimed at growing the pool of graduate level IT skills that are in critical short supply. Graduates are currently doing post-graduate diplomas or software certification training across five training programmes at three universities in the Western Cape.
In George, the Garden Route Technical Consortium, (members of CITI) has gone a step further and is reaching out to high school learners. "Currently we are training learners in technology to enable them to further their education and help them get into the electronics industry," said consortium member Imel Rautenbach.
Fortunately, in the Western Cape teachers and learners at 200 public schools will have access to IT after a mobile Information Communications Technology (ICT) Resource Centre was launched in Worcester in July.
The resource centre is one of nine being implemented in each province by the National Department of Basic Education, in partnership with Vodacom and its aim is to empower teachers and learners with a variety of teaching resources, rich in multimedia content.
"... in 2030 we live in a country which we have remade. We have created a home where everybody feels free yet bounded to others; where everyone embraces their full potential; a community that is proud to be a community that cares." (Quote from Vision 2030 statement)
About Rachel's Angels Trust
Launched in 2007, Rachel's Angels is Media24's largest corporate social investment project. This Western Cape based mentorship programme is aimed at Grade 11 and 12 (Standard 9 and 10) learners, with an emphasis on improving academic abilities and life skills in order to help them to deal more effectively with post-matric challenges.
After a two-month recruitment drive, beginning in June every second year, 20 new multicultural and previously disadvantaged schools are selected as programme participants. A total of 140 learners are then selected to participate in a new two-year cycle, each paired with their own individual mentor. Mentors are senior students (second year and above) recruited from the University of Stellenbosch.
The project was conceptualised by Professor Rachel Jafta from Stellenbosch University's Department of Economics, Koos Bekker, Managing Director of Naspers and Professor Jakes Gerwel, Chairman of Media24.
Media24 Rachel's Angels Trust Project Manager
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