Change is never easy, especially in complicated matters such as evolving the education system to meet the demands of life in the 21st century. People tend to fall back on simplistic answers that attribute blame, rather than instituting processes that help the system to adapt and work towards an achievable vision.
For change to be successful, there needs to be proper change management.
One area in South Africa’s education system where the blame game is apparent, and change management is absent, is the role of teachers in digital education. It is said teachers are resistant to change, harbouring beliefs about technology that prevent the realisation of a 21st-century educational system.
These claims may reflect part of the reality but blame is unhelpful. As affirmed by a recent study published in the South African Journal of Education, teachers need systematic support to cope with change. The study suggested that the motivation for teachers to use technology in the classroom was affected by how useful they found it in teaching.
A good start to demonstrate the usefulness of technology to teachers is to look back at how the role of the teacher has been constructed, and how the impact of social, economic and technological shifts has made teaching an unenviable task, unnecessarily so.
In a few centuries, as notions of power, knowledge and the economy have changed, the position of the teacher has gone from a respected bearer of knowledge to one where some people are questioning whether they are even needed.
Knowledge is now more directly accessible through technologies such as Google and Wikipedia, and other specialised self-learning tools, so why should there be a teacher at all.
This hard-line position may be why teachers appear often to resist bringing technology into the classroom.
In the wake of the first industrial revolution circa 1750, teachers were envisioned to be one stage in the industrial production process, taking a batch of learners of the same age and filling them with the know-ledge needed to man their station on the assembly line on the factory floor. Teachers were encouraged to perform this role while standing on a platform at the front of the class, with learners sitting quietly in rows, imbibing the knowledge they were being spoon-fed.
The teacher was the “sage on the stage”. But, today, some previously appreciative audience members have begun to heckle.
At the front of the classroom now, we have a teacher trying to meet the demands of ideas of education that are still stuck in the past, while being criticised for not facilitating effective 21st-century learning.
The shifts towards more know-ledge and innovation-based economies present an opportunity to explore these alternative ideas of teaching and help teachers to adapt to perform in their new role.
This century has brought changes that signal further evolution in our relationships with knowledge, work and production. The type of work available, the number of jobs we can expect and the nature of those jobs is changing. It is no longer enough as an individual to possess knowledge, or to know where and how to access further knowledge independently.
People need the higher-level cognitive skills to use knowledge innovatively, the ability to create new economic opportunities for themselves and to work in real, blended or virtual environments, anywhere and anytime.
The levels of flexibility and adaptiveness that will be expected of people will be taxing.
The role of teachers in 21st-century learning should be that of a guide sitting beside learners, helping them to use the tools at their disposal to access knowledge and to build the critical thinking skills they need to thrive.
Thoughtfully designed digital education technologies, such as tablets and related digital education apps, can help to restructure and demo-cratise the classroom and give the teacher a position at the shoulder of each learner that allows for two-way communication.
Teachers will be able to identify learners who are struggling and provide individual guidance. This can take place in a classroom, remotely, or in a combination of both.
A haphazard, unplanned implementation is guaranteed to fail. For teachers to be able to use digital technologies in this way, they need to be trained.
And schools need to be taken through a process to prepare everyone involved for the changes that come with the introduction of digital education: principals, teachers, learners, school governing bodies, parents and communities.
Change management should be a key pillar in implementing digital education. Each person must be ready to take on the challenge of change.
Micheal Goodman is the group content manager at Via Afrika, a leading education publisher and digital education specialist.
This article was first published by Mail & Guardian on 3 February 2017.