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Pupils’ grasp of mathematics has significantly improved at the rural Sohlazane Primary School since digital learning was introduced last year. Sohlazane is one of three schools given tablets and training in the Via Afrika Digital Education Centre initiatives.

Schoolchildren are finding e-learning exciting and more stimulating than traditional lessons in the tough subject

An education fairy tale is unfolding in a poor, remote Mpumalanga village on the border of Swaziland.

The introduction of simple tablet computers six months ago to the children in Sohlazane Primary School in the village of Nhlazatshe has dramatically improved their mathematics results. They have boosted their Annual National Assessment (ANA) results fourfold – from 10% to 40%.

“The ANA used to beat us,” said Sohlazane principal Mamaki Luphoko from her modest office. “But we saw a marked improvement in the ANA we wrote last year.

“It is only 15 tablets that we have, but the impact is beyond our expectations.”

Sohlazane is one of three schools to benefit from textbook publisher Via Afrika Digital Education Centre’s initiative. It has also been introduced in Thabantsho Primary School in Bochum, Limpopo, and Itumeleng Primary School in Odendaalsrus in the Free State.

In all these schools, Via Afrika gave their container libraries 15 Android tablets and provided 3G connectivity. Teachers were then trained in the ins and outs of e-books and e-learning. The school’s ANA maths results shot up from an average of 17% to 51% in only six months.

Luphoko said the teachers were also trained in the migration from textbooks to tablets.

For both the children and the teachers, the digital library is a place of pleasure.

“I think they like using the tablets more than sitting in a class because they see videos and other things. So they concentrate and do well,” said Grade 5 maths teacher Mania Gininda.

“Whatever they do in class, they come and repeat here … it’s like revision for them. I think it encourages them to see the ticks and stars popping up immediately when they get the sums correct while they’re working on the tablet.”

Grade 4 pupils are taught only to find worksheets on the tablets. It is in Grade 5 that they start using the tablets for their exercises.

“It’s quicker to get answers on the tablet than in class,” said Tholakele Jele (11), a Grade 5 pupil.

Ten-year-old Linda Zulu said the experience of using a computer was thrilling: “We find different and exciting things on the tablets. It’s nice to use a computer.”

Via Afrika chief executive Christina Watson said that merely supplying the technology was not enough.

“Key to the initiative’s success was our undertaking to travel to these schools on a regular basis and to train staff on how to maximise the educational returns of the tablets for learners and their own teaching.

“We believe ongoing support and training have to be provided, along with the hardware and software, if a sustainable change is to be seen. Without this understanding, these projects often fail to provide the desired results,” said Watson.

Government is also beginning to embrace digital education in other provinces. The Gauteng and Western Cape departments of education began rolling out their e-learning projects this year.

Gauteng introduced its Big Switch On project at Boitumelong Secondary School in Tembisa. The paperless education system gives pupils access to computerised learning materials known as workbooks.

The migration of all Gauteng schools to digital education will cost about R17 million over the next five years.

The Western Cape will spend R1.2 billion on the roll-out of e-learning in the next five years to link schools to a high-speed, real-time wide-area network. They will also provide local area networks and technology-rich classrooms.

Online digital resources will be developed, too, as part of the Western Cape’s project.

This article was originally published on News24.com

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