WHAT IT MEANS: Gauteng and Western Cape schools lead the rest. Some older teachers are resistant to technology

Its no secret that SA’s teachers need to broaden their skills. But how can someone like Moipone Morakile, an educator at Itumeleng Primary School in the Free State who is struggling to grasp new teaching technologies, be helped?

Morakile is one of the teachers who are looking forward to taking a digital literacy course with publishing house Via Afrika that is paid for by means of crowdfunding. The course could be transformative for her students — and in this way anyone can contribute to it.

Technology has the potential to change the way educators teach and even the way teachers and students communicate.

It is an important element in learning and will help produce students who are ready to tackle 21st century problems.

Learners require quick access to information, University of Cape Town professor Mamokgethi Phakeng says. Speaking at the Century Learning Conference held by Future Nations last month, Phakeng said students needed teachers to re-envision the role of technology in teaching. In SA, where digital skills in the classroom are often lacking, teacher education for this has become a priority.

“We have preschool learners navigating the iPad better than their parents and teachers, and 11-year-olds who already have the Internet and follow blogs, while teachers struggle to keep up,” says Phakeng.

Government launched the Operation Phakisa ICT in Education Lab initiative a year ago to transform teaching and learning through technology and to keep pace with the white paper on e-education published in 2004. “The department is still in the process of formulating a national strategy. It has not been finalised yet,” says Troy Martens, speaking for basic education minister Angie Motshekga.

Already, Gauteng and the Western Cape have made progress in implementing ICT (information and communications technology) in some of their schools.

“We are looking at these models and have taken their inputs into a national strategy to learn from their successes and challenges,” Martens says.

The competing priorities of a shortage of funds and the need for broadband connectivity have contributed to delays , particularly in rural provinces.

Success stories in the basic education sector have come about as a result of partnerships between government, the private sector and NGOs.

One of these, iSchoolAfrica, gives teachers and students access to educational technology and classroom practices through an iPad learning programme. Michelle Lissoos, director at iSchoolAfrica, says harnessing the potential of technology in schools requires more than just the deployment of devices.

“Our programme focuses on educating teachers. No ICT integration is successful without educators [having been trained for it],” says Lissoos.

Some educators are fearful of, and even resistant to, change, she says. “Some older-generation teachers refer to themselves as BBTs — born before technology — and think they are too old to learn how to use tech,” says Lissoos.

Others are apprehensive because of their concerns that using technology will limit their teaching time. And many don’t know that they can use technology without having an Internet connection.

The need for teacher training is clear. Via Afrika’s digital education academy provides this kind of training for them. It also helps bridge the gap between creators of new content and the teachers.

“Publishers are eager to educate teachers on how to use their digital platforms, but little attention [is] given to digital literacy,” says group content manager at Via Afrika, Micheal Goodman. He says teachers also don’t get paid enough to take on additional courses to improve their skills.

Through Via Afrika’s “I Support Education” crowdfunding initiative, members of the public can fund a teacher’s training session for R570. The session covers digital literacy on a tablet, how to apply social media in a classroom and how to use Google apps. It also covers what a teacher should look out for when making an informed decision before purchasing a digital device.

“It is easy to just say that education is a disaster. This is a platform for people to put their money where their mouths are,” Goodman says.

Extramarks Education, another digital teaching technology provider, even engages with parents, the school governing body and sponsors when it raises funds to equip the schools with tablets and other classroom technology.

“We first introduce a change management programme that addresses teachers’ fear of using technology. It has been developed by our in-house teachers,” says Extramarks country head Tanay Kulshreshtha.

Rather than trying to escape the digital wave sweeping through classrooms, Phakeng says teachers must embrace technology.

“They ban cellphones and tablets in classrooms, thinking that their problems will go away.” They should rather accept the way the world is today, she says.

This article was first published in Financial Mail on 7 October 2016.