26 June 2019

Education Innovation Summit 2019

As we know, we are on the cusp of a revolution.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is characterised by technologies that merge the actual, virtual and biological. Well-known current examples of products that derive from these technologies include Bitcoin, 3D printing, driverless vehicles and augmented virtual reality.

Developments going forward will be fast, furious and inevitable, leading to a radically transformed experience of life – and we are urged to prepare ourselves, and especially our young, to be able to function and thrive in this new world.

Yet the digital technologies which the 4th Industrial Revolution integrates and builds on have yet to be mastered by the historically disadvantaged educators and learners of our schools.

Indeed, an international gathering of scholars, reported on by the Journal of Open Innovation in 2018, described the 4th Industrial Revolution as “the continuation of the ICT revolution”. For our young people to be able to function and thrive in this new world, they need, as a pre-requisite, to be able to use Information Communications Technology (ICT).

ICT in schools has tremendous benefits to both learners and educators. Among others, it promotes independent learning, collaboration and communication skills, which are all important for the 4IR future. It improves classroom administration and helps with assessment and tracking learner performance.

There are a growing number of ICT providers offering multiple solutions to schools, but it may be argued that cognisance is lacking about where disadvantaged schools are at in terms of their real and relevant needs, and about the enabling conditions that need to be achieved to make for the successful uptake and effective use of technology.

The call at this conference is for higher education institutions to evolve in order to prepare students for a tech driven economy. But the prospects of success in this are all the less if the pipeline from schools is lacking as it presently is. This is the case with the majority of schools in the public sphere and, if it is not effectively redressed, the path of the called for evolution of higher education institutions will reinforce and exacerbate social exclusion and inequality, with corresponding outcomes in a tech driven economy.

In general, independent, private schools have developed IT policies; wireless connectivity and high-speed internet access; ICT resources like tablets and iPads, computer labs; IT subject options; and perhaps even sound engineering, film, animation and music production facilities. Yet at the local level of the historically disadvantaged public school, circumstances serve to mitigate against the imperative of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

At its most basic level, our learners lack the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy for the more advanced skills needed to effectively use ICT. As is now well known, the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study found that 78% of grade four learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning, compared to 4% internationally. South Africa ranked last out of 50 participating countries.

Note should be taken of a 2015 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that every child should attain proficiency in reading and mathematics for equal opportunities in a digital world.

To highlight some of the key deficiencies that need to be addressed in preparation for the 4th Industrial Revolution, I draw on the experience of our work in some 463 schools, through our partner entities Adopt-a-School and KST, to implement what we call a Whole School Development Model.

This is a holistic and integrated model that addresses the governance, academic, infrastructural, social and security environment in schools. Our experience may well be said to generally apply across most of the public-school sector.

Connectivity is an essential requirement. According to a recent online report in the Financial Mail, 48% of primary schools in South Africa are not connected to the internet.

Where there is connectivity, its strength may be erratic including because of high user loads.

The Financial Mail report notes too, the requirement for dedicated and readily available technical support should there be connectivity and other technical problems. Where schools have computer labs, ongoing support is essential, as the online system goes down regularly. If there isn’t dedicated support, the labs may lapse into dormancy.

The lack of electricity at some schools also does not allow for the use of technology.

It goes without saying that the use of technology tools is dependent on access to them and their availability. So digital tools like word processing, presentations, blogs, recording, video or interactive platforms are significantly “never” used, and good digital content for learners is largely neither sourced nor created to enhance teaching.

The same holds true for computing and multimedia devices like tablets, audio recording devices, digital stills and video cameras and digital projectors. In some cases, where hardware like computers had been donated, they lacked the necessary software.

This raises a question of the cost of hardware, as well as of ongoing licence fees and support.

However increased access to resources does not necessarily mean that it would be effectively integrated into teaching and learning. We have found that educators are not pro-active in terms of ICT integration and require to be motivated.

Educator buy-in is another primary factor. As reported from a limited survey of some of our schools, educators do not necessarily feel “excited” and “confident” about using technology tools in the classroom.

It would seem that younger educators are more eager to use technology. Learners however have been observed to be intrigued and eager to learn and be challenged.

Educators indicate that they need more time in order to confidently integrate ICT in everyday teaching and learning. Educators forget their learnings and express a need for routine structured refresher training as well as on an ad-hoc basis depending on their needs.

Teachers need to be effectively capacitated to use technological tools otherwise it becomes a factor for the redundancy of such tools.

As an OECD report says, technology can enhance great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.

A further factor to consider is the insecurities educators may feel about their need and role with the introduction of technologies to the classroom. This is something that needs to be processed.

The effective integration of ICT in teaching and learning necessitates digitised curriculum content, of which there is a dearth.

Then there is the question of language. Digital devices invariably have their content in English, which is not necessarily the language of proficiency of teachers and learners. Learners also need for their vocabulary to be improved so as to use appropriate synonyms in their internet search capacities.

Online safety and security are also not ensured, and educators and learners need to be capacitated in this.

Security is of course a major concern with computers, projectors, laminators, scanners and the like being stolen. Providers of hardware need to account for security measures as well as the need for insurance, which is another cost burden for poor schools.

From the point of view of the Foundation, there is a need to better communication, partnership and collaboration by all role players. The entirety of our context must be accounted for and not just specific, narrow interests. For ours is a context of interdependent factors. The structural and socio-economic factors that impact quality education need to be effectively addressed to enable engagement with ICT and 4IR technologies.

More specifically, to mitigate some of the disabling factors for the successful uptake and use of technology, solutions need to be designed that interalia breach online/offline functionality; take account of cost structures so that access is more affordable and sustainable; transforms teacher development for 4IR; capacitates educators to integrate technology in curriculum delivery and with the necessary tools to facilitate differentiated teaching; and includes innovative hardware security measures.

Above all, focus must be retained on the principles of our collectively shared mission: to ensure functional schools, positive learning outcomes, and quality education.

Through its partner entities, the Foundation is developing and piloting an ICT strategy. This rests on our holistic and integrated Whole School Development model that addresses the interrelated factors that impact on education.

More directly the development of the strategy has included ICT resource and skills audits; evaluation of ICT infrastructure and use, competency and integration; the piloting of resource provisioning, including hardware and software; the building of computer centres and tablet systems; educator and learner ICT skills development; and the training of local youth to provide ongoing technical support to educators and learners.

The objectives of our ICT strategy support goals 16 and 20 of the Action Plan to 2014: Towards Realisation of Schooling 2025. It aims to integrate ICT into teaching and learning; empower school leadership on pedagogical leadership and with an ICT vision; capacitate educators for 21st century learning and teaching skills; and promote learners’ abilities to use the 4Cs in an online world i.e. critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

These 4C skills will crucially also help our young and future to navigate the challenges to such as identity, ethics and relationships that the 4th Industrial Revolution will usher.

– Mmabatho Maboya, CEO, Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation