SA's e-learning under the spotlight

Tyson Ngubeni
By Tyson Ngubeni
Johannesburg, 09 Dec 2014
Bridge aims to highlight factors that make e-learning viable in local contexts.
Bridge aims to highlight factors that make e-learning viable in local contexts.

As numerous e-learning projects across the country tap into the benefits of increased ICT integration in classrooms, non-profit e-learning organisation Bridge has issued a report, highlighting those that have made an impact in different regions.

The "What's Trending" report looks at initiatives that have run throughout 2014, while outlining factors that make them viable in local school contexts.

Teacher development through 'blended learning'

The in-service teacher training taking place at North West University (NWU) uses annotated videos of its students conducting micro-teaching sessions as a learning tool. Peer groups are able to assess, comment and share on-screen as the video plays, which helps to build up a dialogue within a learning community.

Christo van der Westhuizen, an academic at NWU, says applying ICTs as a supportive tool in classrooms "pervades and consequently alters the pedagogy and methodology of teaching and learning". However, he notes, finding the applicable technology should be the first priority of any technology initiative.

Nokia mobile mathematics

SA's mathematics students are struggling with mathematics, as the Department of Basic Education's (DBE's) recent Annual National Assessments (ANA) recently revealed. Grade nine pupils scored just 10.8% on average, raising alarm bells for the students' prospects. According to Bridge, the introduction of the Nokia Mobile Mathematics app has demonstrated its potential to help improve maths learning for students and teachers. Through its interactive practice mechanisms, concepts are tested on a platform familiar to younger users, while teachers can use it either as a diagnostic tool for remediation, or to help them gain the procedural fluency they need for effective teaching.

Tech4Red tablets in rural classrooms

The ongoing Cofimvaba Schools District Technology Project, which introduces tablets for teaching and learning in Eastern Cape rural schools, aims to improve teachers' familiarity with technology, while finding efficient ways to support students in under-serviced areas. Merryl Ford, manager of the Tech4Red project, notes any e-learning venture needs the buy-in of all levels of the education system to ensure sustainability and success.

Rethink Education e-learning

E-learning content provider Rethink Education aims to deliver learning material in non-traditional ways, enabling it to engage youth who use technology to communicate. According to Bridge, Rethink's maths and science content is written for the South African syllabus and is delivered through Mxit apps and Web platforms.

'Urgent interventions'

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister of basic education Annette Lovemore has called on government to adopt "four urgent interventions" to address challenges in the education system.

Lovemore says every teacher who teaches mathematics must write the ANA completed by the children they teach, and at least one grade higher than what they are teaching. "This must include teachers active in every phase of schooling. A diagnostic report, determining the areas of concern, must be produced based on the results of the tests written."

The second intervention is to test subject advisors employed at district offices. She says advisors are required to assist with the improvement of the teaching of mathematics in schools, and they - along with every official involved in the curriculum at every level - must write the tests.

As a third suggestion, she notes testing must be carried out after every intervention that is designed to improve skills. "The before and after results must be compared, and the necessary action taken, if no improvement is evident."

Lastly, the entire process must be transparent, according to Lovemore. She says the public should be informed throughout the process in the same way as it is made aware of the results of testing the children. "No individual teacher will be named, but South Africans deserve to understand the extent of the problem, in order to be part of the urgency of rectification."