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SABEN promotes broadband connectivity to improve teaching, learning and management at 50 TVET colleges nationwide

The SABEN project is part of government's commitment to produce a skilled and capable workforce that will help forge a national knowledge economy.

Johannesburg, 01 Aug 2019
Read time 4min 40sec

As part of a renewed commitment to producing a skilled and capable workforce to help forge a national knowledge economy, government is assisting with the provision of high-speed, broadband connectivity to 50 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges across the country.

Increased support for TVET colleges was again prioritised by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his state-of-the-nation address in February 2019. The recent appointment of a single minister for higher education, science and technology has been hailed by analysts as heralding a more integrated approach to the promotion of a knowledge economy.

The project plans to connect TVET college campuses to the South African National Research Network (SANReN). It is being implemented by the South African Broadband Education Networks (SABEN) under the auspices of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The project is being funded by a grant from the National Skills Fund (NSF).

The SANReN is being implemented by government to provide high-speed connectivity for higher education institutions (universities and TVETs) and research councils. It is a purpose-built network, entirely separate from the commercial Internet. It provides high-speed connectivity to its users and is designed for the needs of the most demanding Internet users in the country: scientists, teachers, academics and researchers.

The network is primarily formed to cater for large data transfers and collaboration between users and the international research, teaching and learning community. It is engineered to support high-quality services that remain consistent, regardless of the number of users on the network, and can accommodate sudden spikes in traffic. There is no concept of a cap or throttle of throughput. Because the capacity, throughput, jitter and delay requirements of the network can be stringent, commercial network providers cannot make these connections available quickly and at an affordable price.

The network establishment and maintenance has been funded by the Department of Science and Technology and was built by the SANReN Competency Area at the CSIR. The Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (TENET) is a not-for-profit company that has been established to operate the network. SABEN, a division of TENET, was established to manage the TVET connections to SANReN.

The provision of SANReN access to TVET colleges and their component campuses seeks to help them manage their current capacity shortfalls more effectively by facilitating access to comprehensive information, research and educational resources which can offer invaluable support to learners, teachers and administrators at the colleges. This will help to furnish learners with the Internet access and knowledge resources that they need to study and graduate, and will provide TVET lecturers and facilitators with the research and teaching materials that they require to improve their educational offerings.

The connectivity offered by SABEN will also support college administrators, easing their access to a full range of programmes and data that can support them in their management and planning efforts.

To meet the demands for the kind of workforce that is required to forge a knowledge economy, it has been recognised that TVET learners and apprentices will need to be equipped to become “self-programmable”; that is, capable of combining and recombining available information to produce creative solutions to the shifting challenges that they will face in their work and social lives.

The deployment of enhanced broadband connectivity through the SABEN project is crucial to the development of such skills. For example, the rapid, selective assimilation and use of data gleaned from the Internet constitutes an increasingly important skill in the job market. TVET learners and apprentices must be able to practise and hone such skills at college.

TVET lecturers and facilitators should be able to guide TVET learners and apprentices in the evolution of the post-school sector in line with the demands of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). In this regard, the SABEN project can produce real benefits. For example, easier access to the teaching information, research and training resources that constitute the potential learning platform can significantly improve the quality of the education received, particularly in a financially constrained environment such as TVET colleges, where such materials may be at a premium.

The improved connectivity offered by SABEN can also help TVET administrators to manage their institutions more effectively. The goal is to increase their capacity to administer on a day-to-day basis and for the future. Policymakers have noted that the quality of the educational inputs for TVET colleges and SETA-supported learning programmes must be improved. In particular, courses need to be better tailored to learner and employer needs.

The analysis of big-data sets made possible through broadband connectivity can inform this process. Enhanced connectivity can also ease the establishment of better data-management systems at TVETs, which would enable more effective monitoring of institutional performance and facilitate its improvement.

As part of the project, SABEN is engaging directly with each of the 50 public TVET colleges regarding the specific connections appropriate for each of their component campuses, with the aim of ensuring appropriate connections at all of the 325 component campuses within two years.

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