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Govt still to determine impact of ICT in its schools

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While there has been a rush to roll out e-learning programmes and get ICT-related devices into learners’ hands, the education department is yet to determine the impact this has had on learner performance.

This is according to the Department of Basic Education (DBE), in response to a written parliamentary question posed by Democratic Alliance (DA) member in the National Assembly, Nomsa Tarabella-Marchesi.

In recent years, the DBE and provincial education departments have ramped up efforts to establish an ICT and e-education strategy. The departments have done this by supplying tablets to learners, including access to e-learning programmes, all in the name of digitally upskilling and preparing the future workforce. 

In February, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced his government plans to equip every school child with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device over the next six years.

However, based on the reply to Tarabella-Marchesi’s question, the department is still to determine the success of its efforts. 

“Is (a) there any evidence of improvement in the performance of learners who have received the above gadgets [laptops, iPad/tablets and smart boards] as compared to schools who do not have these gadgets; and (b) her department finding value for money in providing the above gadgets; if not, in each case, why not; if so, in each case, what are the relevant details?” asks the DA MP.  

In its reply, the DBE states: “The department has not conducted a comparative research study to determine whether there has been an improvement in the performance of learners who have received the above gadgets as compared to schools who do not have these gadgets.”

Value for money

Despite the lack of comparative research to support its e-education strategy, the DBE highlights the primary value of providing ICTs in education is to transform teaching and learning.

These tools, according to the department, help enhance learning experiences, improve efficiency in delivering educational services and mitigate educational challenges.

According to the DBE, the Khanya Project run by the Western Cape Department of Education and the Gauteng Department of Education’s (GDE’s) ICT strategy are prime examples where technology is at work in the country’s public schools.  

The GDE aims to ensure schools in Gauteng are well-resourced with ICT facilities to promote e-learning with the aim of introducing devices and smart software into the classroom using technology, enhance teaching quality, access materials to engage learners, and train teachers and school administrators.

“It should be noted that in order to bring 21st century skills to learners, the department is implementing the use of ICTs and e-learning programmes to enhance the education environments that are best suitable for teaching and learning,” indicates the DBE.

Curriculum changes

In addition to providing smart devices, the education department has put plans in motion to roll out a coding and robotics curriculum for Grade R-3 and Grade 7, with plans to go live in January next year.

In regards to curriculum changes, the DBE believes a coding and robotics curriculum will develop learners’ ability to “solve problems, think critically and work collaboratively and creatively; function in a digital and information-driven world; apply digital and ICT skills; and transfer these skills to solve everyday problems”.

Last week, basic education minister Angie Motshekga revealed the University of South Africa (Unisa) agreed to partner with the DBE by making available 24 ICT laboratories throughout the country for the training of 72 000 teachers in coding.

With the support of Africa Teen Geeks, Unisa, North West University, ORT South Africa and Globenet, the DBE developed a framework for coding for Grade R-9.

Meanwhile, the basic education department recently came under fire for its proposed General Education Certificate (GEC) at the end of grade nine.

According to the department, this process is to facilitate the pathways between schools and colleges at a level below grade 12, with the aim to send more learners into technical education.

In a statement, the department says the GEC certificate is predicated on the three-stream model which has the academic pathway, technical vocational pathway and technical/occupational pathway.

“Under the technical vocational stream, there was a target of 10 000 artisans per year. The department has also introduced new subjects – technical mathematics and technical science – which could be referred to as applied mathematics and applied science.

“These were relevant in supporting areas of specialisation, and schools that offer these subjects were unveiled in different parts of the country, with the majority of them presently launched in Gauteng.”

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