Eastern Cape Schools embrace e-learning

Eastern Cape Schools who have been exposed to telematics might be the case study that proves ICT is the way of the future

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has long been mooted as the key to academic success in South Africa. A national education ICT strategy under the project management of Peter Gent, former COO of Rand Merchant Bank, singled out e-Administration and e-Learning as the two critical ICT interventions that will come to the rescue of education.

 ICT, in turn, is one of the critical steps that the NECT has taken in pursuit of educational reform – which will see 90% of learners passing maths, science and languages with 50% by 2030.

Navigating the complex e-Learning landscape

e-Learning, Peter believes, is a challenge. “e-Learning is a complex value chain,” he says. “It starts with content that has to be digitised, then the ability to put that content onto the web, so we need a portal and the cloud. Then we need the ability to transmit that information to schools and teaching centres – that’s a connectivity issue – as well as the ability to cache it at the school, so it can be accessed when it is needed. Then you need the devices for the teachers and the learners to consume that material. Those are all the technology aspects: the technology needs to be implemented and supported, and people need to be trained to maintain and use it.”

These complexities are compounded by the softer issues; the human behaviour side. Peter describes this as “more challenging”, and explains that “teachers must be trained to use the material. But more importantly, you need to convince teachers that they should use it as a learning tool and provide them the opportunity to share their successes and experiences”. He believes that this is a significant hurdle, as impressing the importance of e-Learning on teachers who are not familiar with the technology can be a significant challenge.

For e-Learning to succeed the entire value chain must be implemented.

“There have been pockets of e-Learning success, but they are few and far between and limited. And that is because all too often one or another part of the value chain is implemented and not the whole value chain,” Peter says.

Peter asks us to assess the appropriate solution to e-Learning in South Africa. His own view is that it won’t be one universal blueprint, but rather numerous blueprints dependant on the situation of the school in question. He argues that, “you need to assess and characterise these schools based on a number of variables, and you’ll need a model for each one.”

Perhaps then, localised solutions to the e-Learning challenge might be the way to go – where one school or area has its own take on e-Learning based on geography, affluence, technological advancement in terms of connectivity, familiarity with technology among other factors.

And this, Peter feels, is where an organisation such as the NECT can make an e-Learning contribution – by, for example, looking for ways to get connectivity to schools. “And in this space,” Peter points out,  “you really are looking to leverage whatever there is.”

This is precisely what has happened in the Eastern Cape. The e-Learning system at work there is a localised network of telematics centres in an area that learners can travel to, and utilises educational broadcasts from the University of Stellenbosch, through a partnership with the NECT. The centres use content generated by the university, in a long-distance broadcast of digital teaching.

Eastern Cape Telematics Unpacked

Telematic centres were in place at the start of November 2014 and after training were completely operational by the beginning of 2015. 10 centres have been established, five in the Mt. Frere and five in the Lebode districts. These centres are aimed at senior learners ranging from grades nine to 12.

Out of the 10 telematics centres, eight are fully operational with one suffering from connectivity issues due to its remoteness and another pending repair.

A potential 11 650 grade 11 and 12 learners are targeted to benefit from the systems. However, distance and travel remains a challenge in these areas. Craig Gibbs, NECT Programme Director, acknowledges that while the centres are such a positive thing, “it’s unfortunate that there is no transport system in place – so the systems are not reaching as many learners as they could. A transport solution is required and in our upcoming meeting with the MEC this will be discussed.”

Embracing telematics

According to Craig: “Teachers are now using the systems for more than just languages, maths and science – as was originally envisioned – but for all subjects”, which confirms Peter’s theory around ICT being a key pillar of teacher professionalisation. Peter comments that, “in many ways, the primary initial beneficiaries will be teachers, as it gives teachers the opportunity to be a part of a global community; to see global best practice and to engage with their community in their districts around the globe.” Craig agrees, “teachers embraced the training to use the systems, and are given the opportunity to interact through sending questions and comments through a dedicated SMS line.” This enables teachers to seek advice and ask their questions in real time, connecting them to a larger educational framework.   

The future may see teacher training including ICT or telematics at varsity level. Craig agrees with Peter, and says “we need to build a culture of using technology as a learning tool. We also need to extend that into the way teachers are trained at universities”.

Abe Seakamela, NECT Project Manager for the Eastern Cape agrees that the telematics centres have made a difference to both teachers and learners and says, “the feedback I have received from speaking to teachers and learners has been incredibly positive and teachers seem to be coping very well with the lessons.”

 

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