Digital schools: is this the end of education as we know it?
Last updated on 28th November, 2018 at 02:01 pm
How often do you share stories about schools in your day? Fast-forward to the technology era, these stories probably sound like you went to school in prehistoric times. From the overhead projector being one of the most sophisticated pieces of technology in a classroom, technology has opened up a whole new world of learning materials beyond the textbook.
From traditional to the future
As we advance into the digital era, classrooms are becoming more and more like futuristic spaces characterised by computers, smart boards and laptops. In some (privileged) South African schools each learner has his or her own iPad, which they connect to the school’s Wi-Fi. They are engaged in a way learners have never been before. But in other South African schools, the technology is as outdated as the sanitation. The smart boards and other technologies promised by education MECs have yet to materialise and in many where they have been installed, theft is a common problem.
Technology – the answer to challenges in learning?
Socioeconomic challenges (travelling to school, child-headed households, poverty and more) also have an immense impact on education and the learning process. It’s no wonder half of South Africa’s high-school learners drop out by grade 10. But technological change is creeping in, as ‘edtech’ entrepreneurs have responded to the growing demand for teaching and learning support. At R40 a year per grade, E-Classroom is as cheap as electronic learning platforms come, yet many families and learners still struggle to subscribe. Expensive data and lack of access to Wi-Fi is the greatest challenge for learners wanting digital connectivity. But the good news is; service providers are partnering with online learning platforms to offer free data to subscribers when using the sites.
The first step towards individualised learning
According to a Gauteng high school principal who asked not to be named, technology must empower teachers and learners. “It can help teachers manage their classrooms and give learners far more engaging and interactive lessons. It can help a teacher bring their subject to life,” he says. But in the future, technology must be used to enable individualised learning. That’s how technology is going to truly innovate education and learning.
Digital learning as the new success?
Pretoria-based Janessa Leita believes she has begun the digital schools innovation in South Africa. When Leita realised the schooling system wasn’t working for her son, she decided to develop what she believed would. In 2016 she launched the first fully digital school in South Africa. Think Digital College covers the national curriculum from grade R to 12. It currently has more than 1 000 learners. “Our whole focus is on active learning, not passive. Our content is incredibly engaging and interactive,” she says.
There will always be a need for teachers
The method requires the learner to show an enormous amount of discipline, but the response has surprised educators: children can learn on their own with minimal intervention. Kerry Hayes of E-Classroom believes there will always be a place for teachers – particularly in the early years – but ultimately technology will dominate the learning environment. “We are going to see a blended learning environment, which is predominantly technology based, but there will always be the need for teachers and for learners to apply their skills practically,” she says.
South African e-learning goes global
If the success of GetSmarter.com is anything to go by, there’s no doubt digital learning is the way forward. GetSmarter was founded in Cape Town in 2008, and over the years it extended its courses and collaborated with some of the world’s top universities, including MIT and Harvard. According to the website it has more than 40 000 life-long learners. Its goal is to reach one million by 2030. There is little doubt it will achieve it.
By Deborah Herd
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