It looks like permanent teachers will be provided with laptops, via a multi-year roll-out program. This is really great news. As someone who supports the effective, innovative applications of digital media that compliment and improve teaching and learning in the 21st century, I totally support this. ICTs provide huge opportunities to support teaching, and connecting teachers to resources and each other.
But, this needs to be done properly or it will be a monumental waste of money and result in teachers being even more fearful of technology (a known problem). Warning signs from The Teacher article (linked above):
- “(Pandor) realises that … the computer can catapult one over the tedious development route,” says Firoz Patel, the education department’s deputy director general of system planning and monitoring. Yes it can, but that isn’t a predetermined certainty. This kind of thinking is technologically deterministic — it believes that the machine will solve the problems. Eish!
- “No face-to-face training is envisaged, but the use of software to assist training is being investigated.” I think this is a bad idea. Face-to-face training is crucial. Just ask Edunova or Khanya.
It is encouraging that between the teacher unions and analysts there is a call for comprehensive training, and monitoring and evaluation. Laptops are a necessary — but on their own — insufficient part of fixing education. Bring them on, train properly, provide content and teacher support (Siyavula is doing this) and they will play their part in the bigger process of fixing education.
I recently attended the Rural Education Project (REP) Conference. The theme: Towards quality learning and teaching. Between 2006 and 2009, REP aims to develop the literacy and numeracy skills of primary school learners in under-resourced rural schools.
At the Rural Education Project conference
The project, part-funded by the Claude Leon Foundation, is interesting in that it did not set out to look for the one magic bullet in education, but rather aimed to critically explore and measure differentiated approaches to improving education in 38 rural case schools.
Essentially, the project is based on an experimental programme approach: which approaches work in which schools under which conditions? Levels of engagement occurred at district, community, school and classroom levels.
Cally Kuhne, REP project manager, pointed out the benefits of this approach:
- Contribute to knowledge on rural development, in particular numeracy and literacy improvement, to inform practice and/or policy.
- Identify contextual challenges related improving quality of teaching and learning in rural schools.
- Study issues related to improving results.
- Examine unique features of each school/cluster.
- Enrich understanding of current practice, programmes, institutions and systems.
The two main organisations involved in the project are UCT’s School Development Unit and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).
The final findings of REP will only be written up next year. For now the two-day conference was a taster — and an opportunity to network and share opportunities and challenges facing rural education. My conference notes provide details on the various presentations.
At the plenary session of eLearning Africa, William Swope from Intel spoke about the Intel Teach program. He said that African teachers and learners in 600,000 schools need 21st century skills, such as media literacy, problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration skills. The goal is to transform Africa from consumer to innovator. This requires moving from a “silver bullet” focus on ICT to holistic transformation of teaching and learning. The new focus must be on technology access, connectivity, teacher training and content.
Much of what was said resonates with what the Shuttleworth Foundation is doing in my theme: Communication and analytical skills development. These are the key 21st century skills.
Today I attended the tabling of the National Education Budget 2008/09 in parliament. Below are my excerpts from Education Minister Naledi Pandor’s full speech:
- A total of R123 billion has been allocated to the education sector (both national and provinces).
- The recent report of the Committee on School Retention indicated that South Africa (SA) has achieved universal access to primary schooling and near universal access to schooling up to the age of fifteen.
- A key intervention, in line with our theme of changing lives and communities, was the implementation of a second-chance programme for learners who failed matric in 2007. The overwhelming learner response to the programme revealed a hungry thirst for education among children we tend to cast off as failures at grade 12. Over 400,000 full-time and part-time candidates are writing exams as we speak – a number very close to our total pool for 2007.
- The response to the Kha ri Gude Mass Literacy Campaign has been overwhelming enthusiasm. Gauteng already has 32,000 learning, North West 42,000, Eastern Cape 100,000, and Limpopo 47,000. These are the provinces with the largest numbers of illiterate people. Current enrolments suggest we have exceeded our target of 300,000 enrolled.
- In addition to providing adults with the skills of reading, writing, and numeracy (up to ABET level 1), a successful campaign will also mean that South Africa will meet the commitment made at Dakar in 2002 to reduce illiteracy by at least 50%.
- During 2008 a key focus will be on a recruitment campaign to attract young people into foundation phase teaching, particularly students keen and able to teach in the various African languages.
- Data on un- and under-qualified teachers in the system will be collected. The outcome of this will be the production of a five-year plan for a focused systemic approach to teacher upgrading to be implemented from 2009.
The Education Deputy Minister, Enver Surty, explained that today’s global knowledge economy demands competence in using ICTs. Therefore all teachers and learners must be ICT literate.
During the parliamentary session, other MPs responded to the budget. Of interest were the following points:
- The goal of the teacher upgrading program is to have no unqualified teachers by 2013.
- A professional teacher development points system will be implemented from 2009. For the first time ever learner performance will be considered during teacher performance reviews. The message from a number of speakers was clear: teachers who are absent from school, or who turn up drunk, or who do no work must be brought to book! Teachers need to be at school, in class and teaching.
- In addition to the call for teacher accountability there was overall support for the re-opening of teacher training colleges and for teacher salaries to be increased.
- There was a general call for the School Feeding Scheme (aka the School Nutrition Program) to also include high schools. Currently only primary schools are supported.
- Apparently SA is a low spender on early childhood development (ECD). This is problematic because there is a proven correlation between enrolment into ECD programs and primary school completion.
(As a final note, being in parliament is quite an experience. It’s a bit of a circus in there, organised chaos. Cellphones are constantly ringing, people come and go, half-baked heckling greets some speakers and one MP even tripped on the carpet as she was walking to the toilet.)
Image of Naledi Pandor from Education.gov.za (All rights reserved)
I had lunch with Dr Jeremy Roschelle, a Director at the Center for Technology in Learning, SRI International, Palo Alto, CA. For over 60 years SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute, has produced world-class research and been a major player in the growth of Silicon Valley and the computer revolution. (The mouse was invented at SRI International.) The main points of our discussion is below.
Previously I blogged about a presentation that Jeremy gave on the effectiveness of technology in the classroom, when scaled up. In the study that Jeremy led, SimCalc — an interactive software-based curriculum that teaches graphing technologies and concepts of proportionality to 7th grade learners — was implemented in 48 classes in Texas. The learners in those classes showed a significant improvement in performance compared to 47 control classes. Today Jeremy again reiterated the importance of a holistic approach to implementing technology enhanced learning, which includes having good software that is aligned with the curriculum, and comprehensive educator training on that software.
Jeremy also spoke about the importance of having educators that are adaptive and strategic in their teaching approaches. Being flexible means that an educator can present a concept in a way that is different to that given in the text book, but that might build on examples given by the learners in a class. To develop these skills of adaptation and flexibility, educators can be trained in practices of argumentation. This sort of professional teacher development should be coupled with training in software used in the classroom, e.g. like for SimCalc. Of course, domain knowledge — knowing maths very well — is still crucial. It’s no good having a wonderfully flexible educator who can’t remember key formulas.
School testing is currently very good at separating out those with subject aptitudes from those without. For example, a maths test is an easy way to discern the top 5 and bottom 5 learners in a class. Typically the top learners receive further boosting and go on to become very strong in maths, while those at the bottom tend to stay there. The current education testing system will need revising if the goal is to improve grades overall, not not just for top learners. In the SimCalc study, Jeremy created specific metrics to measure the impact of that particular software.
The dual role of maths means that on the one hand it comprises numbers and formulas and on the other hand it requires analysis and logic for number manipulation. This duality is collapsed by the current way of teaching maths. There is a need to separate this out again, but not too far. Jeremy says that you can’t ignore the numbers and formulas aspect of maths by trying to make it a subject that is applicable to everyday life in every way, because much of mathematics proper is simply very domain specific.
As a parting shot he spoke about two projects that he is involved in: Group Scribbles and G1:1.