Digitisation of education is required to advance South Africa’s economy

Gemalto partners Casio to bring digital education into the classroom

 Digitisation of education is required to advance South Africa's economy
Digitisation of education is required to advance South Africa’s economy.

While government has made significant strides in expanding access to basic education to millions of children, and introduced a range of interventions to keep learners in class, a concerted effort is required to improve the quality of learning and teaching in schools. This is particularly so for those schools in townships and rural areas that lack the resources compared to their more fortunate counterparts in private and Model C schools.

The quality of the education system in South Africa cannot be explained away by lack of resources. The National Treasury allocated R204 billion for basic education in the 2016/17 financial year, and pledged to increase funding for basic education by R50 million in the next three years to R254 billion.

According to the United Nations, South Africa allocates a higher proportion of its budget towards education than the US, UK and Germany. Despite this significant investment, the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Information Technology Report ranked the country last in mathematics and science education quality last year.

This calls for the public and private sectors to work together to find innovative and alternative ways of leveraging the power of connectivity to enrich learning and teaching in order to improve outcomes.

MTN has witnessed first-hand how access to connectivity can positively transform the learning experience at the impoverished schools where the operator has handed over multi-media centres.

These multi-media centres, which consist of hardware such as interactive white boards, servers, multi-functional printers, data projectors, routers and data cards for connectivity, have served to open a new window to the world for learners. Further to this, they have also ensured that learners from previously disadvantaged communities are not, as the saying goes, “pedestrians on an information superhighway”.

Since this technology was deployed in partnership with the provincial Department of Education in each province, there has been a 5% increase in total learner performance. Furthermore, this has seen increased integration of technology by teachers for teaching and learning purposes. This has resulted in a noticeable improvement in the overall pass rate, and an increased number of graduates selecting ICT related courses at university level.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, the MTN SA Foundation released a report which outlined the milestones MTN achieved in providing connectivity to schools and nursing centres across the country during the first three quarters of 2017. Thirty schools, two universities, two schools catering for learners with special needs, a nursing college and an emergency medical service college were recipients of fully-equipped multi-media centres.

These facilities consist of either a 20, 40 or 60-seater computer laboratory, printers, data projectors and interactive whiteboards, free connectivity and laptops that are pre-loaded with approved curriculum that has been digitised for ease of use and access for both teachers and learners.

Working with government and our NGO partners, we have demonstrated what can be achieved if we work as a collective to address the socio-economic challenges facing our country. The milestones we have achieved embolden us to work harder to make a significant dent in unemployment, inequality and poverty.

While there is more to be done to improve these figures, they nonetheless demonstrate the latent potential that the use of ICT has in elevating the standard of education in South Africa. e-Education in particular, has gone a long way towards connecting learners and teachers remotely, addressing the barrier of access to e-Education – one of the major constraints on economic growth in the continent’s largest economy.

As an enabler of business, and a company that believes in the transformative power of technology, MTN has been showcasing the concept of e-Education as a solution to unlock possibilities to build a functional society.

Live demonstrations have showed how MTN technology and connectivity can link different schools and teachers from different locations. All the learners were given with the opportunity to participate in one lesson, in real time.

Though the concept may not be new, we believe that tactical implementation of the e-Education concept may help to alleviate some of the challenges facing our education system.

What has been apparent during the demonstrations is that well-resourced schools can seamlessly share scarce resources such as qualified Maths and Science teachers with impoverished schools, without necessarily putting undue strain on the former.

Secondly, connectivity enabled the learners and the teachers to access content curriculum online, thus dispensing the challenge of delayed delivery of textbooks.

Another salient benefit that came through was that e-Education provides a dynamic learning methodology. It gives the educator the ability and flexibility to creatively use images, video and audio, which resonates with our youth.

In addition to this unconventional learning and teaching approach, e-Education provides the educator with the ability to demystify difficult topics through the use of multi-media as learners glean insights from what they see and interact with, rather than what they hear.

As a company with operations in 22 markets in Africa and the Middle East, we have seen how connectivity has empowered communities and facilitated access to services that would otherwise remain inaccessible. The initial feedback received from our school connectivity project has laid the solid foundations that embolden us to take e-Education to the next level.

Working with government, we can tap into the power of connectivity to address some of the socio-economic challenges facing the country and create brighter lives for our youth and for future generations.

By David Mphelo, General Manager: Enterprise at MTN