Can E-learning bridge the national educational gap?

Athol Wesselink, Chief Technical Engineer at OpenWeb. (Image Source: OpenWeb).
Athol Wesselink, Chief Technical Engineer at OpenWeb. (Image Source: OpenWeb).

The recent announcement by the Gauteng provincial government to initiate a paperless classroom project as well as the Western Cape government’s commitment to spend R1.2-billion to implement e-learning in 1 250 local schools, is a significant step toward bridging the education gap in South Africa.

This is according to Athol Wesselink, Chief Technical Engineer at OpenWeb. Wesselink says that poor education outcomes may be remedied by the implementation of e-learning, which will hopefully see all public-schools connected to the internet and students provided with tablets and other electronic devices.

“The use of technology to support education will not only enhance pupil’s access to quality tutorials and learning material, but will also develop their digital savvy and computer literacy – a skill that has become increasingly vital when entering the national workforce.”

Wesselink says that access to the internet is a powerful tool that educators can utilise to host lessons online, thereby minimising the effects of overfull classrooms and a lack of qualified teachers. “Once the program has been implemented, students will be able to log onto a secure platform where they can watch lessons that they may have missed or ones they do not have access to at their respective education facilities. E-learning is essentially an information sharing platform that has the potential to equalise the quality of education in SA by allowing all pupils to access the highest standard of tutorials.”

He adds that the program will not only benefit students, but it also has the potential to optimise the moderation process for educators. The transition towards online examinations can overcome the challenges of loss or damage to examination papers which typically occurs during transportation from the place of examination to the location where the evaluation takes place. “Students can complete tests and exams online in a controlled environment, which could possibly allow for the evaluation of multiple choice questions to be automated and will also allow teachers to share papers instantly with the external / secondary evaluator.”

In addition to the benefits mentioned, Wesselink explains that internet connectivity allows pupils to conduct their own research and to re-watch lessons at their own pace. He refers to School in the Cloud, a global experiment endorsed by Microsoft and Ted Talks and initiated by Professor Sugata Mitra, a Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, England.

School in the Cloud is an experiment in self-organised digital education that encourages learners to conduct research and to learn independently, thereby ensuring that each learner receives information in a way that is conducive to his / her individual capabilities and aptitude.

“The past decade has seen a global movement towards the digitalisation of the workforce as well as the education system and it is imperative that e-learning is rolled out in South Africa to ensure that students are adequately equipped with digital skills and a quality education,” concludes Wesselink.

Staff Writer