Education in an information age: homegrown challenges and possibilities

Information technology – by definition this is the communication of knowledge by use of electronic components.  In a developing country such as South Africa where many don’t have access to knowledge or electronics, how do we use all the amazing developments in this field to uplift a struggling education sector that could benefit so much?  Expense is cited as the biggest challenge to implementing IT in our schools or even administering basic education but could IT with its far-reaching arm not be the very solution?

The son of a friend started school this year and he could not be more excited about his new set of circumstances.  I found this odd because I remember kicking and screaming, faking stomach aches and all manner of sporadic, inexplicable illnesses that cleared up as soon as the car pulled away.  Then I discovered how different Grade R is in 2012.  Every child in his class has an iPad and uses this for normal lessons as well as educational games.  Now of course this little boy is very (note very) lucky and this kind of exposure to technology does not come as standard across the country by any stretch of the imagination.  Projects spearheaded by companies like Blue IQ and local government are looking to change this but some of their more grandiose ideas will take a lot of time.  I completely understand the desire to do things big and properly the first time but with technology becoming cheaper and easier to use there seems so much we could be doing, starting now.

School computer lesson

Eradicating borders

Remember the ‘bush wire’ schools the Australians developed to bring education to kids in far flung areas of the outback?  It always puzzled me why I had never heard of anything similar used here in any kind of significant way.  But never mind children in the Karoo, there are schools in sprawling urban areas blinded by neon lights who don’t have sufficient teachers equipped with the expertise they would need to teach the subjects allocated to them.  Illegal, unregistered high schools are sprouting like poisonous mushrooms in flats around Johannesburg, taking money for unmonitored lessons.  Ahead of all the big expensive plans we have for education could one lone laptop hooked up to a Skype-style lesson not broadcast reliable information from trained educators miles away?  Only different from those Saturday morning teachings on SABC in that they would be truly interactive and not a means of supplementing existing classes but the main source of education.  A good education.  And really, quite a cheap one.

Sharing the resource burden

Instead of giving individual scholarships to exceptional children, some of the more fortunate schools could allow a struggling school to ‘piggy-back’ on them and link their lessons.  What if every good government school had a class that adopted another school for a single subject once a week so the load was shared and the teacher per student ratios didn’t become a concern for those paying more?  Or there could be a central hub (an empty room with a chalkboard), where teachers could arrive at specified times to teach their lesson to more than one classroom far away.  I’m not suggesting that the bigger issues aren’t addressed but if classes are stuffed with fifty children hungry for knowledge then those fifty should be given valuable information.

With mobile internet cafes in so many of our townships the possibilities could be endless as far as how we distribute our limited resources and uplift communities from school level up.  If classes under trees are still an irrefutable fact rather than an outdated, melodramatic perception of the country and continent, there is no reason why these cafes (under trees or not) can’t work for these purposes.

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