South Africa turns on digital classrooms

14 January 2015

As South Africa's inland schools opened this morning, seven schools in Gauteng walked into a new era of the digital classroom, which will connect them to a world of better educational opportunities.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, supported by Gauteng Premier David Makhura and Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, launched the new paperless education system pilot project, The Big Switch On, at Boitumelong Secondary School in Sedibeng Section, Tembisa.

The paperless education system will give pupils access to learning material, workbooks and other subject matter through the use of information communications technology (ICT).

The seven schools in the pilot project will receive state-of-the-art internet connection and each pupil will receive a tablet, turning ordinary schools into "classrooms of the future", according to the provincial Department of Education.

The Big Switch On, it says, is the first step in realising Gauteng's vision of building a world-class education system by modernising public education and improving the standard of performance across the entire system.

Pupils at the school said that the new devices would make learning more exciting. Many have never owned a computer, let alone a tablet.

"I do not think I will ever miss a day of school again and I will never have a reason to fail science or maths ever," said Pearl Mokoena, in Grade 10.

Cost of migration

Migrating all Gauteng school to the digital system is estimated to cost R17-billion over the next five years.

The tablets are programmed for educational purposes only, with lessons pre-loaded, and permanent IT specialists will be on site to help the teachers and pupils with the new system.

Apart from surveillance cameras, each school will have two armed security officers. The tablets have also been fitted with tracking devices.

"Committed teachers and dedicated learners are a beacon of hope for our country," Ramaphosa said at the launch this morning. "Education is at the core of our government's strategy for improving the lives of all our people. It is an instrument for achieving social cohesion and national unity."

He congratulated the province for having taken the top spot in the 2014 national matric results. Boitumeleng Secondary achieved an 80.26% pass rate.

"To all the Grade 8 learners who are beginning their studies today, remember that hard work, discipline and motivation brings such results. Education provides you with an opportunity to overcome any obstacles that may stand in your way."

New way of doing business

Information communication technology had revolutionised our lives and the way we did business. The economies of the 21st century were rapidly becoming knowledge- based economies, he said.

"Technology, the internet, a multi-skilled workforce, innovation and collaboration are critical to the success of the knowledge economy. To thrive in the 21st century, we need to acquire new skills and be able to adapt to a rapidly changing work environment. One of the factors constraining economic growth in South Africa is the relative shortage of e-skills."

In a World Economic Forum report, South Africa's global e-readiness ranking had dropped from 47th place in 2007 to 70th in 2013 – it was for this reason that the country had adopted a national e-skills plan.

The Big Switch On was in line with this plan and the need to improve the quality of education.

"It enables educators and learners to access resources that exist beyond the walls of the classroom. Indeed, it enables them to access resources from the other side of the globe," Ramaphosa said.

"It gives them access to the world. Importantly, it also gives them the skills that are needed to succeed in this world."

The divide between the skills we learned and the skills we needed frustrated efforts to tackle youth unemployment, prompting the need to support and expand this programme. "If our economy is to grow, if the lives of our people are to be improved, if business is to thrive, then we need more of this."

Ramaphosa also emphasised the role of learners. "Ultimately, it is you, the learners, who need to be responsible for your future by taking seriously the opportunities that now exist. Your commitment to learning today will determine your success tomorrow," he said.

SAinfo reporter

 Learners at Soshanguve South Secondary in Gauteng get familiar with their new tablets as part of the province's project to convert all schools into classrooms of the future. (Image: Gauteng Department of Education)

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