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R200m project to improve technology in schools

written by Sulaiman Philip
The connected schools programme will help break the digital divide in schools and assist South Africa in improving the ICT professional development of teachers.

Placing key ICT devices in the hands of our teachers and learners has the potential to break the digital divide (Photo: Department of Basic Education)Over the next five years, the Telkom Foundation will invest R200 million to improve ICT, maths and science education in schools. Pilot projects have begun in Gauteng, with the Eastern Cape to follow before the programme is rolled out countrywide.

The first phase of the Connected Schools Programme (CSP) saw new high-technology infrastructure built at five schools in Tshwane West – NM Tsuene High in Ga-Rankuwa, Ruabohlale Junior Secondary School and Seageng Secondary School in Soshanguve, Winterveldt High and MH Baloyi High in Winterveldt.

New computer labs for 50 pupils were built and 943 learners and 60 teachers at the five schools received tablets and laptops loaded with educational content.

Speaking at the launch of the initiative at Winterveldt High, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, applauded the telecommunications utility and added, “Placing key ICT devices in the hands of our teachers and learners has the potential to break the digital divide and indeed assist us in improving the ICT professional development of all teachers involved.”

More than just learning

Telkom’s Group CEO, Sipho Maseko, explained that the utility and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) intend to create environments that encourage growth and development. Beginning with Grade 8 pupils, the programme will help them develop skills and prepare them for careers in the ICT sector.

“It has been made very clear that we have a significant skills gap in South Africa, as well as a lack of connectivity in certain areas. While the focus on subjects such as maths and science at a school level has increased, this has not been supported by actual large-scale investment. We are changing that.”

A further R130 million will be spent on the  Supplementary Programme to help improve the quality of matric passes. The funds will be spent on teacher training and social programmes to support students through high school and university. School children will also benefit from enterprise development training once they have qualified.

Teaching the teachers

Grade 8 teachers from the Tshwane schools spent their April holidays at an ICT boot camp funded by the Telkom Foundation. The SchoolNet programme taught them basic ICT skills that could be used to prepare more interesting lesson plans.

One of the teachers, Mpho Ngubane of Ruabohlale Secondary School, enjoyed the training because it was so practical and presented in a way that showed him how to use what he learnt in a classroom setting. “We will continue to receive guidance [from Telkom] on how to change our current teaching practices. This will excite and challenge learners and teach them to become independent thinkers.”

Thabo Mhlongo, a teacher at Seageng Secondary School, found the training useful because of its emphasis on how to integrate ICT in the classroom. The SchoolNet programme has motivated him to find new ways to teach. “As teachers get excited, they feed this excitement to learners and a whole new cycle of motivation to do better is fostered at school.”

Irene Sebate is a Setswana and maths teacher at MH Baloyi High School and believes the SchoolNet and CSP programmes will allow teachers to learn from their students as much as they will teach. Being born before technology can no longer be a teacher’s excuse, she said.

“Some people may feel that there is burden to learning new skills; however, in the long run, education must empower our learners for the world out of school. Teachers cannot sit back and not actively engage with learners’ needs in the 21st century.”

Operation Phakisa ICT

At the launch, Minister Motshekga tied the CSP initiative to the ICT-led education system spelled out in the National Development Plan (NDP). “The NDP states that ICT is seen as an enabler with the potential to speed up delivery, support analysis, build intelligence and create new ways to share information, learn and engage.”

The Operation Phakisa ICT Masterplan will provide digital content that will be distributed using offline and online platforms, provision of connectivity, hardware, teacher professional development and e-Administration systems.

The DBE has partnered with UNICEF to launch the Professional Development Framework for Digital Learning that will guide the development of teaching staff ICT skills.

Telkom’s funding will ensure that schools take a leap into the digital future. As the Minister said at the end of her speech, “The NDP envisions a South Africa where everyone feels free yet bounded to others; where everyone embraces their full potential, a country where opportunity is determined not by birth, but by ability, education and hard work. Today, we are planting the seeds of this great future.”