Feb 2015

Gauteng classrooms go digital

Written by Bathandwa Mbola
Instead of taking notes using the old pen and paper, learners at Boitumelong Secondary School in Gauteng now use the new tablets provided in their classrooms.

Boitumelong Secondary School in Tembisa, Gauteng is one of seven schools taking part in the paperless education system.This paperless education system - a project branded the “Big Switch On” – will enable learners to have access to learning material and workbooks in the palm of their hands.

Classrooms at Boitumelong Secondary have been transformed into digital learning spaces with top of the range information communications technology, while the traditional chalkboard has become a thing of the past for teachers. Chalkboards have been replaced with big computer screens at the front of the classrooms.

Unlimited 4G data connectivity will ensure that learners can also do their work from home.

Speaking to Vuk’uzenzele at the launch of the “Big Switch On”, ecstatic learners at the school - most of whom have never owned a smartphone or a tablet - believed that the devices will help them match their counterparts in more affluent schools.

“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 Grade 10 learner Pearl Mokoena.

Boitumelong Secondary School is one of seven Gauteng township schools taking part in the pilot project.

The Gauteng Education Department hopes to roll out the project to all Gauteng township and rural schools by the end of the 2017/18 financial year at an estimated cost of R17 billion.

All high school children will be provided with a tablet and Grade 7 pupils in primary schools will be trained to use the devices.

Permanent IT specialists will be on site at any given time to help the learners and educators 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.

The project was launched by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi and Gauteng Premier David Makhura.

Speaking at the launch, the Deputy President said the project by the Gauteng Department of Education is in line with the plan to improve the quality of education in the country.

“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.

“It gives them access to the world. Importantly, it also gives them the skills that are needed to succeed in this world,” said Deputy President Ramaphosa.

He hoped that the project would motivate learners and make it easier for them to bridge the divide between the world of learning and the world of work.

“This divide - between the skills we learn and the skills we need - continues to frustrate our efforts to tackle youth unemployment. That is why we need to support this programme and to expand it.”

The Deputy President said ultimately the R17 billion project would boost the country’s economy.

Unlocking educational potential

Deputy President Ramaphosa also urged learners to embrace the opportunity given to them and commit to learning in order to succeed.

He said that he expects more than the 80.26 per cent pass rate, which the school received in 2014.

“Education will provide you with the tools and opportunities to overcome any obstacle that comes your way.”

Minister Motshekga was confident that the project would make schooling more exciting for learners.

“If I were a teacher or a learner now, I would be excited about this project. We are basically taking the learners to their world, the digital world and they will be able to work independently,” said the Minister.

Premier Makhura said the launch of smart schools was a revolution in education and a game-changing shift.

“We are witnessing a major transition, a revolution in education which is part of the transformation and modernisation in Gauteng,” he said.

Meanwhile, MEC Lesufi said that special care had been taken with security arrangements related the project. He said there would be a coordinated effort between police and the community to safeguard the equipment.

“We have put the most sophisticated tracking devices in all the tools. The police are trying to put one in one of their systems as well. So if you take a tablet from a child, we will be in a position to track it back anywhere in the country,” he said.

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