We put the educational web to the test

The Internet is unlikely to replace traditional classroom-based education for sometime yet but it is an extensive and valuable resource. This was the conclusion of a group of 16 teachers, educational publishers, parents and

learners who got together to examine several of the country’s top education websites.

The evaluation, at the Hof Street eCentre in Cape Town, looked at how useful and informative the sites were.

The sites reviewed were:

o M-Web’s Learning and Library (www.learning.mweb.co.za);

o the Learning Channel’s learn.co.za (www.learn.co.za) from Johnnic and Liberty Life;

o Ematric.co.za (www.ematric.co.za) which is specifically aimed at matric learners and is also from the Johnnic Group;

o the Sunday Times online educational initiative (www.suntimes.co.za/education/);

o the Western Cape Department of Education’s online initiative (wced.wcape.gov.za); and

o SchoolNet SA, an NGO that runs www.school.za.

M-Web’s offering, called Learning Online, came up trumps.
Overall, it scored 71% in the various assessment criteria that included usability, the relevance of information and content range. Learn.co.za came second with 31%, followed by

Ematric.co.za with 23% and School.za with 20%.

M-Web has thrown a lot of time, money and resources at the project - and it shows. There is a greater depth of information, which is complimented by access to

Encyclopaedia Britannica, an archive of educational resources.

The site also has numerous tutors and chat rooms where learners can ask questions and find answers. There are also plans afoot to develop interactive testing.

The learners who took part in the evaluation session were excited by the interactive nature of the Internet and clearly see it as more fun than books.

Joyce Mehlow, a 19-year-old from Jan Van Riebeck High School in Cape Town, felt if offered more depth too. ‘It’s a good thing because you can go to the library to look for a certain book on animals, but on the Internet there is much more detail and you can go deeper. It can also give you background that you might not have been looking for.” Mehlow searched for Grade 12 exams and found what she was looking for. ‘I wanted revision stuff, and also to see what questions they are going to ask.”

But the notion that the Internet will put paid to pens and paper - and the role of teachers - received little support. ‘It’s a wonderful resource and a research aid, especially for doing homework. It’s an absolute necessity for that, but there must be a grounding of the knowledge that you gain,” believes Stefanie Hefer, the eCentre manager.

Maths teacher Ina Weilbach believes one of the Internet’s significant advantages is that the information is ‘fresher”. But Weilbach, a teacher at Curro Private School in Durbanville, says, ‘In a subject like maths, I am happy that I can still use a pen and paper when teaching because the computer is a nice medium to use in some ways, but the child must still write everything down. You can’t study maths by looking at it.” While the two education publishers who took part in the evaluation agreed that the Internet is a useful way to bring something like science and geography alive, they believe online resources still have a long way to go. In particular, the limited resources on languages were pointed out as a weakness.

On M-Web’s offering, they liked that it was interactive and felt that the ‘online tutors are very useful” and the ‘support to do projects is good”. The eMatric site has ‘wonderful laboratories”.

For teacher Lulama Moss from Isilimela Comprehensive School in Langa, the real issue is accessibility to Internet-based education. ‘It’s a good way for learning, but if it could be available to everybody the results from the disadvantaged schools would improve.”

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