Raising quality

Annie Behari and Monica Shezi have a vision; one that brings the 21st century into their classrooms and makes understandable the concepts written into the school curriculum to which they have to give life in the young minds under their charge.

Behari, a life-orientation teacher at Umzinto Secondary School on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, and Shezi, a life-sciences teacher at Adams College near Amanzimtoti, were among the scores who recently welcomed the provincial launch of the Teacher Laptop Initiative (TLI).

The KwaZulu-Natal education department made its way into the history books as the first province to begin rolling out the programme, which will potentially put information and communication technologies into government school classrooms. Managed by the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC), the TLI addresses South Africa’s need for a quality education system and forms part of the cohesive plan by the department of basic education to improve the quality of education by making resources available to learners and teachers. The multimillion-rand project is a legacy of former education minister Naledi Pandor.

The initiative provides packages for teachers to purchase laptops already loaded with prescribed minimum software specifications that facilitate school administration, the national curriculum and internet connectivity. The one-stop package must include comprehensive insurance, unlimited five-year warranties and financing, as qualifying teachers will receive a R130 monthly taxable allowance and be expected to fund the balance themselves.

Currently, the packages from the 12 provisionally accredited suppliers cost R250 to R390 a month with repayments spread over five years.

“From the teacher’s perspective, technology in the classroom is essential. It brings out the best in the children by stimulating interactive lessons, creating interest and opening the pathways to information in arenas where learners do not have access to libraries,” says Behari.

Adams College principal Thulani Khumalo says teachers and learners need to embrace modern technology to make education easier and more accessible. Although recognising the decision to participate in the TLI was a personal choice, Khumalo says the school would “encourage and communicate” with teachers and parents on the benefits of bringing laptops into the classroom.

“There is a responsibility to bridge the gap between blackboards and modern computer-based learning and education. This is the opportunity to phase out blackboards and prepare lessons wholly electronically,” says Khumalo.

ELRC chief knowledge officer Heins Worst says that, as a collective quest by all education stakeholders, the initiative aims to boost the quality of education in classrooms by enhancing the learning and teaching experience. There were several misconceptions around the TLI, however, principally that the teachers were being given laptops. Worst says essentially the government does not have the capital to donate laptops to the country’s 386 000 teachers, but would provide a taxable monthly allowance as a partial contribution towards the purchase and operating costs of the technology.

Realistically Worst believes, this would translate into 300 000 laptops purchased by the education system, but with each province rolling out the initiative in line with their available funding and resources. The process requires teachers to take their department-issued letter indicating that they qualify for the allowance to the registered service providers, have their details double-checked against the national registry to ensure their qualification, decide on the appropriate package and enter into a contract with the service provider.

Checks would also be done to ensure the teachers could afford the packages chosen and the monthly payments entered would be in the form of a stop-order agreement.

KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC Senzo Mchunu says phase one for the province would incorporate 48 000 teachers, with the 20 000 balance brought into the initiative over the next year.

Importantly, the initiative is not being driven by tenders, but by public engagement through which the ELRC has negotiated one-stop packages directly with manufacturers and connectivity suppliers to ensure that teachers purchase packages offering the best value for money.

Yet, there is little value in introducing technology to the classrooms if the teachers do not have the skills and training to use computers and the software partners -— Microsoft, Symantec, Adobe, SchoolNet and Intel have undertaken to reinvest in training and development as their contribution to boosting quality education in South Africa. Worst says training task teams within the education department would assist teachers in drawing up training schedules and the train-the-trainer system (by which a handful of teachers from each school receives training and then passes on that knowledge to their colleagues) employed to maximise the resources.

The encapsulating nugget came from SchoolNet South Africa executive director Janet Thomson: “These laptops will expose children, particularly those from very poor neighbourhoods, to constructive learning. It will provide access to information, an active involvement in the classroom and essentially the opportunity to more broadly consider careers previously unknown in their scope of experience.”

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