Gauteng provincial education minister Barbara Creecy this week handed out Blackberry cellphones to school principals and district officials, in a bid to improve communication with her department.
Creecy handed out the phones at an event held to launch the province’s Teacher Laptop Initiative.
Addressing a gathering of close to 2 000 principals and district officials at Gallagher Estate, north of Gauteng, Creecy said she hopes this will substantially improve communication and efficiency at all public schools in the province.
She said that “for a very long time” her department has been communicating with the principals via their school support clerks and this was not effective enough. “With these 21 century gadgets we hope to improve the way we communicate with our schools and district offices. After our interaction with principals and district officials it became clear that in order to deliver quality curriculum content, we must provide them with the best tools to perform their functions,” said Creecy.
She said cellphones and laptops will enable both districts and the head office to provide “timeous support and interventions” to schools.
Principals will not pay for the phones as the department will subsidise them to the tune of R688 per month, per principal. Principals will be able to send instant messages to the head office at no cost. “We made sure we negotiated a cost-effective package that would also cut down on overhead costs,” said Creecy.
Asked if the department would monitor the use of cellphones to ensure principals use them for professional reasons, Boy Ngobeni, the province’s superintendent-general of education said: “We give out these cellphones with the best intentions and we believe they would be used for the purposes intended. We also believe teachers do not have half lives; there will be instances where they would use them for private purposes. In the event where they exceed their allocated airtime, they would have to top it up from their own pockets.”
Vodacom has developed an application that will enable principals to log incidents or problems that they may experience at their schools in real time. The head office will then process the information and instruct the relevant district to dispatch officials to the affected school.
Incidents that principals may report could include among others, violence, rape, dysfunctional infrastructure and non-payment of teachers. Creecy said training of principals on the use of the phones will take place for each district next month. She said during the training “We will also configure e-mail addresses on the cellphones so that principals can access their e-mails on the phone”.
Representatives from the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union and the Combined Trade Unions — Independent Trade Unions (CTU-ITU) and the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) welcomed the initiative, saying it will help improve the quality of education in the province. They also emphasised the need for training so that principals could make better use of the tools.
This initiative complements the Teacher Laptop Initiative, which is managed by the ELRC, as part of a “‘cohesive plan” by the Department of Basic Education to improve delivery of quality education. Provinces have been charged with the responsibility of implementing the project and many are expected to kick start the process in 2011.
Said Creecy: “Through the use of technology, educators will improve their knowledge-base and they will be more resourceful in the way they teach learners at schools. They will be able to keep abreast with the latest innovative thinking as well as resources to improve learner [performance].”