In the wake of a surge by private companies and organisations donating tablets, e-readers and other information and communication technology (ICT) to schools, experts say teachers feel intimidated by the prospect of using this technology in classrooms — a problem compounded by the lack of effective teacher training in how to use these resources.
“Putting tablets like iPads and digitised texts into classrooms is a very sexy idea,” former special adviser to the minister of education and chairperson of the Pets Foundation (Programme for Educational Tablets in Schools), Michael Rice, told the Mail & Guardian.
But, he said, although tablets provide the opportunity for learning to become more student-centred, interactive, collaborative and flexible, many teachers feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the technology.
“And even more so by the fact that most of the kids in their classes, even in the poorest areas, are much more technologically savvy than they are.”
The cultural and psychological issues around ICT in schools cannot be underestimated, he said, yet have hardly been recognised or researched.
“You can’t simply give every teacher an iPad and leave it at that.”
Teacher training in e-technology is a “disaster” and more attempts to understand the pedagogic implications need to be made, he said.
South Africa is not short of initiatives introducing technology into classrooms.
Dimension Data’s e-learning programmes in KwaZulu-Natal schools support lessons by providing internet and multimedia technology to teachers and learners; iSchoolsAfrica has donated mobile classrooms containing Apple MacBooks and other technology to schools; and there have been cases of some private and former Model C schools demanding parents buy iPads for their children.
Director of electronic education for the basic education department, Phil Mnisi told the M&G that moving teachers “gradually” towards using ICT in classrooms coupled with technical support and training would effectively deal with their “natural” feelings of intimidation.
“For any ICT initiative to be successful there must be a plan for its sustainability including support for teachers”, he said, for which district ICT coordinators are responsible.
“Integrating ICT into the curriculum must be part-and-parcel of ICT in schools. If you are a teacher, you will be part of a hand-holding process until you reach a stage where ICT is integrated in everything you do.”
The national and provincial departments have partnered with the private sector in bringing ICT to schools because “some of the expertise that is needed in education resides with the private sector”.
Companies are encouraged to “not just dump computers” in schools, he said, but provide training for how to integrate them into the curriculum.
Janet Thomson, executive director for SchoolNet SA, an education NGO, told the M&G that much of the ICT training for teachers provided by the private sector is ineffective in motivating them to use technology in the classroom.
“The approach of ‘this is a mouse, this is how you turn the computer on, this is how you type in Word,’ is not effective. You can’t just send teachers on a week-long course, teach them how to use Word, PowerPoint and Excel and expect them to use that to engage and motivate their learners. Teachers will forget most of what they do not use after a while,” she said.
The organisation, which works closely with the national and provincial departments of education to provide teacher training among other services, said it asks the teachers it trains, “What is it in your everyday life as a teacher that you think you would like to use a computer for?”
“Start with the specific needs of teachers and the basics will fall into place due to their intrinsic motivation.”
In the context of many schools being without basic resources like desks, textbooks and stationery concerns have been raised about the gap widening between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
The number of public schools using ICT is growing very slowly compared to the number of former Model C schools and private schools, Mnisi said.
Thomson said: “You cannot hold everybody back until everyone gets a toilet or a window or a door.”
She said she has witnessed some “very ordinary teaching in wealthy, well-resourced schools but you can get fantastic teaching in very under-resourced rural schools”.
“ICT in the hands of very good teachers can work wonders,” she said.