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‘Chalkboards are now a thing of the past’ – Lesufi

Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi told thousands of matric pupils that a new era of quality education would begin in the province’s township and rural schools. 

The department will implement its “paperless classroom” programme, which entails a move towards digital learning through the use of tablets. It also aims to have chalkboards replaced with LED screens.

Moving beyond the pilot phase that began in seven schools in January, the programme goes live on Tuesday morning in 375 high schools offering grade 12, “mainly in township and rural areas”.

“As of tomorrow [Tuesday] when you enter your classroom every learner will be given a tablet and every teacher will be given a laptop. Every classroom will remove the chalkboard,” Lesufi told the matrics that filled a hall at the Grace Bible Church in Soweto.

“As from tomorrow your lives will never be the same again,” Lesufi promised the youth. “I’m proud to declare that those that thought quality education is for the privileged as from tomorrow we’ll shame them.

“Gone are those days when only [those] that are rich will have quality education. Gone are those days when only [those] that are rich will have devices in their classrooms.

“I’m not apologetic [in saying] we will never fix our education system until we fix our township and rural schools.” 

The department bussed in pupils from schools across the province. Like a rented excited crowd, the matrics screamed in joy throughout Lesufi’s speech.

Free data
There was another round of loud applause when Lesufi announced “every laptop and tablet will have unlimited data bundles, mahala [free],” from 5am to 9pm each day. 

“Never in your life on anything related to education will you have to go out and buy data. You have free airtime to study.” He stressed that social networks would be disabled.

Lesufi told the pupils their teachers had been thoroughly trained for digital teaching. “Almost 98% sacrificed their school holidays to be trained. You will see them tomorrow.

“When they teach you that the heart is pumping, they will never give you a photocopy; you will see a heart pumping on the screen. We’re doing all these things because the future will never be the same again.

“As of tomorrow, my beautiful learners, your teacher will never give you an exercise that you have to write in an exercise book.” Pupils’ tablets will come in with textbooks uploaded as e-books. 

Chalkboards were becoming a thing of the past in Gauteng. “If you want to see a chalkboard and duster you must go to a museum. You must not come to our school,” said Lesufi. 

Only in Gauteng
Digitising classrooms is a Gauteng initiative and not a national drive. Lesufi told reporters his department has spent almost R2-billion on the project so far and was aiming to spend up to R37-billion. 

At times, Lesufi sounded like a politician out on a charm offensive to secure votes when addressing the matrics. He told pupils that the department was investing in developing their capacity and skills “because you’re too precious to us as government”.

After all, these matrics will make up the majority of first-time voters in local elections next year. The ruling ANC, which deployed Lesufi to his position, will want to recover lost votes in Gauteng. Its share of the ballot in Gauteng dropped by 10% to 55% in 2014. 

Lesufi announced to the pupils that his department would award full four-year bursaries to matrics who are placed in the top three positions in each school across the province. “We mean business when we say we want to empower you to position yourself for the economy of Gauteng.”

He said he wants pupils in the province to be advanced to a level that they compete with children in nations such as Russia, United Kingdom and Finland. “We have arrived.”

And in terms of the matric pass rate, all he asked for from the class of 2015 is 90%. To a resounding yes, Lesufi asked the crowd “do you promise to give me 90% nomakanjani [no matter what]?” 

“We’re investing in you to change matric results [and] promote quality education in the townships.”  

Lesufi also sought to put to rest reports that toilets in some of the province’s schools were in bad condition. 

Releasing his “sanitation report”, he told reporters that over the last few months the department has fixed toilets in 50 “worst of the worst” schools. A total of 472 schools were being targeted to have toilets fixed.

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Bongani Nkosi
Bongani is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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