​The mobile education training programme is addressing SA’s shortage of ICT skills

South Africa continues to lag behind other African countries in information communication technology skills training, according to the Jo’burg Centre for Software Engineering’s seventh annual ICT skills survey. As new technologies emerge, so too does the demand for specialised skills that create, implement and maintain these new technologies.

So exposure to ICT for all pupils is essential and there is an urgent need for skills training in it throughout the education sector.

To address this, the Vodacom Foundation, in partnership with the department of basic education, Microsoft, Cisco, Intel and Mindset, established the mobile education training programme to expose pupils to ICT and empower teachers to use it effectively in the classroom.

The programme includes the advancement of provincial teacher development institutes and 147 ICT teacher education centres. The centres provide development training to educators with a focus on ICT literacy and the effective use and integration of digital content in the classroom.

The functioning of these centres and their role in developing teacher competencies in ICT were the basis of this month’s Teachers Upfront, at which three ICT educationists gave national, provincial and more individual perspectives on the topic.

Josine Overdevest, a business and IT development specialist working with the Vodacom Foundation, opened the session and gave a more national overview of the programme. She described the process of drafting and implementing the norms and standards for the institutes and centres. The norms and standards aim to provide a national regulatory framework to ensure uniformity in the implementation of the mobile education training programme.

They also address some of the core issues related to the roles of the institutes and centres, with particular focus on infrastructure and equip- ment, staffing, governance and management, and funding.

To this end, a series of workshops — which brought together more than 300 stakeholders from various centres to explore a range of issues related to their functioning and management — was held in 2014 in all nine provinces. Participants were tasked with reviewing the draft norms and standards and given an opportunity to inform policy.

Overdevest shared key insights and concerns raised at the workshops, which included connectivity, especially in centres situated in remote areas, the shortage of staff and the overwhelming responsibilities faced by centre managers, as well as problems with security and the theft of equipment.

A particularly important aspect was the educators’ ICT knowledge. Implementors, in their efforts to carry out the training programme, had failed to grasp the extent of the ICT knowledge gap. As Overdevest explained: “What’s the level of ICT knowledge, and how do you keep track of it? That’s where we missed the mark the most. We always think teachers know more than they do. If you start your training at a level that’s too high, teachers say, ‘this is too fast for me’ and aren’t interested.”

The crucial matter of inadequate ICT pedagogical knowledge and the other issues raised are addressed in the norms and standards. The education department hopes to ensure that all centres can meet these by 2020.

Francinah Mogashoa, the Gauteng department of education’s deputy chief education specialist, covered the finer details of the training programme at the provincial level. She described Gauteng’s 18 teacher education centres, the hubs of the districts’ teacher-training programmes, which have computer classrooms and internet cafés.

Twelve of the 18 centres are equipped with the latest technology, ranging from laptops to interactive smart boards. A centre in Sedibeng West boasts a library and a district centre in Soweto includes a science laboratory.

Mogashoa pointed out the substantial progress the programme has made in providing a broad range of training to more than 60 000 role-players. The programme has addressed the training of school governing bodies, school management teams, district managers, principals, teachers and interns in the management of change, ICT devices, e-content and end-user training.

But, despite its notable success, the programme faces some difficulties. Mogashoa underscored a key challenge in Gauteng — the uneven geographical spread of teacher cen- tres in the 18 districts, which makes many centres inaccessible to schools. To counter this, the department has adopted a “soft boundary” approach, which allows teachers to attend the centres nearest to them.

Mogashoa affirmed the provincial education department’s focus — to address the challenges of the programme, to resource the remaining six centres and to ensure the effective delivery and implementation of smart classrooms in all of Gauteng’s teacher centres.

Sylvester Mojela, a pre-service teacher at the University of Johannesburg and an aspiring ICT educator, shared his views on the role of teacher centres in professional development.

He likened his role as an ICT teacher to that of a facilitator. To integrate ICT into education effectively, educators must communicate effectively, embrace different competency levels and create a safe and interesting environment in which learning can take place. The teacher centres could prove to be central in building these skills in future educators.

Mojela described the centres as a potential home base, a place in which education graduates could put theories into practice, hone their skills, stay up to date on ICT practices, troubleshoot with one another and assist and support teachers in the same field.

He said the centres “could help us become researchers of education, to understand the complexities of using ICT for teaching and learning and to help us bridge the gap between the modern-world learner and the teacher”.

The “modern-world learner” lies at the heart of ICT integration in South Africa’s education system and, over the past few years, we have seen exponential development in connectivity, information, science and technology. Ongoing advancements in these areas and emerging technologies have challenged traditional processes of teaching and learning and the way in which education is managed.

As the world becomes more technologically advanced, it is partly up to teachers to make sure that pupils are well equipped to thrive in the ever-evolving 21st century. Given this, one understands the importance of initiatives like the mobile education training programme.

As we move towards the future of education, stakeholders must continue to work to overcome the nation’s skills shortage and unlock a creative and dynamic ICT sector.

Sarah Lubala is a knowledge manager at Bridge. The Teachers Upfront seminars are hosted by Bridge, the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, the Mail & Guardian, the University of Witwatersrand’s school of education and the University of Johannesburg’s faculty of education.

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