Game-changing technologies in education

The integration of technology like Virtual Reality (VR) and gamified learning not only bridges the digital gap in rural and township education, but could see a future workforce actively contributing to the digital economy. (Photo: KaPe Schmidt)

The integration of technology like Virtual Reality (VR) and gamified learning not only bridges the digital gap in rural and township education, but could see a future workforce actively contributing to the digital economy. (Photo: KaPe Schmidt)

Inequalities in South Africa have created a digital divide; many township and rural children don’t have access to platforms that can allow them to play a pivotal role in the current digital economy. But new technologies can help reduce the divide in education at the rural and township schools that don’t have science laboratories and computer labs.

This is a list of technologies that will be, and in some aspects already are, game-changing in the South African education system.

1. Tablets & mobile phones in the classrooms

Gone are the days when teachers used to confiscate children’s mobile phones — they were seen as disruptive in the classroom. Most children these days have either feature phones or smartphones. Phones have been used in various ways in Africa outside the classroom, and have changed the way banking is done with the adoption of mobile payment methods in many countries. In Ghana, a feature phone app called M-Pedigree is used to authenticate medication, and what’s been used in banking and the health sector is beginning to become incorporated in education.

The Gauteng department of education has embarked on a campaign to provide certain schools in underprivileged communities with laptops and tablets. Though there have been a few challenges in some areas such as theft and children using them to download pornography, they can be great tools for research and learning.

Professor Bongani Bantwini, research science educationist from North West University, says: “I agree with the idea of rolling out tablets in schools. It is our aspiration that our kids will grow up to use technologies more than us, the parents.”

Didi Bryant, Mwabu business development manager, says schoolchildren live in a digital world and that’s why these tools are necessary. Mwabu is a software company that provides content that can be used in and outside the classroom. “Technology is going to assist these schools to get up to speed with their education,” says Bryant.

2. Robotics

Robotics teach children the basics of engineering which they are likely to need later in life. This is also a method of teaching what is known as the Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in a practical and fun manner.

Professor Nosisi Feza, head of the Institute of Science and Technology Education at Unisa, says children who learn robotics will do better in other subjects as well. “If you expose children to robotics and that type of creativity then they will learn mathematics and science methods.”

Apart from technical high schools, robotics are not taught in many schools, especially in underprivileged areas.

Nthato Moagi started his CRSP dsgn (Pronounced Crisp Design) partly to offer children in the townships toys and skills that will teach them how to code and create their own robots.

“Coming from a township background, my mother was a factory worker. She could not afford to buy me robotics. I started this for the social impact,” says Moagi.

He says the idea of teaching township school children how to code started when he met a boy in Soweto who was playing with a wire car he had made. “I asked him, ‘hey, do you know you can make a robot out of that?’ ”

The child didn’t believe that the engineering that goes into a remote-controlled toy car could be used in his wire car.

“I spent two weeks with him, building the robot and his mind shifted from having a fixed mindset to having a growth mindset. Now he’ll never see anything the same way again.”

He says this is the type of science and technology learning that needs to be introduced in schools.

“By learning robotics or coding, every single learner will be able to construct better sentences, write better essays and improve on their maths skills. We won’t even need to lower our maths marks to 25% or take maths out completely, because you’d be teaching kids logic.”

3. Gamification or gamified learning

Many children grow up playing video games on their mobile phones. Video games often present a problem the child has to solve, such as moving a car from the starting line to the finish line without crashing with other cars, all done in a digital and interactive manner. Video games are in animation, which is attractive to today’s children.

Speaking at TEDxSoweto in 2012, co-founder of Afroes Games, Anne Githuku-Shongwe said: “If you travel around South Africa, you would find that every young South African has access to a mobile phone.

“We want to be able to shift the belief systems of young people, and 55% of them play games every day. We might not want them to, but they do,” said Githuku-Shongwe.

In a conversation at a technology conference in Johannesburg, Agnes Utunga-Phiri, the other co-founder of Afroes Games, said they’ve created a mobile game that teaches children about sex, HIV, gender violence and life itself. The game is called Morabaraba, taken from a popular South African board game. It quizzes children about various social topics and if they get the answer right, they progress in the game. If they get the answer wrong, they are given the right answer, so they learn.

4. Paperless classrooms

This is becoming a real concept in South Africa; the roll-out of such classrooms has already begun in Gauteng. This again ties in with the use of tablets and smartphones in the classroom.

These classrooms have digital smart boards and teachers can use them in a similar manner to using a computer, using “magic pens” to write on the board.

Bantwini is worried that some teachers may resist this form of teaching because they haven’t been adequately trained in paperless classrooms and how to chat to learners throughout the day on their smart devices.

“We need to instil the passion and drive among the teachers. If you have somebody who is not passionate about the reforms it becomes difficult to implement them. If they don’t see the need then it’s never going to change,” says Bantwini.

Feza says such changes in the classroom cannot be avoided. Teachers will have to be more open-minded, as children are already growing up in a digital world.

“I think it’s high time that we use IT, because research shows that a lot of children can’t even write. A lot of kids are already using technology language,” she says.

5. Augmented reality & virtual reality (AR & VR)

This is a concept that will take a while to enter South African classrooms. With virtual reality (VR), imagine if a child in class in South Africa puts on VR goggles and is transported to the pyramids of Giza in Egypt; she would be in a setting where she would be learning more than she would in class. If she turned around, she would be completely surrounded by pyramids, and would even be able to enter inside the pyramid and walk through the narrow tunnels inside.

Mangi Tshikomba, founder of Things Technologies, says this will work really well in science subjects as well, as the government will never have enough money to build science laboratories fast enough in all its schools.

“Augmented reality (AR) and VR can be combined to create a much broader experience for the learner. In the case of the anatomy app, Virtuli-Tee, a learner will not only be able to use the AR app, but can also wear VR goggles to take a tour inside a human body.”

These advances will all be part of the Internet of Things coming into the classroom.