The Eastern Cape department of education has spent millions on an information and communication technologies programme, which includes providing foundation phase teachers with laptops that they aren’t using.
In March, MEC of education Mandla Makupula announced the provision of laptops to 16 817 grade R to grade three teachers.
According to the Daily Dispatch, the department had set aside R250-million for the first phase of its digital initiative, which included laptops for foundation teachers and laptops and tablets for principals. The laptops come with two gigabytes of data each month.
But the Mail & Guardian spoke to several teachers from different districts in the province who all said they have never used the laptops since getting them in August and early last month.
This is because the majority of these teachers — based mostly in rural schools — are not computer literate. The laptops were their first exposure to the gadgets.
The teachers who spoke to the M&G said they were told to fetch the laptops. No one told them what they would use them for. On the day they received them, they were “vaguely” told that they would be used for lesson plans, to capture pupil’s marks and to register attendance.
And that was it. There was no training on how exactly they were supposed to do all this.
“It has been in my wardrobe since I came back with it. What am I supposed to do with it?” said a grade one teacher from Mount Fletcher. “I have never used a computer in my life and I am not now, as a grown woman, miraculously going to learn how to use it without any training from those who expect me to use it.”
Other teachers echoed her sentiments.
A grade one teacher from Mbizana district said the clerk at her school had to show her how to switch on the laptop, shut it down and how to use the mouse. The clerk also showed her how to capture marks, but she finds the laptop useless without training and now leaves it at home.
“These things have become ornaments in our homes,” she said.
The teacher said she continues to do her lessons plans and prepare for assessments the way she always has.
“I don’t see how the laptop is supposed to make our job easier if we have not even been given the tools on how to use it. For me, it’s a waste of money that could have been used to cater for other resources that we desperately need.”
Her school struggles with stationery, reading books and the basic teaching and learning tools.
“When I buy stationery for my children I also buy for myself, because we either don’t get it or when we do it’s not enough. I mean, I use my own stapler because we don’t even have that at the school,” the teacher said.
A teacher from the Barkly East district said she would have been pleased if the provincial department had addressed the pressing needs of her school — rather than giving them the so far untouched laptops.
This teacher also said she doesn’t even take the laptop to school.
“Classrooms are falling apart, the potholes in the floor are so big that you sometimes fear that you will break your leg. There is no electricity, so where are we even supposed to charge these laptops?” said the grade three teacher.
“We don’t even have blackboards. We use the old blackboards that we balance using a desk. This laptop business is the last thing we need.”
Other teachers spoke of overcrowding and believed that the money could have been used to build schools.
“I teach two classes that have 62 pupils each and yet the government goes and spends money on laptops. I think it would be right to fix the more pressing issues, before we look at laptops that we have not even received training for,” said a grade three teacher from Maluti district. Others said, even though they have tried using the gadgets, they still believe appropriate training is imperative.
“My sense is that the department took it for granted that people are computer literate and will find their way around the laptops, but that is not so, especially in remote rural areas,” said a grade two teacher from Barkly East district. “I’m lucky that I at least know the basics of using a laptop. However, I have colleagues near retirement who have never seen this thing before and they aren’t interested. So their laptops are at home gathering dust simply because they can’t even switch them on.”
Teachers also say the laptops are not insured. They were told that they’d have to pay if they lose them.
The provincial education department spokesperson, Malibongwe Mtima, said the department was working to ensure that all teachers in the foundatiomn phase received them.
The department had spent about “R260-million” on the laptops and Mtima said that teachers were expected to use them for “admin [such as] lesson planning, et cetera, and teaching”.
He said that training for the teachers had been happening since the “early 2000s” and that the teachers who had received the laptops were being provided with “intermediate, advanced [and] integration courses”.
The training was ongoing, he said, would cover all teachers and that the distribution of laptops was part of the department’s strategy to improve educational outcomes.
He disputed allegations that teachers had to insure the laptops because they were part of the school’s asset register and that schools were required to insure them.
The Teacher Laptop Initiative was launched in 2008 and aimed at training teachers in computer literacy and pedagogy. It was initially managed by the Education Labour Relations Council. Later the department of basic education took over, with provincial departments having to lead it.