/ 24 July 2023

Parents worry that learners’ misuse of electronic educational devices goes unchecked by schools

Gettyimages 1216335753
Parents want the Gauteng education department to create a system to monitor the content on the electronic devices. Photo: Getty Images

Parents in Gauteng are concerned that learners are usings laptops meant for schoolwork to play games, watch videos and adult content and listen to music and are questioning why the provincial department of education is not monitoring the use of these devices.

In 2015, the department started the “Classrooms of the Future” project, an initiative that provides devices to learners and teachers, as well as access to online educational content and classrooms equipped with smart boards and internet connectivity.

The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and the lockdowns implemented to curb its spread,  increased learners’ exposure to the use of electronic devices and internet access both in schools and at home. It however also exposed them to more cyberbullying as well as offensive images and messages.

The parent of a grade 10 learner at Realogile Secondary School in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, who did not want to be named, told the Mail & Guardian that these devices have now become a distraction to learners.

“My son has all types of games, videos, music and adult content in his laptop. Yes, as a parent I try by all means to check this device and monitor what goes on in it, but I feel it would be better if there were some kind of restrictions on this thing,” she said. 

The Gautend department of education spokesperson, Steve Mabona, said these electronic devices primarily belonged to schools, making it their responsibility to ensure their appropriate use.

“All learner devices are hard locked against adding and/or removing applications outside those that are preloaded when the devices are distributed. Learners therefore are unable to remove or load any content or material directly on the devices,” Mabona insisted.

“Parents sign consent forms as a pledge to ensure that learners utilise the devices and take care of them responsibly, as is the case with traditional textbooks.”

But according to Lethabo Manji, a former learner at a township school, there are hardly any checks and balances on the use of such electronic devices by pupils.

“I matriculated in 2015 and I was the first class to receive tablets from this project and not even once were we asked to hand in our tablets to check whether there was any unwanted contents,” said Manji, who was able to use her device as a personal phone, and to access social media.

The executive director of teachers union Naptosa, Basil Manual, said schools should take on the responsibility of checking that electronic devices are not misused by learners because the provincial and national education departments did not have the capacity to do this. 

“We know that there is greater responsibility than just placing a device in a child’s hand. This goes to the appropriateness of devices and whether these devices can be manipulated to only perform certain functions. This, of course, is a pre-purchase task,” he said.

The Democratic Alliance’s representative for basic education, Khume Ramulifho, said it was unfortunate that the department had no monitoring tools to ensure that the gadgets were used for their intended educational purposes.

“The DA supports eLearning and believes it has more benefits as it promotes innovation and makes learning interesting.The DA has proposed that the department set up monitoring tools to check the usage, functionality and control access to content,” Ramulifho said.

The best way to ensure that learners use their allocated devices for their intended purpose of learning is to instil the values and principles of responsible use, argued Kerry Mauchline, the spokesperson for the Western Cape member of the executive council for education David Maynier. The life orientation curriculum in South Africa’s schools covers a variety of topics in this regard.

“Technology and digital devices have been used in Western Cape classrooms for over 20 years. We have issued clear guidelines on the use of cellphones and other digital devices in schools, which sets out the roles and responsibilities for schools, teachers and learners. Schools also develop policies on their use,” Mauchline said.

“We also invest in teacher training for the use of digital technology in education, including managing learners’ use of devices in the classroom. Courses are available as self-paced online modules, and through the Cape Teaching and Leadership Institute.”

The Western Cape education department, in partnership with Google, developed a cyber safety course that is taught as part of the life orientation curriculum. 

“It covers topics such as how to be a responsible digital citizen, and the dangers of cyberbullying, among others,” Mauchline said.