Major hi-tech overhaul planned for South Africa’s education system

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The government wants to give tablets to all primary and secondary school pupils, and launch computer coding and robotics classes for grades 1 to 3.

This is according to the City Press, which said President Cyril Ramaphosa will announce a major overhaul of the education system in his state of the nation address next month.

This overhaul, the newspaper said, is aimed at preparing the country’s future workforce for the fourth industrial revolution.

The fourth industrial revolution refers to the impact of new technologies on the economy and the way we live, and include robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, IoT, 3D printing, and autonomous vehicles.

Some of the changes planned for South African schools include:

  • Providing tablet computers to all learners in 23,700 primary and secondary schools.
  • Introducing computer programming and robotics classes for grade 1 to 3.
  • The digitisation of the entire school curriculum, which will include digital textbooks, workbooks, and all teaching support material.

The City Press said other changes include the conversion of many schools to technical high schools and the introduction of a compulsory two years of pre-primary school for all children.

The government is planning to start implementing coding and robotics classes on a small scale from next year, it added.

“Let them eat iPads”

Not everyone is impressed with the government’s plans to give tablet computers to all students and digitising the curriculum.

Nic Spaull, a senior researcher in the economics department at Stellenbosch University and an educational expert, said the one-device-per-child plan is not encouraging.

He said there is no research to show that this has worked anywhere in the world to improve learning outcomes, and that it is not worth the tremendous cost.

With many local schools still without electricity and toilets, Spaull said the plan can be summed up by “Let them eat iPads”.

Criminals stealing tablets

Providing learners with tablets and rolling out new technology in schools has also been tried with mixed results in Gauteng schools.

Crime is one of the biggest problems hampering the use of technology in poorer communities, with criminals targeting learners and schools to steal any valuable equipment.

In 2015, tablets and LED screens were stolen from the Phafogang Secondary School in Rockville within days after it was delivered.

In 2017, news emerged that tablets allocated to high schools in Gauteng have been smuggled out of the country and sent to Pakistan and India.

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said that “social issues” were to blame for the lost and stolen tablets.

He said the department was forced to suspend the introduction of tablets to grade 11 pupils, as he could see “they are not ready”.

Lesufi said pupils also carried their devices to football games or used the state-sponsored mobile data to download movies, TV shows, and even pornography.

The department of basic education’s director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, said these problems will be solved with the new plan.

He said the measures to curb these problems included “insulating the tablets against the downloading of any material that was not educational”.

This will not only prevent learners from abusing this resource, but also render the devices useless to thieves.

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