Teaching and learning is getting more and more tech-savvy

The new generation of learners is information hungry. The ‘Z’ or ‘I’ or “Facebook generation” is tech-savvy. They are cyber citizens of the world. Learning and teaching will never be the same again.

With the explosion of new technologies and a greater understanding of how leaners learn, e-learning and the digitisation of education has come a long way in establishing itself as one of the most popular ways of learning in today’s technology-savvy world.

Our journey began in earnest in January when the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) launched what some dubbed “Classroom of the Future” and we call “The Paperless Classroom”.

The provincial strategy of transformation to accelerate the use of modern information communication technology (ICT) as a core resource for teaching, learning and school management in all Gauteng schools, is earnestly on. What a journey Gauteng schools have had since January.

Let us recap. To launch the province’s future paperless classroom, piloting was launched at seven schools in Tembisa, Mabopane and Duduza. Here learners experienced for the first time state of the art technology to support effective teaching and learning.

The seven schools were provided with high speed broadband connectivity and devices and equipments, including laptops, tablets, Interactive electronic screens, e-content, including a set of standardised lesson plans for all subjects for Grades 7 to 11. Teachers were trained to use the ICT systems, devices and content resources effectively. Security including permanent on-site guarding, rapid response and electronic security systems were put in place.

The selected schools were and are still serving as benchmarks and examples of what the GDE intends for all schools to achieve over the next five years. They will also serve as laboratories that will assist the GDE to build experience in the provision, utilisation and management of ICT in education.

Six months later, among the positive impacts has been the improvement in standards of literacy and numeracy through exploring more creative uses of ICT in learning and teaching. This is resulting in a positive impact on pupils’ spelling, reading, writing and mathematical skills and an increase in the number of pupils wanting to learn, particularly learners who had historically become disengaged with elements of their education.

The truth is learning and teaching is getting more and more tech-savvier.

From the 21st of July 2015, all township and rural Matric classes in Gauteng‘s 375 schools will go live with connectivity, e-books and 3D multimedia smartboards. Every learner will receive a tablet. Every teacher will get a laptop.

In essence the GDE has installed smartboards in the 375 schools to enthusiastically enliven teaching and learning through interactive touch screens.

The productive benefits of this technology will benefit 61,000 Matriculants and 900 teachers. We are excited that the smartboards will improve learning and classroom effectiveness by enhancing communication and stimulating learner engagement, saving a teacher’s time, effort and resource.

With this technology, lessons will be enhanced, learners motivated, interaction increased and involvement encouraged.

Why tablets as a learning and teaching tool? Tablets are growing exponentially and a time when they have become the preferred choice for learning. Also, the proliferation of smartphones enables learners to access learning content at their point of need and on the device of their choice.

On a larger scale, mobile devices at school are continuing to blur boundaries between school and home life. Portable devices make continuous learning possible.

What about smartboards as a teaching and learning tool? Compared to blackboards, smartBoards are computers on the wall. They replace traditional rewriteable schoolroom blackboard. As I said before, the smartboards enthusiastically enliven presentations by utilising interactive touch screens to mark, create diagrams, and reinforce lesson information.

As an example, the smartboard surface is white instead of black, with a tough surface material that can be written on with a stylus or the teacher’s finger. A teacher can tap the menu on the board and make the smartboard bring up the information he or she needs for the lecture.

The teacher could even circle key information on the board notes for emphasis. With a printer attached, he could actually print out information from the smartboard and give it to students in the class during class.

All of the above ties in with GDE’s mission and strategy for public schools is to help learners acquire the attributes necessary to be successful in the complex, technological, information-based, and rapidly changing world is truly on course.

For the security conscious, all tablets, laptops and smartboard are fitted with tracking devices. There is a maintenance technical centre to manage, maintain and repair the education assets.

All of this has not come out of the blue. We developed a strategy to ensure that the project is supported by all stakeholders, parents, principals, teachers, school governing boards.

Also, in response to the call to revitalise township economies and empower SMME’s, the GDE has enlisted services of over 300 companies to provide services ranging from renovations, provision of devices, content, security and training.

So what does the future hold? A lot. Now learners no longer have to look towards schools only or libraries to obtain information. All the data and more is now available with one click on their tablets. This information readily available on the internet has clearly resulted in the fact that education in no longer about teaching facts and data but about content-based learning and the skills to use that content now and in the future

The “Z “ and “I” and Facebook generation- Z generation refers to those who were born after the millennial , that is the generation at the mid or late 1990s to today and. “I” generation is the tech savvy generation – has an inclination to learn more from technology than from brick and mortar, thus build a virtual social world.

Given these facts, there is no doubt that the digitisation of education is hitting conventional teaching hard.

While the technological advances are many and new advents of technology are hitting education rapidly, there is a still a culture change that most educators are struggling with, hence 900 teachers have been tutored to be tech-savvy and not shy away from being cyber citizens.

We are aware that these technology tools that learners are so quickly adapting may create a gap between educators and learners unless the educators quickly ramp up and become part of this sweeping change in lifestyle.

In today’s connected school environment, e-learning solutions and the digitization of education must continue to evolve to reflect the fact that learning is a continuous journey, not a one-off-intervention.

With the e-learning revolution making collaboration among learners and educators a more intrinsic part of life, one of the next steps is to ensure that the relationship is in sync with the way people learn from each other and to harness shared knowledge and experiences.

Clearly, e-learning and the digitization of education has come a long way in recent years. New technologies will continue to offer the potential to make it more relevant, stimulating, rewarding and engaging.

Cde Panyaza Lesufi is a member of the ANC PEC in Gauteng and MEC for Education

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