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Does Gordhan’s New Budget Equal More Tech for Young Learners?

By 28th Feb 2017No Comments

Education technology can boost learner performance but there’s plenty of debate about how soon it should be used and then… how much.

In his recent budget speech, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan reaffirmed the government’s commitment to improving education – stating that R320.5 billion will be allocated to education for the 2017/2018 financial year. The Minister noted that improvements have to begin in the foundation phase of the education value-chain.

“We will continue to increase resources for early childhood development, improve our basic education outcomes and step up our support to TVET colleges and universities.”

Given earlier statements made by education policymakers, the signs seem to indicate that some of these resources will be devoted to IT infrastructure and tech in schools. With Gordhan’s focus on the foundation phase, it will be interesting to see whether more technology is introduced at this early stage. Up until now there hasn’t been an emphasis on tech for the very young, which some would argue is a sound strategy…

Is tech in schools a distraction or an enabler?

In a social media fuelled world in which young people spend a major portion of their day staring at a smartphone screen, critical questions are being raised around the use of new technology in schools. With the youth becoming increasingly reliant on – and addicted to – their busy digital lives and digital personas, should educational institutions be extending digital tools and online platforms into curriculums?

Although the use of education technology is still fairly new in South Africa, we are already able to gain some valuable insights into the true impact of tech on young minds.

Chief among the concerns to have arisen is that digital tools are spawning an easily distracted generation with chronically short attention spans. In addition, some teachers believe that the reliance on digital tools is undermining young people’s ability to read, write, develop strong interpersonal communication skills and to effectively problem-solve.

Indeed, the growing reliance on search engines such as Google (and social networks for quick information) is not only making young students lazy, it is fostering a culture of impatience and an inability to concentrate amongst people of all ages!

Rewarding Curious Minds

On the other hand, however, many teachers believe that the right technology tools can be highly beneficial in the classroom environment. Interactive platforms can encourage self-learning and make the learning process more compelling for students. The use of gamification, for example, has already proven to be an effective tool to encourage self-study and provide additional motivation for learners.

Notably, some teachers have found that the use of search engines and educational sites (even YouTube!) have helped students to become more independent and self-sufficient as researchers. With unlimited information at their fingertips, curious and highly motivated students can accelerate their own learning programmes in a way that was simply not possible before the digital era.

A ‘Digital Citizenship’ Curriculum

As it stands, educators and policymakers are now looking for the right balance between traditional learning methods and technology-centred tools. While it was once hailed as a panacea for the country’s education challenges, technology is now being viewed more realistically within the context of South African education.

With the backing of both government and private sector stakeholders, the focus on exploring technological forms of pedagogy to raise student scores has already generated a number of interesting projects and studies. These projects are being implemented with a consciousness of the limitations of the technology itself, as well as the limited experience of those running the learning programmes. Many teachers themselves are still new to online platforms and digital tools, and need to be considered with regards to training and the development of appropriate programmes.

Arguably, the many challenges and opportunities that are being presented in the face of technology adoption in schools demand that educators forge ahead in developing a detailed ‘Digital Citizenship’ curriculum. Such a curriculum must be designed to steer students – from kindergarten onwards – around the most effective use of digital tools and online platforms.

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