find ourselves in a global world. A
world without borders. A world where
technology changes at the speed of
A world of instant gratification - where
products can be bought and sold
anywhere, anytime - where services can
be hired anywhere, anytime - where
skills can be bought and sold, anywhere,
anytime. A world where information can
be accessed anywhere, anytime. A world
where brain power is bought and sold
anywhere, anytime. And where dotcoms
rise and fall - anywhere, anytime.
It is also a world in
which the idea of "one-click buying" and the know-how to support it,
carries a global patent.
It is a
user-definable world. The knowledge age. The 21st
century. It is not dawning - it has dawned.
The questions we ask
ourselves are: Who will be the survivors of the knowledge age? And,
who will survive in a future we cannot imagine?
It is our task as
educators to prepare young people for this world, and a future where
virtual offices are the order of the day. It is the most exciting
time for us. Never before have we had the range of tools to use in
the learning process - to make learning fun, interesting and
relevant for our learners.
Our company opened
its doors in 1994. Our mission at that time was to open. Open the
minds of people. Their creativity. Their sense of self. And the door
to computing in the knowledge age.
Now, six years later,
we look back at what we have accomplished and ask ourselves if we
have met our goals. Have we achieved what we set out to do? Working
through that process we have actually made an interesting discovery.
In the learning
process that we have established, we ourselves have become the
learners. Our minds, our creativity have been opened. And the door
to computing in the knowledge age has opened up for us.
information technology solutions to schools and corporations, we
have developed a strong culture of learning together and working
together to embrace the technology age. Together with the schools
that we assist, we experience a dynamic learning curve.
A major part of our
learning curve has highlighted two of the most misunderstood
concepts. These are the exercises of integrating technology in the
classroom, and equipping learners with the skills they need for life
in the knowledge age. Many educators and educational institutions
see the integration of technology as meaning simple computer
literacy for learners. Some educators see it as allowing access to
the internet for learners.
Some educators see it
as taking the form of a resource centre that learners can use for
projects. Still others see it as providing learners with a brief,
which includes the use of technology - be it software, the Internet
These are perceived
solutions. They neither lead nor guide learners in a process of
learning. They are perceived solutions which educators and learners
do not exploit to their full potential.
In South Africa, we
have found 4 common denominators in the failure, or success, of the
integration of technology in the classroom:
- The first is the
role of the educator and learner in the learning process. How
much do they participate in the process?
- The second is the
skill level of both the educator and learner in the learning
- The third is the
understanding by both the educator and the learner, of the
objectives of the process. In other words, both the educator and
the learner need to know where they are going.
- The fourth is a
planned approach to integration of technology in the classroom.
The best approach to
the integration of technology in the classroom is to make learner-centered
learning happen. This creates an enriched learning experience for
the learner. But the educator needs to fully understand what this
The bottom line is
that for any process to work, one needs to get the people there.
Successful learners are not just successful because they understand
the computer program they are learning about. They are successful
through the relationships that they form during the learning
process. A computer program does not motivate, inspire, focus or
direct learners. The educator does.
If a relationship is
in place that neither inspires nor focuses the learner, then very
often the actual learning process itself will fail.
There is an
interesting example of where a learning process failed initially,
but subsequently succeeded following assessment. A school in
Johannesburg, South Africa took the decision to incorporate
technology in the lessons. Educators at the school were obliged to
use technology themselves, and brief their learners on the projects
they had to complete.
There was one episode
when the educator gave the learners a project where they had to
create a print advertisement using a word processing / DTP package.
They had to create an impactful advert for a teenage clothing store.
Sounds like fun, and simple enough. Yet on the day, the learners
didn’t accomplish anything. The project failed. The learners
produced nothing of value or appeal. There were no eye-catching
headlines, no decent copy and no interesting use of colour.
What was the problem?
Why did a task that could have been fun and stimulating fail so
On evaluation it was
seen that firstly, the educator herself did not understand the
technology that she was to use or teach. Secondly, the learners did
not have the skills to complete the task at hand.
The solution to the
problem was, firstly for the educator to become aware of the skill
level of the learners, and secondly, to raise their skill level. The
learners needed to be shown that they were using the word processing
software as a tool in order to create their ads. They had to
understand logically and practically what it was they could
accomplish with the tools they had. Using the software as a tool,
they needed to know what they needed in order to create what they
The project was
revisited by the educator and the learners, and this time around it
was successful. The educator explained what it was she wanted – a
fun print ad for a clothes shop. The educator did not confuse them
with a list of things that they needed to understand about word
The learners were now
able to put their efforts into what they wanted to create. They no
longer frantically tried to understand the technology just for the
sake of technology. The outcome was - sharp witty headlines, clever
copy, eye-catching layout, and creative, sometimes even daring, use
of colour. The learners reported that they gained skills in writing
and designing really "cool" ads.
We know that they
gained skills in spelling, language, and desktop publishing - but
Technology can change
and enhance lives, but only if it is used as an effective tool. In
the classroom it was found that the process of creating the ad
became important, and not just the outcome of the project. Once the
learners were not restrained by a number of dry tasks that they
needed to have gained by the end of the lesson, they felt free to
use their creativity. Once their creativity was freed up, they began
to experiment. They began to think laterally, and valuable
incidental learning was gained within the process.
The point of a
learner-centered environment is to equip the learner with the skills
they need now and the skills they will need in the world of business
in the knowledge age. They need to learn how to effectively use the
knowledge that they gain. And they must be able to extend that
knowledge by bringing it to each new project or problem with which
they are faced.
In South Africa, the
IT environment in schools consists of a continuum of environments.
At the bottom end of the scale we find schools that have no computer
facilities whatsoever. Some schools own a few computers to which
learners and educators are exposed. At the top end of the scale we
see independent schools where there is an abundance of technology
Learners use digital
cameras, experience IT in sophisticated IT classrooms and use
internet facilities at their leisure in specialised IT labs or
Even though there is
this discrepancy between IT environments in schools, we are still
faced with the same concerns as elsewhere in the world. We need to
integrate information technology in the classroom, and we need to
equip learners for life outside of school.
is the home of many independent schools serving both advantaged and
disadvantaged communities. One such advantaged private school has
established a sophisticated hi-tech information technology solution
for their learners. They also run an Outreach programme for learners
from disadvantaged areas. Many learners from Soweto and Alexandra,
black townships, whose schools have very little if any computer
facilities, attend the Outreach programme.
One of the exercises
held in both the advantaged IT classes and the Outreach programme,
involved the use of Excel.
All the learners were
given a task of creating an e-commerce product – the learners had to
create a cyberspace company, which would sell its products via the
The private school
learners related well to the concept and came up with original
ideas. They soon began to understand Excel and successfully
integrated the program into their projects. They were quite used to
using hi-tech equipment, and easily grasped the idea of a cyberspace
But the learners on
the Outreach programme could neither do the project nor understand
Excel. On assessment, the solution was to change the Outreach
programme brief. Instead of launching a company in cyberspace, the
learners were told that they should start up their own mobile food
selling unit. In South Africa, hotdog mobile foodstalls are very
The learners were
able to grasp this idea with ease, and upon doing the project were
highly successful. Their understanding of Excel matched that of the
private school learners and it was seen that, at the end of the day,
all the learners achieved excellent results.
All learners emerged
from the lesson with the same skills. Both groups understood Excel
in the same way, both were able to complete involved Excel formulas,
and both achieved the goal of the making of money from their
Why did the Outreach
programme initially fail? Because the learners were not understood.
No relationship was formed for the learner during the learning
process. Remember that for any process to work, one needs to get the
people there. As soon as the project was changed to relate directly
to their needs and their life worlds, their understanding and
enthusiasm for the task at hand, increased by 100%.
The wonderful thing
about technology is that it is constantly developing and evolving.
Should we look at the scenario at the Outreach programme a year from
now, we would see that it would be quite different. Learners, like
the technology they’re using, grow and change. They develop on their
own, in their own processes. The children on the Outreach programme
will probably begin to explore the Internet soon. They may even
obtain home computers. Soon they will be able to start their own
cyberspace store using the skills they gained during the mobile
Another situation in
South Africa, which is perhaps not as unique as we first thought, is
that our environment doesn’t only consist of the private school with
an Outreach programme. We have learners in the same class who are
from both privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds - a truly
multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-social learning
So what do we do now?
To keep the
environment learner-centered we need to have a learning methodology
in place. A methodology that will specifically allow the learner to
contribute and gain from the tasks, no matter what his or her
current skill level may be.
How do we do this?
Well, to use the idea
of the Excel project again – let the learners decide what kind of
shop it is to be. But then you need to set boundaries: parameters in
which all learners can work. For example, if it’s a shop, does it
have walk-by clientele, how many days a week does it operate, and so
on. All learners will achieve the same results.
methodology will also cater for each learners' way of learning; some
through scientific fact, some through conceptual understanding -
leading all learners to their own intelligent conclusions.
This is how, in South
Africa, we can take a learner out of the Outreach programme, put her
into the "normal" classroom, and watch her succeed with confidence.
With this methodology
in the classroom the educator becomes the leader and guide, and not
simply the classroom encyclopaedia.
Clear objectives have
been described by the educator, and met by the learner. In 1995 a 13
year old learner said the methodology looked at your way of
learning. That's what helped her to learn.
A question educators
may ask is: By setting boundaries, is creativity not stifled?
Anyone can create an
advert. But not everyone can create, for example, a low budget,
direct response, print media advert, that works. In other words, an
ad that has boundaries. Some of the most successful companies in the
world today are successful because boundaries forced them to come up
with the most creative solution in the most constrained space. Their
very success was due to boundaries.
The question we asked
ourselves earlier was, as a company, have we achieved what we set
out to do? Are we successful? Well, that depends on how success is
measured. We measure our success on the achievements/success of
those we serve. Corporations, Schools, Educators and Learners. On
evaluation, a description of our job is quite simple.
Our job is to:
develop products and the support infrastructure to "get the people
there". It's been said that strategy is 10% inspiration and 90%
implementation and change through people. Integration of technology
in the classroom, we have learned, is not about technology. It is
In South Africa, the
average age of educators is 45 years. As a nation, we can count
ourselves very lucky, because we have teachers who have years of
experience, teaching and working with learners from all walks of
life. The introduction of OBE (outcomes based education),
integration of technology in the learning areas and the level of
computer skill of the learners has placed additional pressures on
Many learners are
completing projects using computers and educators are reporting that
they are out of their depth when they are required to assess the
work. There is also a pressure for them to use technology
themselves, as a personal productivity tool within the school
environment. And to develop projects which involve the use of
Educators who were
not into technology before, realise that now is the time to get
involved. Their question is How? And how long? How long does it take
to "get them there"?
The how? And the how
long is answered by the school and by their vision. In South Africa,
this has been addressed in various ways, some solutions more
workable than others.
A principal at a
South African School decided on a progressive, what many would see
as radical, approach to the development of educators in the use of
He announced at a
staff meeting one day: "Today, we are starting our journey to become
educators of the 21st century." The first step, Phase 1,
is to learn how to effectively use technology ourselves. Phase 2
involves the introduction of computer skills classes for all
learners, to develop IT and life skills. Phase 3 involves the
integration of technology across the curriculum. Welcome to the
Was it successful?
The initial reaction of the educators was quite diverse. Some
embraced the idea. Others responded negatively. Through fear of the
unknown, and the fear of change. Both very real human qualities.
But what about the
process of soliciting buy-in from these teachers? The buy-in for
them was the realisation that in the 21st century, a
computer is a tool for learning. Learning how to use new tools for
learning is part of what an educator does. It's part of the job.
A year down the line
- educators are "in tune" with their learners, learners are gaining
the skills they need to complete project work, learners are gaining
valuable life skills - and educators are growing with them. Our role
was to provide the products, support and services to "get them
there", their way.
In terms of
technology, where are the learners? What can they do? They have the
IT skills to complete the international MOUS examinations (Microsoft
Office User Specialist exams) - they can complete and present, with
confidence, full multimedia projects and use electronic research
tools. They can plan and design spreadsheets using Excel, and are
well on their way to developing web sites. So too, are the educators
- well on their way to developing courseware for web sites.
How do the educators
at this school measure their success? By those they serve, their
ability to successfully work through the curriculum and develop the
learners in keeping with the ethos and vision of the school.
A learner evaluation
system, in the form of a detailed questionnaire for learners, was
implemented. Learners were given the opportunity to comment on their
learning experience, on what they were learning and how it was being
delivered to them. They also evaluated their own performance during
How did the educators
feel? Initially? Hostile. Hostile towards the idea of being
evaluated by their own pupils. However, the educators quickly
discovered that it was the learning experience that was being
evaluated, and the exercise played an important role in the
development of a relationship between educator and learner.
What emerged from the
analysis - was a number of valuable findings in terms of the
learning process itself, as well as some unexpected incidental
As a result the
entire process became more streamlined, ultimately aiding both
educator and learner.
On evaluation, the
implementation of the learning programme created a strong learning
culture in the school, for both learners and educators. Educators,
inspired by their own learning and achievements, inspired the
learners to achieve results in the learning process.
The success at this
school was achieved through people. Their ability to cope with
change, and the feeling of the educators that "we are in this
together and we are in it for the long haul". The educators in this
school have become the driving force behind the use of computers in
learning, in administration, as an effective communication and
business tool. There is nothing more powerful than educators with a
shared vision, in the same school.
There is also
enormous pressure on state schools in South Africa to operate as
businesses rather than state institutions dependent on government
funding. These educators are leading the school - their knowledge is
helping to reduce the overall costs of running the school.
Where is South Africa
in terms of integration of technology in the classroom, developing
educators, and equipping learners with the life and IT skills they
need for life in the knowledge age?
In some top South
African schools, effective integration of technology in the
classroom and across the learning areas is being implemented. But
not necessarily by all educators in the school. Programmes such as
MS Office, FrontPage, various graphics tools such as Corel, Adobe
Photoshop are being used in the development of IT and life skills.
Educators are being developed in OBE (outcomes based education) and
in information technologies.
Learners appear to be
at the same level as those in other countries. There are learners
who are developing commercial web sites, writing software in Visual
Basic and C++, earning money by freelancing in the area of desktop
publishing, preparing presentations for companies and starting their
own companies. Just like everywhere else in the world - there are
Our challenge is to
provide a form of mass education to give all learners the same
chance in life and to develop educators in the area of information
technology - quickly - so too, just like everywhere else in the
In South Africa the
development of life skills, and preparing learners for life in the
knowledge age has become a key concern in education. This is also
true for the rest of Africa. For young people in South Africa to
survive in life, they will have to be self-employable, generating
their own income and becoming less reliant on government financial
Young people will not
leave school, like they did in the past, and find jobs as trainees
in the corporate world. For in South Africa, just like everywhere
else in the world, the needs of corporations have changed and so too
has the workplace. Companies no longer have the budget to provide
people with the skills training they need to do their jobs.
Companies in South
Africa are currently looking at every possible way to reduce the
headcount and increase shareholder profits.
We also find
ourselves competing on the international market. Today we are in a
global world. This means that if our young people want to survive,
they will have to become workers in a knowledge age.
People who are in
demand. For their brain power - their creative thinking ability and
their ability to make technology work for them.
People who will
either become the human capital of their own companies, or the
intellectual capital of nationals and multinationals.
There is much talk
today about knowledge, knowledge management, the knowledge industry
and knowledge workers. Computerised workplaces are developing a
workforce whose main skill is one of thinking. Creative thinking
people, together with thinking educators, thinking executives and
thinking leaders will form the knowledge workers of our nation.
Before long, our entire workforce will need to be composed of
knowledge workers if we want to be a proud and successful nation
with a strong economy and a future in the global marketplace.
The concept of
knowledge workers is not new. After all, the need for better and
faster services, together with our own inventions, has lead us to
the world of the dotcoms, where ideas are more valuable than gold,
where people are employed for their creative thinking ability rather
than for their MBA's.
The patent for the
idea of "one-click buying" was registered to amazon.com in 1999. In
1995, believe it or not - a patent was registered for the method of
exercising a cat using light to stimulate it.
The idea of
"one-click buying" has placed amazon where it is today. I'm not sure
where the light and cat are in the dotcom world.
Does it surprise us
that patent factories for the patenting of ideas are opening at an
alarming rate. Does it surprise us that the April issue of "The
Economist" reports that Internet entrepreneurs have realised that
one of the few things to stand between them, and death by copying,
is a patent. For it is known that people are good at lifting -
lifting information off the Internet and using it as if it were
Does it surprise us
that IBM is now getting ten new patents every working day. Patenting
every idea is what companies are talking about, in the boardroom,
and on the golf course.
Now we can understand
why there is so much talk about the need for knowledge workers -
creative-thinking people who know how to make technology work for
them. Now we can understand why schools around the world are being
told that they are not producing thinkers. We do not agree with that
- but we do understand that the world has changed. And that a new
breed of thinkers is needed.
The key in the
development of learners and educators for life in the dotcom world,
the knowledge age, if you like, is, of course, a sound education and
the effective use of technology, in learning, in doing, and in
managing knowledge for retrieval - anywhere, anytime.
But education today
is too often valued for what it can give to learners rather than for
what it can make out of learners.
Access to email,
Internet, Intranets, sophisticated software, every possible hardware
device, a qualification and the status that goes with it, will not
turn the learners in our schools into the knowledge workers we need
them to be.
For what good is an
email connection if you can’t make it work for you, and if you don’t
understand the complexities of electronic communication. And for
what good is knowledge of FrontPage, if you can’t use it to develop
a web site or web page that works.
One of the most
exciting projects we have worked on is a knowledge exchange
programme between learners and educators. Through the project,
learners and educators learn how to communicate and negotiate via
email and how to work in teams without ever meeting face-to-face.
These are valuable skills and will serve learners and educators well
in the years to come.
An exercise completed
by learners on Monday in South Africa involved Excel and a T-shirt
shop for the sale of T-shirts to locals and tourists at one of the
Olympic venues in Sydney. Learners established that 35 Australian
dollars was a reasonable price for a T-shirt. They also learned that
Goods and Services Tax would raise the selling price by 10% at the
time of the Olympic games. They learned how to use the Internet to
look up daily exchange rates and convert money to different
currencies Pounds, Dollars, AUS Dollars, Yen or whichever currency
they selected for their spreadsheet.
They also learned
that their own currency, the South African Rand would not buy too
many T-shirts featuring the Olympic games.
David Janks a 12-year
old learner reported that "I learned how to exchange dollars to
rands and it was quite cool because I could use this when my dad
asks what the exchange rate is. I also learned about the difference
between currency and accounting and why we use accounting formats. I
also learned that the South African exchange rate is really bad so
when I go overseas I will know how to see how much things will cost
before I go."
This afternoon, at
the World in My Classroom LIVE demonstration, Year 6 learners of
John XXIII College will be completing the same project with Chris
Marley and Knowledge Network. David Janks is really keen to know
what the Australian learners think - about the South African Rand,
about GST - how it will change the pricing structures - and what the
learners think about the strength of their own currency - the
Australian dollar. David Janks is 12 years old.
It is clear that a
different type of learning is required now. Learning that serves
- provides the
learners with a fun, exciting and accelerated learning
environment while developing creativity and lateral thinking,
- meets the needs of
the school in terms of learning areas and academic results, as
well as vision,
- and provides the
learners with the skills they need for life in the real world in
our knowledge age
And for this we need
technology, and, educators and learners who know how to use it.
The survivors of the
knowledge age will be those who:
- are able to
change, to adapt to whichever environment they find themselves
- those who can gain
skills on demand, and are able to cope with the speed and
pressure of a global world
- those who use
knowledge to gain a competitive advantage in everything they do
- those who can use
technology as an extension of themselves, anywhere, anytime
- those who can
communicate and negotiate with anyone, anywhere, anytime
- those who have the
right knowledge, at the right time, and who can use it right -
Who will be the
survivors of the knowledge age?
We will. (You, and I)
And so will our
For it is us who will
have changed. We will have changed into the life-long learners of
the knowledge age, and in so doing, we will have acquired the
knowledge we need to make the knowledge age, work for us.