Computerising the classroom
education system is in crisis. Schools continue to reel
under the pressure of inadequate facilities, too few
teachers and expanding classrooms, while universities
tackle stormy political protests amid accusations of
falling academic standards, as well as financial
disarray, it is reassuring to know the issue is
receiving attention. Concerned organisations are
offering solutions to put mass education back on track,
the most prevalent being the intervention of information
companies in the recent past have held up the computer
as the panacea for all classroom ills, contemporary
thought differs slightly. Not only is it financially
impossible to supply every student with a computer - it
would require the entire national budget to supply ever
Soweto student with his or her own PC - but also
unnecessary, says Roger David, marketing manager for
Isis. His company's approach to the mass education
crisis is holistic. Isis is not looking at computers,
but technology as an intervention mechanism in
education; in much the same way that technology has
revolutionised backing in the country. Where would we be
without automatic teller machines, he asks.
capabilities in real-time systems development, and
motivated by the ideal that education is a key component
in the development and stabilisation process of the RDP,
Isis tackled the issue by identifying areas in education
was to use teachers effectively. Extensive research has
revealed that the problem is not the limited number of
teachers in the school's employ - a teacher can
creatively and effectively teach groups of 35 - but
administrative overload. "We needed to develop a system
which would lighten the teacher's involvement in
unnecessary reams of administrative work," says Davids.
issue prompting upheaval in schools is accommodation. In
Gauteng alone, reports indicate a shortage of 800
classrooms. Isis maintains the dilemma can be solved by
developing a system which would take teaching to
communities in informal classrooms - whether a community
centre, home, church or temporary structure - with out
degrading the quality and delivery of the lesson.
is pivotal to Isis's analysis of the education crisis.
It foresees a multimedia classroom incorporating
CD-ROMs, database and communication techniques as
central to its improvement. "The teacher would also be
in a position to prepare lessons using audio-visual
means and running them via relatively inexpensive
methods such as TVs and VCRs.
rescue "Its 'technology rescue' would essentially put
teachers in a position where they could concentrate on
their real mission - to teach, using technology to
enhance their teaching skills and process."
the question of student communication, Isis has
developed a mechanism where students are assessed on a
real-time basis without having to write formal exams.
"As the lesson progresses, the student is automatically
assessed. And there is immediate feedback. The teacher
is aware during the lesson which pupils are grasping the
concepts and which are not. From there, teaching methods
can be adapted."
learning via satellite and telecommunication, which
although electronically based could be solar powered, is
another area Isis has researched extensively.
approach to the educational crisis was not to place a
computer terminal in front of every pupil and attempt to
replace the teaching process. "We approach the problem
for the viewpoint of enhancing the teaching process and
delivering quality mass education on a cost-effective
basis. "We were mindful of the fact that budgets were
under pressure - issues such as housing and basic living
conditions would most probably absorb the largest slice
of government revenue. In our business as a software
house we've adopted a basic business philosophy, the
ability to cost effectively add value. You do not spend
money on technology unless it adds value."
says Davids, savings cannot always be measured in rands
and cents. "What might appear expensive in the short
term saves cash in the long term. Our innovative methods
in the education arena will achieve just this. Initial
outlay might weigh heavily on the pocket, but a few
years down the line schools will reap the benefits of
effective teaching methods."
education programme, Mass-ed, is a student-centred
system focusing on the teachers and technology. It
comprises a cost-effective keypad, which has the
intelligence to prompt students to respond to questions
posed during the lesson.
package which runs on a relatively low-cost PC - Davids
quotes his system around R400 - displays the student's
responses in histogram fashion with extensive roll-down
capability. "The teacher can assess responses on a group
and individual basis."
was developed to interact via audio-link through a TV
system. "The teacher is able to teach to several
locations simultaneously to incorporating a conventional
video camera and transmitting the lecture to several
locations." This link was taken a step further with
satellite and telecommunication methods beaming lectures
to remote locations. A pilot site in St Albans is
effectively employing this concept. "Lectures which are
presented in the morning are recorded and replayed to a
satellite school in the afternoon."
learning While Isis has several test locations,
including a possible joint venture with the University
of Pretoria to implement distance learning via
satellite, it is presently negotiating with the Gauteng
government to install this technology in regional
schools in an effort to create quality and equal
education for all.
everyone is in favour of computer-based learning. A
selection of academics still question computer
technology as a solution to the education crisis.
Bagus, and education lecturer at Wits University, says:
"I am a sceptic. The computer in education is a solution
looking for a problem. For every piece of research which
says computers are effective in facilitating the
learning process, another says they are ineffective."
in favour of computer technology he casts aside as
propaganda by computer and software vendors whose
livelihood depends on getting as many computers into the
field as possible. However, Zakheni Computing's Gideon
Makatu says: "Even if we do not agree with the Isis
initiative, because of the cost implication of
installing and maintaining those systems, there is no
disputing the fact that if we are to meet the future
economic demands, computers must become and integral
part of our education system. They offer several
advantages over the traditional 'chalk and talk' method.
It is a fast and efficient way to learn, especially in
research, using the Internet - you don't have to go
through every book but simply press a button to recover
data. It is also a gateway, opening up dictionaries,
encyclopaedias, interactive stories, education games and
references at the touch of a button."
Camhee, headmaster of St Theresa's school in
Coronationville, who is running the Write to Read
programme developed by IBM and Eduquest, is adamant
computers are essential in the learning process. "
Computers accurately reflect the world in which children
live. They learn to compose on the computer, print out
drafts, correct them and present the final draft to the
teacher. That's the way it's done in the real world."
programme facilitates every pupil according to his or
her abilities. Camhee explains: "Pupils work at their
own pace. Independent thinking and problem solving is
part of the computer-based learning process. Pupils
progress according to their abilities, making mixed
ability classes a real possibility. Remedial and
'normal' classes can effectively be combined."
traditional teaching method which hasn't changed in the
last 800 years - "it's like an oil tanker, taking a long
time to change course" - presents many problems, he
says. "Children don't learn effectively because they are
frustrated. They are either being held back or the pace
is too fast. With computers, problems in the classrooms
eliminate themselves. Even discipline is no loner a
problem. If the kids aren't talking, they are learning."
Hrdliczka - educator with and managing director of
K-Net, a technology network for kids ad teenagers using
new 486DX units with 8Mb of RAM and Super VGA low
radiation monitors - believes computers offer several
advantages in the learning process. " They bring a topic
to life. Pupils see it, hear it and watch it happening."
has also proven that the computer facilitates the
learner. "Research suggests that children willingly put
in more effort in an electronic as opposed to a
text-drive medium. Word processors allow them to write
more fluidly. And although no studies have proved it,
students who use spreadsheets have a sounder grasp of
Self-directed learning Computer-base learning is not
restricted to schools. The arts department of Wits
University recently invested in a computer laboratory to
promote computer-based education. Dr Gudrun Oberpreiler,
co-ordinator of humanities computer project, maintains
the computer equips students with vital skills. " It's
self-directed learning. It caters for individual needs,
allowing students to progress at their own pace."
computer laboratory is used for an array of topics, its
prevalent function is for a language application with
software donated by a Canadian university. "For students
whose first language is not English, completing this
program offers substantial benefits in their studies."
computer know-how vital for a successful career in
today's workplace, students cannot afford not to learn
computer literacy skills, she says.
also recognised to advantages of the "resource-based"
classroom. Sandy Cooper of IBM's research and teach
programme, explains that a group of educationalists
under the direction of Professor Merlin Mehl recently "
revolutionised" the traditional "chalk and talk"
approach with a classroom redesigned into learning
centres. "Every learning centre is equipped with a
computer as one of its resources, prompting teachers and
students away from the authoritarian, rote-type learning
to computer-based, multi-sensory interactive learning."
exciting and stimulating: the student is an active
participant in the learning process."
scepticism of Wits Education's Bagus aside, another
downside of computers in education is cost.
students with equipment bites deeply into already
strained schools budgets - the hierarchy of needs put
textbooks as a priority.
Africa the scenario is aggravated by the fact that 70%
of school-going Soweto pupils do not have access to
electricity, and of theses 80% live in squatter
conditions. How will they gain access to computer
equipment? And if they do, will they be able to use it
effectively with trained staff readily at hand?
various educationalists, who insist that donations from
many organisations are ensuring equipment reaches the
poorer institutions. Grant Nupen, director of
development at St Albans says: " Even if the equipment
is outdated, a plan can be made to put it to good use.
It's a start and it's usually better than having no
equipment at all."
the challenge of creating training systems for skills
empowerment, the Computers Society of South Africa has
joined forces with Siemens Nixdorf, Eskom and African
Engineering International to promote the Soweto
Technology Project (STP).
1990 by educationalist Tom Baloyi, it offers an
in-service training programme as well as a self-funded
extra-mural programme which provides motivated and able
secondary school pupils with an opportunity to take up
technical careers, develop skills and acquire sound
says: "The Society's members have a wealth of knowledge
and practical experience of IT and advanced technology
developments, particularly in the fast changing IR
vein, Zakheni's Makatu comments that government
involvement in training programmes is of utmost
priority, although he does not foresee it happening in
the near future.
expenditure on education and training compares
favourably with some developing countries. But we fall
behind countries with leading economies such as
Singapore. Essentially, the governments and private
sector underinvest in training."
that government should "start the ball rolling" by
offering subsidies to companies which invest in
training. This is especially vital in view of
statistics, which show that between 0,5, and 0,5% of
payrolls are spent on education and training - of which
most is invested in white institutions.
accounting arena, the Eden Trust is established to serve
bursaries to those interested in studying accounts. Why
can't the IT industry establish a similar body? The IT
industry has to get involved in training people. It
students are leaving technikons and universities
insufficiently trained for the workplace."
agree or disagree with computers in the classroom, he
says, the truth is that we live in a world of
technology. "For this reason we have no choice but to
encourage and support the IT influence in education.
It's the only way the people in this country will get