As part of its Tarsus Engaged Series, Tarsus Technology Group recently hosted a webinar to interrogate the organisational and technology-related aspects of learning in a country where there are huge disparities in income and access to resources. The discussion was hosted by Asanda Sosibo, portal sales manager at Tarsus Distribution.

Guest speaker Sanele Majola, executive head of Vuleka Schools, an independent, non-profit group of Anglican Diocesan schools, explored the roles of hybrid instruction (blended learning), taking advantage of opportunities to make schools more community-focused places of learning, and tackling inequalities by creating partnerships between private and public organisations.

“For South Africa to participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), every learner must have access to the data, connectivity and affordable devices that are required to develop a more equitable digital society,” Majola stressed.

Following his presentation, several questions were posed to Majola by the audience.

Here are some of the key issues that arose:

Q: The Department of Basic Education has attempted to bring technology into the classroom since 2015. Why have we not seen meaningful results from these initiatives?

A: There is a need for sound policies and strategies around connectivity and data. We also need to have the right people in place who understand the challenges and complexities of teaching and learning in our schools and communities, as well as the demands of 4IR. On top of that, we need these initiatives to be led by educators who comprehend how best to train teachers to use technology and, at the same time, how to engage with young people.

Q: How do we upskill teachers to use technology?

A: Schools and companies have a responsibility to provide devices for their employees and organise training for them. Once teachers are trained, it is up to them to take their newfound knowledge and apply it. Teachers who remain resistant to training are seriously prejudicing their pupils.

Q: What is being done to encourage innovative thinking in the curriculum?

A: The school curriculum includes the four C’s: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication. At Vuleka, we have added a fifth C – community.

Children are part of communities. We believe schools must be encouraged to entrench themselves more deeply in their local communities, so that all community members have a stake in the school’s success. One way of doing that is to extend learning opportunities to parents by bringing in expert speakers on topics of value to the entire community.

Fostering innovation, which includes new ideas, new ways of looking at things, and new approaches that offer value, involves hard work and must be intentional. The five C’s can only be achieved when classrooms are practically and deliberately set up to facilitate the success of the curriculum.

Q: What is the one thing you wish was included in the school curriculum that is not?

A: Although critical thinking, problem-solving and the ability to collaborate and cooperate are part of the curriculum, they are not always taught well. Also, some of these concepts are taught only in some schools, by some teachers. We would like to see children exiting school not with just a certificate, but also with a set of skills that equip them to thrive in the world.

Q: Township schools equipped with technology often become crime hotspots. What can be done to prevent this?

A: The answer lies in the fifth C. Under lockdown, hundreds of schools were vandalised, including many equipped with ICT kit that supports online learning and education technology services. We think that greater family and community involvement in the life of the school is fundamental to putting a stop to vandalism and theft.

A: What impact has COVID-19 had on schooling?

Q: President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of the national lockdown was a defining moment in history. All we could think about at the end of that speech was how we were going to get schoolwork to our learners. That was when we learnt the value of data collection.

We communicated with parents to find out what their opinions were on the best ways to send lessons home (they chose WhatsApp and email) and made decisions based on that information. As time passed, we learnt more about online education and we started to incorporate Zoom and Microsoft Teams into lesson delivery once our teachers had been trained on these platforms. What is fascinating is that we and other schools were propelled into the digital age by the pandemic.

Q: What role would you like to see the private sector playing in enabling technology infrastructure in schools?

A: Connectivity needs to be brought closer to communities and devices need to be more affordable. Technology today is not a luxury; it is a basic need. Beyond the ICT sector, we would like to see more companies across all sectors helping to fund education projects.

Watch the full Tarsus Engaged Webinar below:

By Yolanda Makhubele, content marketing specialist at Tarsus Technology Group and Sanele Majola, executive head of Vuleka Schools.

[Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels]