Sunday, 22 July 2012

One week into the new term... being back at a school

My journey to (re)discover what is currently the state of secondary education in a typical urban school in the Johannesburg area has surely started off with a rude awakening. A week into the third term and I am left with enough proof of a number of things that are completely out of place.

Although the new ANC-led government has since it came into power in 1994 failed to transform education (amongst an array of other failures, especially broad-based service delivery), we are faced with another reality: in a growing economy with wide-spread unemployment, the disconnect between what the workforce has to offer and what the market requires obviously starts at secondary education level.

The ANC-government's inadequacies surely amplify many of the structural problems with the educational system. However, the very model which they try to perfect is a completely outdated one. The government prior to 1994, and surely the one after 1994 failed to redefine the educational system in the wake of a changing world -- a globalised one that requires different skills sets. Instead, the 19th century model with distinct subject areas, taught to pupils divided along age groups in classrooms filled with (more or less straight) rows of desk and hard chairs still characterise the typical South African school. Alas, neither the national Department of Education, nor the provincial government departments of education even attempt to offer basic ICT infrastructure. ICT support staff at schools can hardly be afforded by affluent schools, let alone state schools serving poor communities. Few schools have internet access, let alone computers for every teacher in their classrooms. The result is that teachers still believe that they are the only source of information and knowledge to their textbook-bound pupils. Pupils on the other hand more or less all have cellphones (probably mostly Blackberries due to cheap internet access and BBM capabilities), yet these powerful devices may not be used.

My quest is a simple one: get the private sector involved by devising a model that will provide schools with the necessary ICT infrastructure, especially a sustainable ICT support model. Like any modern-day organisation reliant on ICT, schools too require continuous ICT support staff. In fact, more than organisations, teachers who wish to use ICT solutions in their classrooms require immediate assistance if something goes wrong. The reasons is simple: lessons are more or less 45 minutes long before 'the bell' rings; if a teacher can't use their computer-based material as planned, chances are good that they will revert back to their tried and tested model of teaching that stems from the 19th century.