From its extensive experience, the Foundation has gained a more nuanced understanding of how ICT interventions can be implemented to achieve maximum benefit for learners at school and to pave the way for them to become productive, employed, members of society.
This is being achieved through:
- Building on the Connected Schools Programme;
- Using a multifaceted approach;
- Designing and piloting a new programme and
- Planning for the future.
Building on the Connected Schools Programme
Telkom Foundation’s flagship project, the Connected Schools Programme (CSP), ran from 1998 until 2017. Its aim was to bridge the digital divide by providing ICT equipment, resources, connectivity and training to schools and educators in rural areas. Over 20 years, Telkom invested R200 million into the programme, benefiting over 1 500 schools, upskilling 18 000 teachers and enhancing the education of 450 000 learners.
However, an independent review of the project, conducted in 2015, showed that greater impact could result from more holistic programming and more targeted and deeper support for fewer learners. After completing the CSPs that were already underway, the Foundation began to implement a revitalised programme.
The new education strategy, launched in 2017, builds on the foundation, but elevates the original CSP to provide a more enriching curriculum. The objective of this new phase in Telkom’s education strategy is to provide disadvantaged high school learners with holistic education that prepares them for success not only in higher education, but that also equips them with employability skills for a potential career in the ICT sector.
A multifaceted approach
Having learnt that infrastructural bridging of the digital divide is not enough to wield significant change, Telkom has adopted an approach that considers all the interconnected aspects that affect a learner’s academic performance and influences the long-term outcome of their education.
From 2017, instead of providing support to a school for a three-year period, as was the case in the original CSP, Telkom is taking a long-term view. The new programme starts with grade 8 learners who will be supported comprehensively right through to matric and beyond. The Foundation will provide ICT solutions, such as computers, educational resources and internet connectivity, but will also consciously and deliberately focus on learners’ socioeconomic and psychosocial development; addressing issues such as transport, nutrition and health and wellness. The programme will continue to contribute towards improving the quality of teaching and learning, with specific focus on English and the STEM subjects, as Telkom works with teachers to develop their knowledge and skills and empowers them to use technology as a teaching tool.
Telkom recognises the value of developing a growth mindset in learners that will engender tenacity and resilience when faced with challenges. The programme is therefore also geared to develop critical thinking, to introduce learners to the wider opportunities created by technology, and to teach them to use technology as a way of solving problems in society.
Designing and piloting the new programme
Although the new programme was officially launched in July 2017, Telkom began implementation earlier in the year and its design had been in progress for much longer. The Foundation embarked on a careful review process from 2015, assessing the achievements and challenges of past projects, reflecting on the interplay of factors that impact the outcome of any education programme, and engaging with strategic partners.
In February 2017, the project was piloted at five high schools in the Tshwane West Education District, all of which are close to Telkom’s campus in Centurion and which face many of the challenges common in disadvantaged schools, including teacher shortages, ill-equipped classrooms, inadequate teaching resources and a lack of ICT skills among learners and educators. The schools were selected in collaboration
with the Department of Education’s district office and in lengthy engagement with school governing bodies, leadership and parents.
R13 million was invested into the initial pilot, providing hardware, software, educational content and a range of training and support for learners and education at each of the five schools. A further R18.2 million is invested in further infrastructure for the 2018 grade 8 intake of the five schools in the Tshwane West Education District and the grade 8 intake in 2018 of two schools in the Port Elizabeth Education District. The grade 8 classrooms were transformed into modern and dynamic educational environments, painted in bright colours and featuring technology boards and the latest ICT equipment. Each school has also been equipped with a computer lab for grades 9 to 12, to provide access to technology and educational content to the learners not directly involved in the programme. The schools receive internet connectivity of 100 gigabites per month.
The teachers have received in depth change management training and ICT integration training, in partnership with SchoolNet SA, to assist them in maximising the value of the ICT resources at their disposal. Teachers received laptops, which they can take home to prepare their lessons.
Learners are taken through an orientation programme and the Foundation has placed a full-time facilitator at each school. These facilitators are five young interns – local youths who were previously unemployed – who have been ICT trained and employed to provide technical support to in-class support.
Planning for the future
The goal of the first year has been to pilot the project with 1 000 grade 8 learners, at the five schools in Gauteng. In the next five years, the goal is to roll out the project to two additional schools in the Eastern Cape, so that a total of 5 000 learners will be enrolled, from grade 8 to matric. Thereafter, the programme will be scaled up and implemented nationally.
Telkom is keenly aware of the triple burden of poverty, inequality and unemployment weighing on South Africa’s youth, and how critical it is to be part of addressing these challenges, not just for the future of South Africa, but for the future of the ICT sector in South Africa, as well as for Telkom’s long-term sustainability. Building on 20 years of work in the ICT and education space, the Foundation is excited to be at the forefront of a new era of best practice in placing key ICT technology in the hands of teachers and learners, empowering South African learners to become well-educated and technologically adept members of society.