Learning in the digital age is increasingly becoming an important medium for simplifying learning and supporting curriculum delivery. In South Africa, many learners come from under-resourced contexts where access to digital technology is rare or non-existent. Various education stakeholders have committed to increasing access to ICT for learners and teachers, in order to ensure that all students ultimately gain equal access and exposure to ICT initiatives that will equip them to match the needs of our changing world.
Encouraging student engagement can be a challenge but various studies have found that ICT use greatly contributes to students’ motivation for learning. By incorporating digital tools and interactive resources, rather than the teacher simply lecturing on the topic, learners can do their own research and interact with the materials directly.
According to Sharp Digital, at least 80% of South Africans do not know how to use, how to take advantage of, or how to manage the risks of digital technology. Digital illiteracy and inequality work hand in hand.
Digital literacy promotes the development of skills such as content creation, critical thinking and evaluation skills. As the world becomes more technology-centred, these skills are essential in preparing learners for future employment prospects.
Examples of ICT interventions that support learners
Specialised Schools and Smart Classrooms
Specialised schools aim to create a skilled labour force and focuses on ICT, among other subjects.
Between 2016 and 2019, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) and the Information Technology Association of South Africa (ITA) have undertaken to spend R7bn on Schools of Specialisation, focusing on developing mathematics, science, engineering, sports and arts, and commerce and entrepreneurship at schools. It started with an R80m ICT school in 2016. In 2019, it opened two schools of specialisation, St Barnabus and UJ Metropolitan Mathematics, and the R105m smart school Menzi Primary School. Private sector intervention has also seen results – Samsun’s Smart Classroom and Digital Villages are making a difference in the lives of children who would not normally have access to learning about and through technology.
In 2020, the Department of Basic Education will pilot its coding the robotics curriculum across 1 000 South African schools, kick-starting an initiative to drive digital competency within the education system. UNICEF and the Department of Education established the TechnoGirl mentorship programme in 2005 in order to identify high-school girls between 15 and 18 from disadvantaged communities who were doing well academically. The girls were offered mentorship in STEM subjects. More than 5 000 young women have received university or college scholarships as a result and TechnoGirl now operates in all nine provinces of South Africa. Ericsson has joined with the TechnoGirl programme to drive the Connect to Learn (CTL) project. Connect to Learn technology implements ICT in schools where resources are frequently poor. It helps to enhance access to teaching and learning resources in a safe, cost-effective, user-friendly way. Teacher training kits are available.
Code for Change is an NPO that focuses on bringing coding into secondary schools. In 2018, it partnered with Microsoft to bring its CodeJIKA initiative to 60 schools across five provinces in South Africa. In 2019, Microsoft partnered with AI in Africa to realise the DigiGirlz initiative, which equips female learners with critical skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields. The bootcamps target girls from previously disadvantaged communities, aged 15 to 18. In the same year, the State IT Agency (SITA) selected five Free State schools to pilot its software engineering academy in Bloemfontein. The SITA School of Software Engineering aims to equip learners with software development, coding and other ICT skills.
Telkom is offering a free e-learning service, called Telkom e-Education, available to its existing and new customers. The service, provided by Extramarks, is aligned with the official curriculum and goes from Grades R-12. The Extramarks learning app also assists learners. Vodacom e-school, supported by the Department of Basic Education, provides access to content for Grades R-12. The lessons are free on all networks and Vodacom customers don’t pay for data when making use of the Vodacom e-school library. The FunDza initiative further makes e-books available via 400 Huawei-sponsored tablets available at 61 Vodacom ICT resource centres across the country. Vodacom e-Learning equips educators with mobile technology to improve the classroom experience. MTN has digitised e-learning material to benefit not only schools with established MTN multimedia centres but also other schools and community centres nationally.
The Gauteng Department of Education’s ‘Classrooms of the Future’ project has seen schools in the province go almost fully digital, with learners using government-issued tablets to access textbooks and notes, and teachers using Smart boards to facilitate classes. Learners can access all learning materials online, thanks to the department’s e-Learning Content and Online Assessment Platform. Schoolnet South Africa and Siyavula joined forces on a project to roll out maths and science eLearning services to Gauteng schools in partnership with the GDE.