According to Peter Lacey, Education Lead for Acer Africa, the question is not if the Chromebook will enter South African classrooms, but when and how. Selborne Primary School based in East London decided to partner with Acer to introduce the Google Chromebook as part of their classroom learnings early in 2013. Through the Acer Premier Partner Program, Acer Africa has managed to successfully provide technology solutions to over 120 schools across its network. The success, according to Lacey lies in the fully customisable solutions that Google and its platforms provide.
After comparing several solutions, the school’s governing body decided that the Google platform will be the best vehicle to move the school into the next phase of its technology journey. Sarah Friend, Grade Seven teacher at Selborne explains that, “ease of use is probably the stand out feature for me. This allows each pupil to use the device according to their unique learning ability.” According to Lacey this is what makes the Chromebook unique to any other netbook. “The Chromebook supports the learning material of a school’s current curriculum while allowing a pupil to expand this learning with additional online tools via the safe and secure Device Management System (DMS) and it’s always up to date.” The robust build of the device and selection of applications allows both educator and pupil to get the most out of the learning process. A recent study supports this claim reporting that more than 60% of students have indicated that their learning experience is enhanced by the Google Chromebook. “As an IT administrator of the school, I can manage our Chromebooks, the learning material and other Chrome devices, from a cloud-based Admin console or DMS,” says Friend.
“Since its introduction to the South African market, late in 2013, the Chromebook has had a clear and lasting value add in the local education sector,” says Alister Payne, MD of Google Cloud Solutions. Payne refers to the advancements of technology in the classroom as Tequity, or Tech Equity. “Bringing tech into the learning environment creates an enhanced learning experience.” According to Payne, Tequity reaches further than only the physical accessibility of devices, but the convenience of accessing information via a device as well as the simplicity thereof. Lacey elaborates on this point by conveying that technology should never be introduced to a classroom to replace educators, but rather to aid the facilitator to support pupils during the exploration and curation process. “This is the future of learning,” says Lacey. “Students become content creators rather than content consumers.” With a plethora of applications and collaborative tools at their disposal, each student consumes learning material according to their capabilities, making it a lasting experience. “There are different apps for everything from dissecting a grasshopper to taking a tour through ancient Egypt. Google Chromebook is an essential and interactive tool for the 20th century learner” says Lacey. By making this paradigm shift more emphasis is placed on exploring and comprehending content rather, than following a graded curriculum based outcome.
Another feature that is unique to Google Chromebook is the mobility. Students are able to work on group projects whether they are in the same room or not. Additionally, teachers are also able to evaluate how individuals contributed to group projects. Via the Google Classroom Assignment application, teachers schedule assignments on any subject and are able to track its project. Peter Lacey, Education Lead for Acer Africa add that this in turn creates a paperless classroom, creating a greener learning environment.
Although the adoption of the Chromebook in local classroom cannot be disputed, there are still a fair amount of concerns. These concerns are echoed in the Acer – European Schoolnet Educational Netbook Pilot where the three main objections to the Chromebook was the lack of support, distracted learners and limited access to internet. Even though the first two concerns have been discredited in the last five years, the latter is still a valid objection in our local environment.
The integration of Chromebooks in the Selborne classrooms have dissipated original fears which included the lack of support, distracted learners and limited access to internet. “The five year project has seen Acer invest in the Google Ecosystem Support Base in South Africa, and in this time learners have showed increased engagement,” says Lacey. “Although access to internet remains a concern in rural areas, urban areas are well serviced, and the current number of adopted schools will continue to increase.” Lacey concludes by saying that with government’s commitment to further reduce data costs the country is on the cusp of a connectivity explosion which will filter through to schools and allow for easier access to e-learning.