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Digital solution for literacy?

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The country’s reading crisis has once again come into the spotlight through the latest findings of the Progress In International Reading Literacy Study which reveals that as many as 78% of Grade 4 children cannot read.

There is a solution to the Foundation Phase reading crisis that the education system in South Africa currently faces. The early introduction and integration of digital tools in the classroom can and has proven to improve literacy levels amongst children, a SchoolNet South Africa (SNSA) study has found.

The country’s reading crisis has once again come into the spotlight through the latest findings of the Progress In International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). It has revealed that many of country’s children are struggling to read; that as much as 78% of Grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language.

While the research study of this project, called Learning Gains through Play (LGP), showed learning gains in all foundational literacies tracked, the most interesting findings were of gains in oral English language skills acquired subconsciously through play by second language learners.

The Methodology:

Ten schools in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape each received a bank of learner tablets and an Xbox Kinect (including carefully selected apps and games) which, along with intensive teacher development and support, were integrated in teaching and learning activities in Grade R and Grade 1 classrooms. Learners were tracked over a four year period to assess their progress in foundational skills.

Data was compared with control school learners who were assessed and tracked in the same manner (but did not enjoy the benefits of any of the LGP project inputs). Results showed improvements in achievement in all five foundational literacies of gross-motor skills, fine-motor skills, numeracy, visual literacy and oral English communication skills.

This last literacy is of particular interest as the learning gains were substantial and furthermore, because the language of learning and teaching is a hotly debated topic in South Africa. With eleven official languages there is little consensus on which is more beneficial, for children to learn in their mother tongue or in the universal language of English.

This issue is particularly contentious in the first grades of Foundation Phase in South Africa. SchoolNet’s Learning Gains through Play project has shown that in the early grades, children can acquire English language skills “on their own” through engaging with learning games and apps that use English as the medium of instruction.

This acquisition of English is very different to the formal learning of a language with its structures and rules. Acquisition is a subconscious immersive method to understand and make meaning, similar to the way in which babies learn their mother tongue.

For the LGP children learning was mediated by their educators; it was not really learning “on their own” but learning driven by a need to make understanding of the games and apps in order to engage and entertain themselves with the digital tools that they found so exciting. One of the LGP findings was that learners’ curiosity was sufficiently enabled to trigger self-driven learning.

The theory of second language acquisition (SLA) was proposed by linguistic professor Stephen Krashen (1981) and according to Krashen and Terrell (1995), students learning a second language move through five predictable stages: Preproduction, Early Production, Speech Emergence, Intermediate Fluency, and Advanced Fluency.

“With the majority of learners in South Africa learning in their home language in Foundation Phase and then making an abrupt switch to learning in English from Grade 4 (and this coupled with the addition of three more subjects), providing tablets, Xboxes, apps and games in English for learners in the early grades is an effective strategy for preparing learners for success in the Intermediate Phase and beyond,” says SNSA’s Executive Director, Janet Thomson.

The worst hit from the reading crisis are poor and disadvantaged children, who make up 25% of the population who live in extreme poverty. An alarming fact is that learning deficiencies in the early grades accumulate and have a far greater detrimental impact in later grades and across all subjects including Mathematics.

Only the top 16% of Grade 3 Maths students are achieving at the Grade 3 level (Spaull & Kotze, 2015). Clearly the vast majority of South African learners are not meeting the curriculum requirements even at the very start of their journey through the schooling system.

In addition to the county’s poor reading culture, reading is also generally taught badly resulting in what the The Conversation has dubbed a “cognitive catastrophe”.  The publication argued recently that “failing to learn to read is bad for the cognition necessary to function effectively in a modern society.” This essentially means that we are raising generations of cognitively stunted individuals who then become stuck in intergeneration poverty.

One of the reasons why the PIRLS Study tested 13 000 Grade 4 children is because it is in the Foundation Phase “that the base for all future learning is established, and if the rudiments of reading, writing and calculating are not firmly entrenched by the end of Grade 3, then both learning opportunities and the larger life chances of young citizens will be curtailed” (National Education, Evaluation and Development Unit, 2013).

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Get your passwords in shape

New Year’s resolutions should extend to getting password protection sorted out, writes Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO at ESET Southern Africa.

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Many of us have entered the new year with a boat load of New Year’s resolutions.  Doing more exercise, fixing unhealthy eating habits and saving more money are all highly respectable goals, but could it be that they don’t go far enough in an era with countless apps and sites that scream for letting them help you reach your personal goals.

Now, you may want to add a few weightier and yet effortless habits on top of those well-worn choices. Here are a handful of tips for ‘exercises’ that will go good for your cyber-fitness.

I won’t pass up on stubborn passwords

Passwords have a bad rap, and deservedly so: they suffer from weaknesses, both in terms of security and convenience, that make them a less-than-ideal method of authentication.  However, much of what the internet offers is independent on your singing up for this or that online service, and the available form of authentication almost universally happens to the username/password combination.

As the keys that open online accounts (not to speak of many devices), passwords are often rightly thought of as the first – alas, often only – line of defence that protects your virtual and real assets from intruders. However, passwords don’t offer much in the way of protection unless, in the first place, they’re strong and unique to each device and account.

But what constitutes a strong password?  A passphrase! Done right, typical passphrases are generally both more secure and more user-friendly than typical passwords. The longer the passphrase and the more words it packs the better, with seven words providing for a solid start. With each extra character (not to mention words), the number of possible combinations rises exponentially, which makes simple brute-force password-cracking attacks far less likely to succeed, if not well-nigh impossible (assuming, of course, that the service in question does not impose limitations on password input length – something that is, sadly, far too common).

Click here to read about making secure passwords by not using dictionary words, using two-factor authentication, and how biometrics are coming to web browsers.

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Code Week prepares 2.3m young Africans for future

By SUNIL GENESS, Director Government Relations & CSR, Global Digital Government, at SAP Africa.

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On January 6th, 2019, news broke of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plans to announce a new approach to education in his second State of the Nation address, including:

  • A universal roll-out of tablets for all pupils in the country’s 23 700 primary and secondary schools
  • Computer coding and robotics classes for the foundation-phase pupils from grade 1-3 and the
  • Digitisation of the entire curriculum, , including textbooks, workbooks and all teacher support material.

With this, the President has shown South Africa’s response to a global challenge: equipping our youth with the skills they’ll need to survive and thrive in the 21st century digital economy.

Africa’s working-age population will increase to 600 million in 2030 from a base of 370 million in 2010.

In South Africa, unemployment stands at 26.7 percent, but is much more pronounced among youths: 52.2 percent of the country’s 15-24-year-olds are looking for work.

As an organisation deeply invested in South Africa and its future, SAP has developed and implemented a range of initiatives aimed at fostering digital skills development among the country’s youth, including:

AFRICA CODE WEEK

Since its launch in 2015, Africa Code Week has introduced more than 4 million African youth to basic coding.

In 2018, more than 2.3 million youth across 37 countries took part in Africa Code Week.

The digital skills development initiative’s focus on building local capacity for sustainable learning resulted in close to 23 000 teachers being trained in the run-up to the October 2018 events.

Vital to the success of Africa Code Week is the close support it receives from a broad spectrum of public and private sector institutions, including UNESCO YouthMobile, Google, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Cape Town Science Centre, the Camden Education Trust, 28 African governments, over 130 implementing partners and 120 ambassadors across the continent.

SAP’s efforts to drive digital skills development on the African continent forms part of a broader organisational commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 4 (“Ensure quality and inclusive education for all”)

A core component of Africa Code Week is to encourage female participation in STEM-related skills development activities: in 2018, more than 46% of all Africa Code Week participants were female.

According to Africa Code Week Global Coordinator Sunil Geness, female representation in STEM-related fields among African businesses currently stands at 30%, “requiring powerful public-private partnerships to start turning the tide and creating more equitable opportunities for African youth to contribute to the continent’s economic development and success”.

Click here to read more about the Skills for Africa graduate training programme, and about the LEGO League.

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