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Education goes app

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Amid South Africa’s textbook crisis, two new printed guides to educational apps send a signal that the world is moving on, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The ironies in inequality have seldom been so stark. As the education crisis deepens for the South African government, the Department of Basic Education and teachers and learners in isolated parts of the country, more privileged schools have never been more spoiled for choice.

While many don’t even have classrooms, the most pressing issue facing the privileged is in which direction to take the evolution of the classroom. Do we embrace iPads immediately across all subjects or phase them in? Which form of flipped learning should we embrace combining teaching with general Internet tools, or with a mix of apps and textbooks?

An alarming reality lurks behind such privilege, however: the majority of schools considering technology-based enhancement of classrooms are clueless about where to start. Whether they are considering embracing smartboards, iPads or cellphone teaching and learning tools, they tend to be doing so because it is expected, rather than because the educational process itself requires it. And, because flipped learning the blend of traditional teaching with technology aids is still a matter for debate around the world, there are no clear and agreed guidelines, rules and processes that will ensure success in achieving teaching goals.

This is most obvious in the embrace of tablet-based teaching and learning: the quest for appropriate apps is haphazard, and sometimes teachers even create their own apps to ensure they meet curriculum demands. The greatest need, it turned out, was not the technology itself, but resources to guide teachers through best use of the technology.

In the absence of such resources, the most common debate about tablets at schools was whether they should embrace the Apple iPad, or an Android tablet that would allow a greater range of hardware choices, as well as far cheaper devices.

Now, an initiative by South African Apple distributors Core Group has settled the debate for many. It’s educational arm, Think Ahead Education Solutions, has produced two guides to teaching and learning apps that cuts down dramatically on the complexity of app selection.

First off the presses and yes, these are printed books was The Primary School Education App Guide, providing a comprehensive and categorised guide to apps for the iPad, iPhone and even iPod Touch. It splits apps between those for Grades 1,2 and 3, and for Grades 4, 5 and 6. Each listed app, in turn, indicates the device at which it is aimed, the price and a brief summary.

It’s not focused only on the more dull aspects of education either. For the youngest children, it includes the likes of bedtime stories and games on the one hand, and literacy and ebook reading apps on the other. For older kids, Eco Footprint, Mr Thorne Does Phonics and fraction Math underline the serious intentions of the guide.

The guide was a revelation for many teachers, who had been wrestling with home-made versions of app guides produced randomly by colleagues over the past year or so. The moment high school teachers laid eyes on it, Core was met with a chorus of demand for an equivalent guide.

They duly obliged, and The Secondary School Education App Guide is out double the size of the Primary version. Again, the apps are split into two groups, for Grades 7, 8 and 9, and grades 10, 11 and 12. They are further divided into subject categories, specifically for Maths, English, Physical Science and Life Science, and categorised according to their fit with the national curriculum.

These are textbooks that represent the beginning of a true educational revolution in South Africa one that is happening despite the incompetence of officialdom to resolve the educational crisis, rather than being thanks to their efforts.

More important, they provide educators at the more fortunate schools with the tools they need to escape from dependence on the whims of party political appointees. They represent what is possible in education, rather than what we are forced to accept because it was foisted upon us by unthinking bureaucrats.

While they also represent the tools that will for the foreseeable future be out of reach of those still waiting for textbooks, they also send a signal to Government that the world is moving on while it dithers with our future.

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter at @art2gee

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