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How Wi-Fi boosts education

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Technology and Wi-Fi access are a prerequisite for a 21st century education system and many schools across Africa are embracing devices like tablets and eBooks, says BRUCE PITSO, regional manager for South Africa at Ruckus Wireless.

The importance of using technology and Wi-Fi as an enabler and tool to help overcome educational challenges in developing countries cannot be overlooked, say industry experts.

Bruce Pitso, regional manager for South Africa at Ruckus Wireless, says Africa is well-positioned to take advantage of improved connectivity in a continuously evolving digital landscape. “Internationally technology and Wi-Fi access has become a prerequisite for a 21st century education system and over the past 12 months, we have seen many schools and education departments locally embracing tablets, eBooks, and internet access to provide students with a richer learning experience. The growth in tablet adoption is not only restricted to private schools but happening in public schools in cities and rural areas alike.”

An example of this is how MSC Business College is moving away from a traditional classroom model and utilising a blended approach that gives students the best of both worlds. From the beginning of this year, every student registering for full-time courses received a new tablet.

“These tablets have been loaded with an electronic learning platform that supplements what is being done in the classroom. With 19 campuses across South Africa, this forms part of an ongoing drive to equip our students with the best education delivery method possible,” says Anthony Gewer, Divisional Head of MSC Enterprise Solutions.

But he is quick to point out that tablets will not substitute face-to-face learning, in fact, the idea is to encourage self-study. Students will have access to the curriculum on their tablets to go through it before they come to class. This enables the lecturer and students to spend more time on concepts that may be confusing or that they may need further elaboration on – offering an integrated learning system.

“Using technology should always be complimentary to what is happening at a college or school. There still needs to be real-world engagement with tablets and internet connectivity enhancing that,” he says.

Ruckus agrees that it should never be just about the technology, but instead what it enables the school to do with it. “In our experience, embracing tools such as tablets and Internet access at schools mean learners not only benefit from increased access to quality information, but helps teachers utilise multimedia to illustrate difficult concepts that might not otherwise be understood,” says Pitso.

Technology also encourages further teacher/parent engagement, where parents can email teachers and get responses within a much quicker timeframe instead of waiting for a parent’s evening which occurs on a quarterly basis on average.

Recent World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness results show that South Africa has moved up from its initial position due to our ICT capabilities. And as ICT permeates further into sectors we are likely to see competitiveness from an infrastructure perspective increase further. This is proof that technology in the schooling system is certainly beneficial, but requires further collective industry efforts and cannot be left to schools and parents to drive.

Internationally, Wi-Fi is predicted to reach 99% of all campuses by 2016 where IT resources and access is very high on the list of differentiations between schools and campuses. In fact, according to a college student poll – 75% of students said that Wi-Fi access helps them to get better grades and 44% use Wi-Fi to get a head start on assignments before a class ends.

Using a Wi-Fi network at a school provides the additional benefit of the teachers being able to control what sites the learners have access to and what can be downloaded on their tablets. This mitigates any concerns by parents that illicit content could be viewed or that learners will have to be responsible for their own 3G connectivity to be part of the new learning experience.

“Many schools actually recommend that parents do not get tablets with 3G capabilities or request those SIMs to be removed before the learner comes to school. They are better able to manage the educational experience from their own Wi-Fi network and avoid any potential data bill shocks that some parents are concerned about,” adds Pitso.

The classroom of the future is arriving sooner than many are expecting in South Africa and the rest of the continent. But, Pitso believes, if technology and connectivity are adopted in responsible ways the benefits outweigh any concerns that there might be.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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