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Redefining the role of classroom tech

While addressing the unaffordability of technology in the education sector is critical, there is another pressing consideration that it seeks – and desperately needs – change.

Much has been made around technology as some sort of panacea for all education system ills. But in a country where a promising national pass rate of 75% doesn’t quite distract from the harsh reality that just under 50% of the Grade 2 cohort class enrolment dropped out of the schooling system before writing their Matric exams (source), you would be forgiven for desperately seeking a silver bullet.

“In South Africa, where rainwater floods classrooms and children cannot concentrate for the hunger ache in their bellies, it’s to be expected that even relatively minor progress in improving access through technology – such as an online enrolment system –  would be lauded as a massive leap towards transformation,” says Alan Goldberg, Director of Education at Digicape, an Apple Premium Reseller.

But if technology alone had the power to solve all education’s challenges, you could “bet your bottom dollar that government would find a way to drop thousands of computers into schools,” remarks Goldberg.

Goldberg agrees that the introduction of devices like iPads and tablets into classrooms is a move in the right direction. And tech giants are coming to the party, offering a range of affordable devices which cater to a chronically under-resourced and overburdened education system. Apple’s low-cost iPad, for example, has been dubbed a ‘love letter to education’ by Mashable.

While addressing the unaffordability of technology is critical, there is another pressing consideration for a sector that seeks – and desperately needs – change.

It is simply this: schools, for the most part, haven’t yet unlocked technology’s potential for transformation. “Teachers are using technology to substitute traditional learning tools and methods. A laptop replaces a paper workbook, or a report is typed up and submitted via email, instead of dropped on a teacher’s desk.

“This is a start, but to truly transform, technology needs to augment, modify and ultimately redefine the learning process,” explains Goldberg.

What does this mean?

“Many of the tablets and devices currently on the market have been predicated around the teacher, rather than the learner. In short, technology has been designed to cater to the existing structures and systems.”

Not Apple. “Apple’s point of departure is that it has designed its eco-system through the lens of, ‘what do we need to do to prepare our children for their future careers? And here’s the kicker: We have no idea what these jobs will even look like.’

“Consider an environment where – instead of reading, writing and reciting extensive sections of information at a time – learning is re-envisioned by focusing on the intended outcome, while not prescribing the path to getting there.”

At the Apple Special Event held in Chicago in March, countless examples of redefined learning experiences – with jaw-dropping outcomes – were offered up by enthusiastic educators to a jammed auditorium.

One speaker referred to a school in Alabama, where a local teacher wanted to better engage learners in class projects. For a world wars project, he decided to invite war veterans to the school to be interviewed by students. Students had the opportunity to take ownership of their learning, using their iPads to record interviews and create rich media stories.

The result was a personal and collaborative learning experience, allowing students to make deeper connections between war and its impact on communities.

“The classroom of the future enables learning to happen everywhere. On a hike, for example, an iPad could snap pics of plant and wildlife. The plant species is identified through referencing any number of online sources, and then an app like Clips is used to create a video report; complete with text, graphics, notes and more.

Goldberg believes that in these instances, the technology doesn’t simply substitute an old-school notebook – instead, it modifies and redefines the entire learning experience. “Students are content creators, not just information consumers.”

People are often averse to change, admits Goldberg, yet “transformation, by its very nature, involves reimagining the entire eco-system.”

In the classroom of the future, not only does learning looks vastly different, but the role of the educator undergoes a massive shift. “The importance of this role remains, yet it has evolved; the teacher becomes facilitator, with greater agency and responsibility passing into the hands of the student.

“Without a skilled educator to guide and facilitate the process, technology, in itself, is redundant.

Ultimately, says Goldberg, technology – while powerful – is simply a tool. “To genuinely transform the education sector, we need role players to seek solutions outside the confines of the past and present, looking to the future to find the classroom that best engages our next generation.”

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