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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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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as end-of-support looms, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2008.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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