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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.

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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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AppDate: Shedding light in our times of darkness

SEAN BACHER’S app roundup highlights two load-shedding apps, along with South AfriCAM, NBA 2K Mobile, Virgin Mobile’s Spot 3.0 and SwiftKey.

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Load Shedding Notifier

With all the uncertainty about when South Africans will next be plunged into darkness by Eskom, the Load Shedding Notifier tries its best to keep up with Eskom’s schedule. The app is very simple to use. Download it, type an area in and click the save button. The app automatically tells you what load shedding stage Eskom is on, the times you can expect to start lighting candles and for how long to burn them.

Multiple areas can be added and one can switch between the different stages to see how each one will affect a certain area.

A grid status is also displayed, showing how strained the country’s electrical network is.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

EskomSePush Load Shedding App

EskomSePush does much the same as the Load Shedding Notifier, but allows multiple cities to be tracked. However, they may just want to rethink the name of the app if they want wider respectability.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

South AfriCAM

South AfriCAM enables users to add branded stickers and frames from popular lifestyle magazine titles to their posts, including Huisgenoot, YOU, Drum, Move!, TRUE LOVE, Women’s Health and Men’s Health. 

In the process, they can earn JETPoints for their social influence: through the app’s built-in JET8 social currency, users are rewarded for their engagement. For every in-app like, comment, and share, users earn JETPoints, which can be used to redeem products online or over the counter across more than 2 500 retail stores in South Africa. Users are additionally awarded JETPoints for cross-posting onto external social media networks.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

Click here to read about console quality graphics on a mobile phone, Virgin Money payments made easier, and an app that redesigns the keyboard.

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Drones to drive
Western Cape agritech

Aerobotics is set to change how farmers treat their crops by using drones and machine learning, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Western Cape is poised to be a hotbed of innovation in the agritech sector, with drone piloting set to playing a major role in in the tech start-up scene.

This is the view of Tim Willis, chief operating officer of pioneering drone company Aerobotics, a Cape Town drone company recognised as a world leader in agritech.

“Drone piloting is a key skill that feeds into the value chain of the budding 4th Industrial Revolution,” said Willis. “Cape Town and the Western Cape is uniquely positioned to be the melting pot for innovation in the agritech sector, as a leading agricultural exporter and a hub for creative tech start-ups.”

He was speaking at AeroCon, a drone expo organised by Aerobotics and held in Johannesburg this week aimed at providing opportunities for drone pilots to apply their skills in South Africa, and to show how drones are being used to collect data on crops. 

The event was supported by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), Wesgro, PROMMAC, MicaSense, and Rectron, among other

“We’re starting to sign up farmers across the country,” said Willis. “It’s exciting because farmers are starting to use drone technology on their farms. When a farmer wants a drone flown, they want it flown [now] so it’s important for us to capture that data as quickly as possible to show that drones are fast and effective.”

According to aerobotics, drone technology can help farmers reduce pesticide use on their crops by up to 30%. The result is environmentally friendly farming, reducing stressed crops and a healthier harvest. 

“We use aerial imagery from drones to recreate a 3D model of every single tree on a farmer’s orchard,” said Willis. “We’ve done this for millions of trees and it starts to give the farmers metrics of what they’re doing. We provide them with the health of the trees, the height, the volume, the canopy area, which enable the farms to make decisions on what to do next.”

Click here to read more about AeroCon and what it offers to those wanting to get into the drone industry.

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