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Research uncovers teachers’ tech challenges

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It can be difficult for educators to remain motivated in the current age. The world is transitioning into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and with this comes the tension between teaching what is advised in the national curriculum, and feeling compelled to introduce learners to the digital future.

Educators from across the Middle East and Africa region agree that the integration of technology into set work can make the teaching experience easier and more interactive, however, infrastructural and socio-economic challenges continue to hinder this process.

Similarly, these teachers believe that current education curricula across the region do not make provision for Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-related teachings.

Studies around the world predict a future where new jobs will almost certainly contain something related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Today, technology jobs make up 50% of the workforce. This number will grow to 77% in the next decade.

As part of Microsoft’s Computer Science Education Week efforts to promote the importance of coding and technology in education, we spoke to a few teachers from across the Middle East and Africa region to uncover some of the challenges they experience:

Phuti Ragophala, former principal of Pula Madibogo Primary School in South Africa, says the country’s school curriculum is still far from preparing learners for careers of the future. “It speaks very little to nothing about coding, web design, programming or technology engineering. There is no free Wi-Fi in schools, let alone using a laptop as a teacher or as learners. We still have many teachers and learners with zero knowledge of basic computing skills.”

Wejdan Mihi, English Teacher at Marran Elementary and Intermediate School in Saudi Arabia says, “Students need technical discipline, teamwork competencies, communication skills, leadership skills, problem-solving competencies and managerial abilities. Our curriculum should, therefore, be expanded to include coding subjects and technology classes, because these subjects train learners on those competencies – which all employers expect graduates of today to have.”

Taking upon themselves

To demonstrate the impact of computer science on future job prospects and economic growth, teachers throughout the Middle East and Africa have begun integrating technology into their everyday teaching methods. These assist learners in gaining a basic understanding of what the digital future holds and brings computer science education to students in the absence of adequate provision being made in national curricula.

Ilker Göler, Information Technology and Software Teacher at Tekirdag AKA College in Turkey, says: “The national curriculum in Turkey for the Information Technology branch is out of date, and I believe it doesn’t add much value to the students. That is why I make my curriculum flexible and in line with today’s technologies. For example, I teach coding, robotics, 3D Design, etc.”

Charmaine Roynon of Edupaths SA in South Africa says: “I work with teachers in many schools across SA to empower them to instil collaboration, skilled communication, Information and Communication Technology use, innovation, self-regulation and other skills in their learners. Sadly, many teachers still use the ‘talk and chalk’ way of teaching, and do not understand the pedagogy of relevant and deep learning. Professional development around problem-based learning and integration of Information and Communication Technology is necessary because it will empower teachers to [train their students in those skills].”

Israeli private school Beta School, teaches coding to kids from the fourth grade. According to Karina Batat, ICT Coordinator and Instructor at the school, “We work collaboratively with Office 365, which allows our learners to express themselves and communicate via Skype around the world. We also use Minecraft and MakeCode to offer the kids experience, creativity and help them prepare for life after school through critical thinking and problem-solving.”

Paula Barnard-Ashton, Lecturer at the School of Therapeutic Science in South Africa uses Sway for student projects, OneNote for work-based learning portfolios and postgraduate course collaboration tasks, Flipgrid and Teams for professional development groups and staff administration groups.

Click here to see how Microsoft makes teaching tools more applicable to students.

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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Download speeds ramp up in SA

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All four South African mobile network operators have improved their average download speed experience by at least 1 Mbps in the past six months.

This is one of the main findings in the latest South Africa Mobile Network Experience report by Opensignal, the mobile analytics company. It has analysed the mobile experience in the country, updating a study last conducted in February 2019. While a quick look at its South Africa awards table suggests not much has changed since the last report, it’s far from stagnating. 

Opensignal reports the following improvements across its measurements:

  • MTN remains the leader in our 4G Availability measurements, with a score of 83.6%. But the other three operators are all now within 2 percentage points of the 80% milestone — with Telkom’s users seeing the biggest increase of over 8 points.
  • All four operators improved their Download Speed Experience scores by at least 1 Mbps. But growth in our Upload Speed Experience scores has stagnated, with only winner Vodacom seeing an incremental increase.
  • MTN and Vodacom remain tied for our Video Experience award, and both have increased their scores in the past six months, putting them on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings. Cell C also increased its score to tip over into a Good ranking (55-65).
  • MTN scored over 90% in 4G Availability in two of South Africa’s biggest cities and was just shy of this milestone in the others. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom have now passed the 20 Mbps mark in Download Speed Experience in three cities each.

A quick look at the awards table would suggest not much has changed in South Africa since the last report in February. MTN won the 4G Availability award again, Vodacom kept hold of the medals for Upload Speed and Latency Experience, while the two operators tied for Download Speed and Video Experience just as they did six months ago.

But far from stagnating, we’re seeing improvements across most of the measurements. All four of South Africa’s national operators — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — are now closing in on 80% 4G Availability nationally, while at the urban level, MTN has passed the 90% mark in two cities. And in Download Speed Experience, our users on all four operators’ networks saw their scores increase at least 8%.

In this report, Open Signal has analyzed the scores for all four national operators across all their metrics over the 90 days from the start of May 2019, including South Africa’s five biggest cities — Cape Town, Durban, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane.

MTN has been top of Open Signal’s South African 4G Availability leaderboard for a couple of years now, and the operator remains dominant with a winning score over 4 percentage points ahead of its rivals. But it was users on Telkom’s network who saw the most impressive boost in 4G Availability, as its score jumped by well over 8 percentage points.

This leap has put Telkom into a three-way draw for second place with Cell C and Vodacom, who both saw their scores increase by at least 3 percentage points.

While MTN is the only operator to have passed 80% in national 4G Availability, the other three players are all less than 2 percentage points away from this milestone. Based on the current rate of improvement, Open Signal fully expects to see all four operators pass the 80% mark in its next report — which will provide testament to the rapid maturing of the South African mobile market.

MTN and Vodacom remain neck-and-neck in the Video Experience analysis, with both operators scoring 65 (out of 100). And the two rivals both saw their scores rise by around 3 points since our last report, meaning the two continue to share our Video Experience award. Cell C and Telkom remain in third and fourth place, but both saw larger increases — of 5 and 4 points respectively — to narrow the gap on the leaders.

The increase in MTN and Vodacom’s Video Experience scores means the two operators are on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings in this metric — with the users on their networks enjoying fast loading video times and almost non-existent stalling, even at higher resolutions. By comparison, Cell C’s score earned it a Good rating (55-65), while Telkom remains in Fair (40-55) territory — meaning users watching video on Telkom’s network, in particular, will likely struggle with longer load times and frequent stuttering, even at lower resolutions.

In terms of 4G-only Video Experience, Cell C’s score has increased enough to tip it over into a Very Good rating — now featuring three operators achieving 4G network scores with a Very Good ranking. And as 4G Availability continues to increase, the overall Video Experience scores will continue to climb, making mobile video viewing more of a viable proposition across all networks. And in a country where fixed-line broadband connections are relatively rare and the large majority of South Africans only connect to the internet via cellular, this improvement has the potential to transform people’s lives.

Read more from Open Signal’s report here.

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