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Technology in the Classroom – A South African Perspective

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It seems that at the moment no social gathering can go by without South Africa’s economic future being a topic of discussion. And with good reason. Our current unemployment rate sits at 29%, the highest it has been since 2008. Regardless of how patriotic you may be (#imstaying), it would be hard to consider that as anything other than dire. 

A recent McKinsey paper found that adopting digital technologies early could result in a net gain of 1.2 million jobs for South Africans by 2030. It is also predicted that productivity growth would be tripled and per capita income doubled.  Filling these jobs would require graduates with higher life skills and strong technology-related backgrounds. Our South African reality, however, is that many learners attending schools are from homes without a strong technological infrastructure. In its General Household Survey, Statistic South Africa found that close to 90% of households in South Africa do not have access to the Internet at home. Computer ownership only currently sits at 21.5%. The responsibility, therefore, rests on the Education sector to ensure that these graduates will be available, at a scale large enough to fill projected demands.

Early introduction of technology in schools is important to close the gap between our current situation and where we need our future graduates to be. It is predicted that by 2031 all repetitive tasks will be replaced by robots, so it is no longer enough to merely teach a child how to use a computer. Children need to be taught those skills that robots cannot do. According to Michelle Lissoos, Managing Director of Think Ahead, these skills include empathy, creativity, and higher cognitive thinking. Using technology to teach these human characteristics might seem contradictory, but technology can open doors for children which would otherwise be impossible in certain home situations. 

Technology can, first and foremost, provide opportunities for children without the means at home, to become technologically literate at an early age. Technological literacy goes further than digital literacy, in that children with strong technological literacy are able to use, manage, understand and assess technology, and not just be comfortable being immersed in it. These children will be able to use technology specifically for their benefit.

There are many situations where educators can utilise technology to spark creativity within learners. Learners with a lack of resources in the home can be exposed to music, dance, drama, art and photography through the use of quality apps. In the absence of available materials, Auryn Ink allows students to create realistic looking watercolour artworks on a classroom iPad. Need a space for learners to create and share stories? Storyrobe provides an educator with the platform to do just that. A quick internet search returns countless further apps that could be used to encourage expression and creativity. 

Most educators are aware that the best way to teach empathy is to model empathy. By watching their teachers show compassion in various situations, children learn to empathize with, and show better understanding towards, others. Technology can never replace this. It can, however, be used as a successful supplement to an already understanding and forgiving classroom. Technology can be used to broaden a child’s perspective by researching how those in other parts of the world live, the problems they face, and the hopes they have for their future. For those situations where learners are passionate about a social issue, technology allows them to turn their empathy into action. Funds can be raised through platforms like givengain.com. Awareness of a cause can be generated through social media, or learners could have their voices heard through the creation of online petitions. Technology could ensure that children take action at the moment they feel called to do so.

Although many feel that it results in passive engagement, correctly vetted and selected technology can greatly assist with higher order thinking. One aspect of higher order thinking is analysis. The more information children have on a particular subject, the more thorough their analyses. The Internet allows for learners to retrieve vast amounts of information on any number of subjects, which results in a greater challenge when it comes to forming conclusions and opinions. An online message board could encourage learners to debate a particular topic outside of classroom time, giving them the opportunity to research and support their opinions. Even our youngest learners can develop their thinking skills by making use of fun, engaging tools like Terrapin’s Bee-Bots. These programmable robots are designed specifically for young children, and can be used in the classroom for all manner of problem solving. Young learners will communicate and collaborate while manipulating the Bee-Bot through and along obstacles, solving problems as they encounter them and learning from prior mistakes. 

A new kind of adult is needed for the future South Africa. Technology is how we enable our children to become those adults. Educators need to move towards using technology as a tool to enable learners to become creative, empathetic, higher-order thinkers. We already have the problems. It is time to start equipping our problem-solvers from a young age.

By Candice Joubert, Charterhouse Pre-Primary School

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