South African youth are facing a difficult future. According to the latest Statistics SA figures, 56% of South Africa’s unemployed are aged between 15 and 34, while Department of Basic Education statistics showed that as much as 44.6% of learners drop out before reaching matric.
This is creating an untenable situation as job seekers simply lack the skills required to secure gainful employment and improve their livelihoods.
For Corlé de Villiers, a teacher at Unika Primary School in Johannesburg’s leafy northern suburbs who is passionate about the potential of technology to improve the classroom experience, the future success of South Africa’s youth depends on their ability to understand and use technology effectively. “Coding is a language that many of us will need to speak in the world of tomorrow, but the reality is we are lagging more developed countries in both our understanding and use of technology. There’s a real need to leverage technology to improve the classroom experience for teachers and learners alike.”
De Villers believes it is essential to foster a love for technology among learners and teachers alike and so bring the digital revolution to the classroom. “Some kids are highly experienced with technology, while for others it is often their first real interaction with a computer. We are fortunate that our school is situated in a middle-class neighbourhood and enjoys the support of parents who can contribute time and funds to ensure adequate technology training of their kids. We would love to expand our classes to some of the under-served schools in the nearby area to ensure the benefits that technology brings to the classroom is shared with as many learners as possible.”
She adds that real change is driven at a grassroots level. “When the printing press was invented, there was no government that went door-to-door telling people about the amazing new technology and providing the requisite training. It required the efforts of ordinary citizens and businesses to identify a real and practical need, and to move away from hand-copying texts. In this Fourth Industrial Revolution, I believe it will require selfless efforts of people, organisations and companies who spend their time and energy to share their knowledge and build a new form of teaching that will equip our children with the skills they need to succeed. Technology sits right at the centre of this as the enabler of more effective teaching and learning.”
Fostering classroom innovation at a governance level
Riaan van der Bergh, Education Technology Manager & Deputy Provincial Manager: Gauteng at FEDSAS, the association representing school governing bodies, echoes her views. “From next year, every child sitting in a classroom would have been born in the new millennium. The Grade R learners of 2018 will only finish school in 2030. The working world they will enter will be vastly different to anything we’ve experienced before. It is therefore critical that we start exploring how technology can be used to make learning more personal, more interesting, and more suited to equipping today’s learners with the skills they’ll need to succeed tomorrow.”
FEDSAS has been running a campaign for Digital Citizenship over the past three years, built on four cornerstones: Quality Infrastructure including connectivity and equipment; Productivity Software to streamline schools’ operational and administrative processes and push schools toward a more paperless environment; Learning Spaces, focusing on equipping teachers with the technology tools they need to create a richer, more collaborative learning environment for learners and teachers alike; and Learner Behaviour, including using devices and technology for output instead of pure consumption.
“At a global teaching conference in the UK a few years ago, we saw how learners are using technology to create applications to solve problems in their communities. Most of our educational system lags our more developed counterparts. In many cases, even where technology is available to a school, it is mainly used for input instead of productive output. We believe school governing bodies have an important role to play: subjects such as coding, robotics, gamification, and user experience could be offered as extramural activities until the standard school curriculum catches up to global standards. Through technology, schools in remote areas can also access live classrooms, video tutorials and interactive training modules from some of the leading schools and educators around the world, giving all learners an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the digital economy.”
Enriching the teaching and learning experience
For van der Bergh, technology should also be used as a tool to individualise the learning experience. “The millennials making up most of our current classrooms are vastly different to the Generation Xers and Baby Boomers who generally make up our teaching staff. New approaches to learning and skills development are needed if we are to mobilise our substantial talent pool in a way that can contribute to the success of our entire country in the years to come.”
He adds that it’s not enough to rely on traditional teaching tools to equip learners with the skills they’ll need for the future. “That’s what I love about SAP’s Africa Code Week: its approach enables teachers and learners in Johannesburg to collaborate with those in Algeria, Kenya, Mauritius. This creates a continent-wide network of digital skills development that is fast-tracking African learners’ entry into the digital workforce.”
Private sector involvement in education
Several leading companies such as SAP and Google have implemented digital skills development initiatives across the African continent. SAP’s Africa Code Week has enabled over half a million young Africans to learn coding basics over the past two years and enabled thousands of teachers to make coding an integral part of the school curriculum.
Google, as another example, has made $20m in grants available over the next five years to support non-profits that are working to improve lives across Africa. In September, Google awarded $1.5m to local education initiative Siyavula in support of its #1MillionMaths Challenge, which aims to assist African pupils with preparation of their end-of-year exams.
Nick Cain, Google.org’s Portfolio Manager for Education, said: “We are focused on harnessing technology to make information and education more accessible. The grant awarded to Siyavula will provide free access to Google’s online learning platform to 150 000 low-income learners in South Africa, and an additional 150 000 learners in Nigeria. We want to demonstrate how powerful this can be by providing learners with access to this tool during their preparation for exams.”
Africa Code Week 2017
Taking place from 18-25 October, the 2017 iteration of Africa Code Week aims to train 500,000 youth in basic coding skills across 35 African countries. Launched in 2015 by SAP CSR EMEA in partnership with the Cape Town Science Centre and the Galway Education Centre, the award-winning initiative is now actively supported by UNESCO YouthMobile, Google, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), 15 African governments, over 100 partners and 70 ambassadors across the continent. For more information, please visit www.africacodeweek.org