by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG – INCONSISTENT policies between government and the department overseeing education are hindering the potential of technology to transform the South African educational landscape.
This is according to technology executive as some factors hold back the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) into teaching and learning of the agenda of the continent’s most advanced economy.
“Ironically the very parties and departments that should be working together are not aligned,” said Grant Bennett, Country Manager, SUSE South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
In an interview with CAJ News, he pointed out the Department of Education issued Circular S9 of 2015 identifying the need to standardise the software tools for implementing and assessing Computer Applications Technology and Information Technology for schools, yet the mandates outlined in the circular goes against the government’s Free and Open Source policy.
Bennett said this had caused confusion and creating a barrier so that schools cannot leverage the benefits of open source software.
He said it was critical for education institutions, public and private sectors to come together to transform the sector especially for schools struggling with resources.
“Partnerships such as these can really showcase the potential that exists by giving learners access to a wealth of information in an offline and online environment and provide alternatives to the connectivity challenges that exist in many of the rural communities across South Africa and the rest of the continent.”
Bennett said collaborations were essential if the country was to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural schools.
“The digital divide is not simply an equipment differential that can be overcome with investments in hardware and software, it is derived from both within school and within home differences that extend to learning standards as well as support,” he added.
Bennet mentioned culture, cost and skills deficit as other challenges on migrating to a digital classroom.
He also cited a plethora of options available as daunting.
Bennett said struggles with access to connectivity and the demands on resources were also a hindrance.
“We are lagging when it comes to technology and access in the classroom,” he said.
Nonetheless, the executive forecast open source software to transform the sector.
“If we consider the role that open source plays in some of the largest science and technology projects, not only across South Africa but the world, it is evident that it is changing the way we look at the world and how we build things and there is no doubt we are going to see more and more open source across the sector.”
However, Bennett emphasised technology was not the panacea to the challenges afflicting South African education standards.
“Technology is an enabler. In the education sector, if it is to be successful, it mustn’t be viewed as a silver bullet but rather a tool that complements teaching and learning principles and open source has unique benefits to do exactly that.”
– CAJ News