Sign in to my resources Register

Sign in to my resources

cofimvaba-articlePupils at Mlonjana Junior Secondary School in Cofimvaba. Twenty-six schools in the Nciba Schools District, in which Cofimvaba falls, are to benefit from the technology project. (Image: Amatola Water / Get News)16 May 2013 – From filling hungry bellies to high-tech tablet e-learning, schools in the Eastern Cape’s Cofimvaba municipality – one of the poorest regions in South Africa’s poorest province – are getting a technology makeover with the R6-million Cofimvaba School District Technology Project, an experiment in whether and how technology can improve teaching in rural areas.

Run by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) with the backing of the national departments of basic education and science and technology, and the provincial education department, the project is being piloted at Arthur Mfebe Secondary School, and will initially be rolled out to 26 schools in the Nciba Schools Circuit.

Designed as a holistic programme aimed at all obstacles impeding learning – in school and out – the project will not only introduce new technology, but work to improve basic school infrastructure, ensure pupils have enough to eat, and give them proper healthcare.

At the launch of the project at Arthur Mfebe school in December, science and technology minister Derek Hanekom said global experience showed that efforts to improve education must extend beyond the classroom.

“This is because the inadequate provision of water, sanitation, energy and transport either at school, or where learners live, can negatively affect learner performance.”

The lessons learned from the project pilot, Hanekom said, would be used to develop policy and would guide additional projects to be rolled out at district level and ultimately across the country.

Cutting-edge CSIR technology

The project takes advantage of the CSIR’s groundbreaking developments in technology. The council’s Meraka Institute, for example, has installed a wireless mesh network in the area to provide internet broadband.

ICT senior researcher Meryl Ford said the CSIR has done a lot of work on mobile learning, mostly focused on cell phones. The Dr Math programme gives students an affordable maths tutor in the palm of their hands, via a cell phone. “We have also decided to focus on providing digital textbooks to learners,” she said.

The students at Arthur Mfebe High School have been given tablets loaded with all their textbooks and study material. Ford and her team have created a secure charging facility for the devices. “You can plug in your device and leave it to charge in a locked facility at the school,” she said.

“We want to give tablets to each teacher in the 26 schools – about 350 – and eventually the 7 000 learners.”

The new technology is already making an impact, according to David Mfebe, Cofimvaba community leader and and a member of the Schools District Technology Project steering committee.

“The modern technology that has been brought to the school has been eye-opening for the students and the teachers here,” he said. “Now, the students can effortlessly communicate with their teachers.”

A science centre is to be established at the school, which will be used as a skills training centre for teachers and unemployed youth on a range of technologies, including agricultural processing, building and maintenance.

The CSIR is also looking into developing water sanitation and infrastructure to ensure safe and healthy toilet facilities. Expertise in processing indigenous foodstuffs will help to ensure sustainable and nutritious meals for learners, and the CSIR’s Enterprise Creation for Development specialists are looking into ways of creating potential local enterprises and jobs.

The project team has also invested R500 000 in an experimental farm at Arthur Mfebe – it is an agricultural school – that includes a chicken coop and piggery, an orchard, a nursery and a crop-farming area under drip irrigation.

In a collaboration between the national education department and department of science and technology, 1 650 schools in deep rural areas have been given ICT infrastructure, and more than 800 schools supplied with equipment.

Targeting rural areas

Dr Rachel Chikwamba, the group executive for strategic alliances and communication at the CSIR, said integrating technology in education was essential in rural areas.

“Just because a school is in a rural area, does not mean it should be disadvantaged … most of the people in South Africa, and the children in schools, live in rural areas,” she said.

“We can bring up a cadre of youth that is technology savvy and well-equipped to be employable, as well as a cadre of youth that can create jobs for the communities in which they live.”

Chikwamba said technology could help teachers to do their job more effectively, and bring basic infrastructure to communities.

“The education of children does not just happen in a classroom – it happens within the context of society and the context of communities which support them and help to raise balanced people.

“We hope to learn – to learn through practice – what works, what doesn't, and what requires adjustment. We hope to replicate in a step-by-step manner the learning we acquire here.”

The Cofimvaba School District Technology Project comes at a time when education in the Eastern Cape is widely considered to be in crisis.

In 2011 the provincial education department was put under national administration, and despite progress, remains so. In 2012 about 1.1-million pupils in the province wrote the national assessment test, with dismal results. For maths, grade three pupils received an average of 40.5%, grade five pupils got 28.1%, those in grade six 24% and in grade nine 14.6%

In addition to the CSIR, the project’s implementation and design partners include the Human Sciences Research Council, the Sasol Inzalo Foundation, the Water Research Commission and the Medical Research Council.

Lwando Rwayi, principal of Arthur Mfebe High School, expressed excitement at the progress made so far. “This project will now be rolled out to the other 25 schools in the Nciba Schools Circuit in 2013. The range of technology interventions will be used to enhance the teaching and learning of maths, science and technology.”

Rwayi said the project will help the school bolster the limited natural resources in the area. “Cofimvaba is the poorest municipality in the Ntsika Yethu District and the only direction we should be going is agriculture – to get something in people’s bellies.”

Related articles