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satellite-01A pupil watches a geometry lesson broadcast via satellite to Ibhongo Secondary School in Soweto.7 June 2013 – The Gauteng Education Department is tackling the province’s poor maths results with a ground-breaking new programme that uses satellite technology, phones and online social networks to deliver top-quality lessons to underperforming high schools.

The initiative targets grade eight and nine maths pupils, and is a response to last year’s grade nine national assessment, which revealed the province’s average school maths performance to be 14%. It also aims to improve teaching skills in the subject.

“We’re really worried about learners in grade eight and nine,” Gauteng education MEC Barbara Creecy said. “If they are not confident to do mathematics – pure maths – then they don’t choose it as a matric subject. If they don’t choose it as a matric subject, then we’re not getting the kinds of people out of our education system that our economy needs – engineers and skilled workers.

“We feel that this is a very crucial investment, because we have to turn around the performance of learners in maths and science, and we have to enable their educators to have better curriculum content knowledge and to be able to support learners in a stronger way.”

satellite-3Teacher Nosipho Gogela sums up the lesson after the broadcast. Teachers have an important mediation role in the satellite broadcast programme. (Images: ECNA)Technology is key

The pilot of the programme began in 15 schools in February, reaching about 5 200 students. During the course of the year it will be rolled out to 385 schools, at a cost of R10-million, extending its reach to over 130 000. It was officially launched at Ibhongo Secondary School in Soweto on 30 May.

Each school is given a video-on-demand decoder, a satellite dish, and a TV or film projector. Top maths experts then conduct lessons in algebra and geometry from the Mindset studio in Randburg, which are broadcast live via satellite to the schools. Two lessons per grade are broadcast each week, as well as two afternoon briefing sessions for teachers. The Mindset Network, a non-profit educational organisation, provides the studio and satellite bandwidth for free.

Pupils view the lessons and complete exercises with the support of their class teacher. During the programme they may submit questions to the expert via phone or online social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Mxit.

Potential for other subjects

“The idea is that twice a week learners in grade eight and nine will receive broadcast lessons,” said Creecy. “The rest of the week they will be trained by their own educators. In due course we will have an opportunity to increase the number of broadcasts, if we find that it works. And, obviously, to include other subjects, like science.

“What is important about this is that it is not just a broadcast facility: it also has a two-way communication. We’re setting up a toll-free hotline, and learners and educators will be able to phone in and ask questions from the presenters, in real time.”

For the pilot programme, each district education office was asked to nominate one school that, while identified as a priority underperforming school, had still shown the capacity to manage such a project successfully.

The next phase, Creecy said, is “being rolled out to the 385 schools in the Senior School Improvement Programme – our most disadvantaged schools that, historically, have been underperforming.

“We are helping those schools, but other schools, that are better off, that would like to participate, could buy their own technology. Or, in future budget years, we could look at rolling it out to other public schools.”

Teachers essential to success

After the launch at Ibhongo Secondary School in Soweto on the morning of 30 May, Creecy was asked on the ENCA news channel if the initiative held the danger of making some teachers obsolete.

“Not at all,” she said. “I was interested in that issue when I went this morning. And it was very clear to me that the teacher has an important mediation role, because the satellite information comes fairly quickly, and then there are exercises that learners have to do.

“Obviously the strong ones are moving ahead, but the weaker ones need the facilitation by the educator. They need the educator to be walking around and saying, ‘Do you understand that? Do you have a question?’ I could see that very clearly this morning, that the educator is perhaps even more important in that mediation role.”

She added: “I asked the pupils about it, and they were very, very enthusiastic. The educator herself was saying that it’s really helping to make sure they get the right curriculum content. I was quite pleased by how enthusiastic everybody was about this new invention.”

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