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ICT4TECH1A delighted teacher from the Cofimvaba region of the Eastern Cape receives her brand-new mutlimedia tablet computer.6 August 2013 – In a project with the potential to revolutionise education across South Africa, the first phase of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s ICT for Rural Education (ICT4RED) kicked off in late July with 160 teachers in 11 Eastern Cape schools being given multimedia tablet computers to aid their teaching.

The project, an initiative of the council’s Meraka Institute, aims to develop technology-based teaching for improved education in rural areas. Many of South Africa’s estimated 26 500 schools – 17 000 of them remote and rural– lack internet access, hampering opportunities for education.

The pilot phase began in August last year with the distribution of multimedia tablets to teachers and students at Arthur Mfebe Senior Secondary School in Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape. The benefits were immediate: the school’s matric pass rate was 77% in 2012, compared with 41% in 2011.

“These devices will help to change the landscape of education in rural areas, allowing teachers and students greater access to knowledge and education resources,” Meraka’s Merryl Ford said at the launch of the first phase in July.

ICT4TECH2A matric pupil at Arthur Mfebe Senior Secondary does maths revision using past exam papers downloaded onto a tablet computer.The project aims to develop a mobile teaching model that can be applied countrywide, she said, “turning old models and approaches upside down by starting with the most disadvantaged schools in the country ... If what we’re doing works in rural schools, it will work anywhere.”

A teacher in your pocket

A comprehensive mobile learning curriculum was developed during the pilot phase, and lessons learned during this period would be applied in the first phase of the project. A second phase, starting in 2014, will see tablets distributed to a further 14 schools.

The project uses a “learn to earn” model, in which teachers get to work for their tablets by attending training courses once a month in the afternoons, and by using them in their classrooms to support teaching. Teachers are also rewarded with “digital badges” to encourage their progress.

Once the teachers at each school show that they are ready, the rollout will be extended to pupils as well. On 18 July, every matric student at Arthur Mfebe Senior Secondary was given their own tablet to help their studies.

One student, Ayanda Ngxambane, said the tablets allowed them to record lessons – useful for revision. They also allowed them to download past exam papers, maths and science lessons, and tutorials from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. “With this tablet, it feels like we are walking around with the teacher in our pocket because we can access teaching material anytime,” she said. “We are sure that with these tablets we will improve our grade 12 results and pave the way towards a better future.”

Schools of the future

ICT4RED falls under the CSIR’s larger Technology for Rural Education Development (TECH4RED) project, a collaborative effort between the national departments of Science and Technology, Basic Education and Rural Development and Land Reform, and the Eastern Cape Department of Education. It also supports the the R6-million Cofimvaba School District Technology Project, a holistic, regional initiative that looks to address all the obstacles to education in one of the poorest regions of South Africa.

TECH4RED aims to improve rural education through technology-led innovation throughout South Africa. To date, Meraka and a number of other partners have delivered tablets to 26 Nciba Circuit schools in the Cofimvaba school district, benefiting 6 500 students, 350 teachers and 16 district officials.

The schools were connected to the internet through satellite and wireless mesh technologies, as Meraka builds “schools of the future”, comprising an educational content platform, human language technology, real-time educational video broadcasting and accessible tutoring programmes.

Over 200 schools were connected through Meraka’s wireless mesh and village operator initiatives, which formed part of the institute’s “broadband for all” initiative.

“We want to develop a sustainable, replicable model that can be implemented across the country,” Ford said.

“The project is a partnership between ourselves, government, teachers and learners where everyone has a responsibility to make it work. We are doing this with the schools, not for them, and we hope that by helping them become agents in their own success, the project will be successful far beyond our involvement.”

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