Programme Director;

Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Enver Surty;

Director General of Basic Education, Mr Paddy Padayachee;

ICT in Education practitioners;

It is privilege for me to join you this morning as we discuss the role of Information and Communication Technology in improving educational outcomes. I hope that we will be able to share lessons learned from various interventions that seek to integrate ICTs into teaching and learning processes in the classroom as well as into management and administrative processes of the school.  

This policy dialogue is a first step in a larger, systematic initiative to track developments in technology use in the education sector, with the aim of helping to inform our government as well as a wide variety of stakeholders as they seek solutions to larger, more fundamental educational and developmental challenges in the years ahead.

The process of adoption and diffusion of ICT in education in our country gained momentum following the ratification of the 2004 e-education White Paper of the Department of Basic Education. Both government and private sector identified the so called ‘digital gap’ and what followed then was an era of massive experimentation in the form of computer laboratories in the school. However it soon became evident that connectivity and lack of computer literate teachers were major limiting factors.

As the Department of Science and Technology, during that era, we rolled out the digital doorway and soon learnt that ‘technology dump’ as it is commonly referred to, was not the solution. With experience gained during that time, we know now that we need a more holistic approach that would look at various elements of the schooling environment and contribute towards creating 21st century learning environment in schools. Our view is that excellence in education requires offering the right tools and environment and to facilitate and advance skills and knowledge for teachers and students alike.

Following a number of discussions between the DST and the DBE teams lead by the respective Deputy Ministers, the Cofimvaba Technology for Rural Education and Development (Tech4RED) pilot was conceived and later launched in 2012. From the onset, this initiative set out to examine whether and how the introduction of new technologies, as well as technologies that have been tested in other contexts, will contribute to improvements in the quality of teaching and learning in a rural context. We also identified the critical role of the monitoring and evaluation function if we were to truly extract learning from this intervention. 

Tech4REDresponds to Government’s Broadband policy which commits to the rollout of the broadband infrastructure, associated content, applications and services. It also supports the realisation of the goals of the e-education White Paper.

 Tech4RED recognises that the quality of teaching and learning is influenced by a range of environmental factors, and therefore a number of working groups focusing on various elements that influence the schooling environment were established. The groups focus on technology interventions in ICT, water and sanitation, health, nutrition and energy amongst other things.  These are currently at different stages of implementation, with the ICT being at an advanced stage. 

We cannot deny the fact that 21st century learners are born to technology. No matter how modest or traditional a household may be, children are constantly exposed to and challenged by devices and a way of thinking in an economy based in technology. For schools to meet learners’ minds and educational needs, it’s key that teachers learn how to adapt this technology, and use it in the classroom to engage and challenge students.

The Tech4Red project has demonstrated that very well. We were amazed at how receptive the teachers were to this idea of using technology for teaching. I cannot overestimate the importance of investing time in the training of teachers. As you probably know, younger teachers tend to leave rural schools for urban schools, so most of the teachers in the Nciba Circuit are on average 40 years old and more, so it was a culture shock for them. However, since we had allocated training resources, it really made a world of difference. The teachers feel empowered and in control. The support of the district office has been invaluable in this regard.

ICTs can indeed improve the quality of teaching and learning. We are confident that lessons learnt on this and other similar projects will help in shaping the discourse on the integration of ICTs for the improvement of basic education outcomes. As a former teacher I have firsthand experience of how much time teachers spend on the administration work, which unfortunately which takes away from their core function, namely teaching. Incorporating ICT into the school administration systems greatly helps teachers to manage their work more efficiently.

The need for digital learning material relevant to local curricula will become more urgent as ICT becomes fully integrated into the teaching process. Through this intervention, we are learning that there is an opportunity for locally developed, relevant, interactive content. Experiencing things ‘on the ground’ has given us insight into gaps and opportunities for ICT platforms, tools and technologies and I trust that during the course of the day, you will have an opportunity to reflect at length and share best practise.

The National Development Plan has identified improving the quality of education, especially in rural communities as critical. We are therefore optimistic that ultimately through these important dialogues we will arrive at a place where we can develop a national guideline document that seeks to inform and guide the effective, efficient and appropriate introduction of ICT in basic education.

We also realise that, more that any technology tool, what is key is enlightened leadership. I am grateful to report that in my few months at the DST and in my interactions with various stakeholders, I have found unmatched commitment.

I am looking forward Deputy Minister, to working with you in ensuring a better life for all through creating an enabling environment in public schools in which learners and educators can thrive and excel.   

Thank you.