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Change the world

07/06/2023

“Time is not on our side. Our learners urgently need access to online education and all the incredible e-resources that should be rolled out to every single school in the country", says Professor Darelle van Greunen, Director of the Centre for Community Technologies (CCT) at Nelson Mandela University.  

When schools in South Africa were closed during the pandemic there was no option of online education for most learners due to a deficit of infrastructure, devices and skills in educational technologies.

“During a 2022 visit to East Africa, it became evident that South Africa is fast falling behind in the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in education and other spaces, whereas in countries like Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, the ICT landscape is rapidly evolving,” says Prof Van Greunen.

A good example is the new Abrehot public library in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, an initiative of the Prime Minister, spanning 19 000 square metres in the heart of the city.

“We went there on a Sunday and it was packed with young people reading and working on their laptops. There is 5G internet throughout and the whole four-storey library is a user-friendly, people’s space. Abrehot means ‘enlightenment’ in Amharic and the uptake is phenomenal, with up to 2 000 users at a time.”

Apart from books, the library houses more than 300 000 local and 120 000 international research papers with digital access provided. This is how a library should function in the 21st century.

Another good example is Uganda where public libraries are staffed by public librarians with e-training skills. The libraries are attracting trainees from all walks of life, and receiving new donations of computers and data packages to create places of access for the community at large. Kenya is creating a similar environment.

“South Africa is fortunate to have libraries in every city and town but they are not being properly used or used at all,” says Prof Van Greunen. “Our libraries should be vibrant wifi hubs for learners and students in every community, and contribute to nurturing a culture of education through providing access to knowledge. Unsuitable material can be blocked.”

There is certainly advancement in digital access in many of the schools in our urban areas, but the e-readiness movement is far too slow within the South African schooling context as a whole, and we need to be far more urgent and innovative as to how we expedite this.

Since 2013 government has pledged to deliver free broadband access to 90% of South Africa by 2020 and 100% by 2030 through its SA Connect campaign. The goal of South Africa's 2004 White Paper on e-Education was for every learner in the country to be ICT capable by 2013, and for teachers to use ICT to enhance teaching and learning. This has not been achieved and it must urgently change.

“To assess and evaluate the e-readiness of all government schools in South Africa, our CCT team helped to develop an eReady ICT Maturity Assessment tool in the form of an easy to use app,” says Prof Van Greunen. “In 2020, the app was rolled out to 8000 of South Africa’s 26 000 government schools to understand the level of intervention required to enable ICT-based education in government schools.”

This helped us to refine the app so that it can be rolled out to all 26 000 schools towards the end of this year. At the same time, the Department of Basic Education needs to make sure it has the budget to expedite the process, not only to assist the schools to become ICT ready, but also to train the educators.

There is no point in having high-tech schools without trained teachers to support this. “Time is not on our side,” says Prof Van Greunen. “For every year we do not achieve e-readiness in our schools, our learners, particularly in the rural and township areas, fall behind.”

CANSA pain manager app

As part of International Cancer Survivors’ Day on 1 June 2022, the CCT and the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) launched a free CANSA Pain Manager app on Android, sponsored by Pfizer

Prof Van Greunen explains that COVID-19 resulted in a greater dependence on caregivers at home, due to limited access to medical staff and facilities. “The CANSA Pain Manager app was developed to assist the patient and caregiver in understanding pain better; locating pain; identifying intensity of pain; administration of medication correctly and timeously, as well as providing reports that can be exported to medical personnel or oncologists.”

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057
debbie.derry@mandela.ac.za