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E-schools are the future. But are traditional South African schools ready for it? To evaluate and assess the e-readiness of all South African government schools, the Centre for Community Technologies at Nelson Mandela University helped to develop an easy downloadable app, called the e-ready ICT maturity assessment tool.

The app is an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) with input from the department of basic education. It will be piloted at 1000 schools in nine provinces with a view to rolling it out to every government school in the country and to independent schools if they choose to use it.

“Education can only be accessible to everyone if we enable access to education and learning through technology, and make it affordable. The need for e-readiness has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic with people realising that learning should take place wherever students find themselves” says Professor Darelle van Greunen of the Centre for Community Technologies.

“If the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is to deliver on the promise of economic growth, job creation through innovation, improved safety and security, better education, and skills transfer, South Africa has to rapidly and immediately change its education focus and delivery model to be ICT-responsive and e-ready,” she adds.

According to van Greunen the aim of the pilot is to test the tool’s efficiency in identifying a school’s e-readiness. The five e-readiness levels are assessed according to each school’s ICT infrastructure, connectivity, curriculum and digital content, e-administration, teacher ICT readiness and teacher development and support. The levels range from underdeveloped ICT capacity (digitally unaware) to advanced ICT capacity (digitally mature).

When the assessment is complete, it is sent to a central database; in areas with no or low connectivity, the assessment is sent when the assessor regains connectivity. In addition to the self-evaluation, an external evaluation is also conducted at each school. The app generates the report on the device, and once the assessment has been completed, the findings and results of the report are available immediately and emailed to the person who completed the assessment and to the Department of Basic Education. This provides the department with the information about what needs to be done in each school to achieve e-readiness.

“The idea is that every school should achieve a high level of e-readiness and every single learner in our schools should have a device or tablet, as per the President’s statement a year ago, but teaching capacity is often an issue.”

Afikile Sikwebu, a Computer Application Technology (CAT) teacher at Linkside High School in Port Elizabeth, was a member of the CCT when the data for the assessment tool was collected. He was involved in the data collection, data cleaning and verification and made a few observations.

“During my involvement we collected data in rural, urban and township schools in Mpumalanga, North West and Kwazulu-Natal. Depending on the school’s quintile and availability of ICT resources, a large majority of the rural and township schools we visited were far from being ICT ready.

“Some of the schools had outdated, obsolete technology and some did not have technology at all. At the same time, some of the schools were not in a condition to accommodate any form of ICT due to factors such as crime and availability of electricity.”

Sikwebu says learners are ready to receive some form of teaching and learning through tablets albeit with training and discipline, but that the pedagogy needs to change.

“Therefore, the tablets cannot be used or seen as a replacement for a textbook. Lesson presentation would need to be digital, which in my observation, the majority of the teachers we previewed are not ready to make that transition. In many cases, the schooling infrastructure also does not allow for these changes to take effect.”

The tool was set to be piloted in schools in March and April. However, due to the national lockdown the plans were put on hold.

Centre for Community Technologies director, Prof Darelle van Greunen and Linkside High School CAT teacher, Afikile Sikwebu, discuss the tool.

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