The future of education in South Africa

Posted on May 29, 2017 12:04 am

When a friend told me last week how as a parent of a child in education in South how worried she is with crime wave targeting children, I could only sympathise. In a country where over 13,000 children aged below 12 years were killed in 2016 some of them after being raped, the fear of the lady was undoubtedly justified. That however hasn’t stopped the ever increasing role that technology is playing in South Africa children everyday learning. The realisation by schools and educational establishments of all kinds, that technology is now a major part of teaching and learning in South Africa is very encouraging.The importance of technology in education was highlighted recently at a conference and exhibition of educational technology.The attendees were there for a range of reasons from wanting to know about the latest technologies available to hearing about the key issues that are central to education both in lower and higher institutions of learning.According to one of the attendees, the exhibition part of the conference featured suppliers of technologies that are already in, or will be coming, to a classroom in the near future. One of them included projectors that are combined with cameras allowing desktop surfaces or walls to be turned into touch-capable computers. There were also 3D printers that could print out parts like human body for students to interact with physically and that demonstrated how such stuff will be a common teaching tool in South Africa in coming years. Mobile and web based learning environments, apps and resources made up the bulk of the exhibitors reflecting the transition from using regular text books to increasingly interactive online teaching tools.Turning to the event itself, the key issue for some of those who spoke was about higher education in particular was the potential deregulation of the sector in South Africa as a result of the budget. Another attendee told your blogger that it would be an understatement to say that a variety of players were lining up to take advantage of the ability to offer sub-degrees to funded students although we all know the strikes that have been going with Fees Must Fall movement in South Africa.

At the front of the queue for such would be the colleges and private education providers. Industry groups in South Africa however might also want to put on their own degrees. A couple of them have long complained that universities don’t produce the types of graduates that are prepared for the workforce.Listening to the attendee, he wasn’t clear whether according to those proposing such technologies South Africa students would opt for cheaper sub-degrees in favour of the perceived advantage of the full university degree from an actual university. When I asked how Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs as they are called were debated, the answer was shocking. Apparently it was only a single attendee who touched on the topic and few bothered about it. It is an indication that for the day to day educational challenges facing most universities in South Africa, MOOCs were not at the forefront of educator’s minds attending the event.Participants from different regions of South Africa made the point repeatedly that national government generally viewed education from a short-term perspective. In South Africa, government officials are driven by test scores rather than the true nature of the education South African children were receiving. In terms of technology in education, attendees chronicled the enormous potential of technologies but warned against applying technology blindly just because it was available. They unanimously agreed it is a big ask to not only introduce effective use of technology in education but also to use it in a way that promotes learning that is personal and emphasises creativity.In the absence of government programmes funding and driving the use of technology in educational institutions, it will be the pioneers such as those attending the event who take the message back to their schools and universities across South Africa and try and seed change. And given the developing interest amongst educators for change, the time might just be right.Broadly speaking, education in South Africa has been well-financed for many years compared to other African countries.However, there are issues about particular programs and the efficiency with which funds have been used. But the injection of money into school facilities and the steady increase in annual per-student recurrent funding has ensured all students have the opportunity to achieve graduation standards.Such programs have also given countless students the opportunity to access and pursue higher education. If the inefficiencies are addressed, the future of South Africa eduction will be bright.

Contador Harrison