Virtual teaching in a future world

Virtual teachers are certainly an important step towards recognising the importance of creating access to digital learning and teaching platforms for all pupils but for Eastern Cape, it will not address the root problems.

This is according to Rhodes University-based public service monitor head, Zukiswa Kota.

Recently, the department of education in conjunction with Vodacom education, took the digitalisation of education to another level when they launched the department’s first ever virtual teacher platform.

The move follows Vodacom’s programme to introduce mobile devices in the province earlier this year to promote the use of digital technology in Eastern Cape schools.

Kota said the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) was of the view that the department (assisted by social partners) must seek to address the core, systemic problems first in order for such systems to be meaningful, sustainable and beneficial.

According to the department, the concept will allow highly trained tutors to deliver maths, science and accounting lessons in real time to multiple remote classrooms simultaneously.

Pupils from the selected schools in Mdantsane, Lusikisiki, Maluti, and Mt Frere will be transported to teaching sites in the Eastern Cape where the lessons will be screened. The virtual teacher platform encompasses a camera, microphone and streaming unit.

The lessons can be pre-recorded if needed and recorded content can also be downloaded to any device. The platform can also be linked to a school website.

The platform is supported through portable hardware which delivers high quality visuals and sound. It can also accommodate unlimited viewer numbers. The technology enables live interaction with the remote audience through a texting Q & A facility for written responses during the lesson.

Using smart devices, pupils will be able to join classes from anywhere and at any time through live stream.

Vodacom Business’s Vuyani Jarana said the platform was aimed at empowering rural pupils and the plan was to roll it out nationally.

Jarana said 18 months ago Vodacom took a closer look into the education system in South Africa and found that unlike urban schools, rural and township schools did not have resources such as libraries and laboratories.

“What it meant was that we are likely to be sowing other forms of inequality,” he said. This meant that even young people born under democracy were likely to be facing difficulties in their future careers.

“We looked at how we can reshape ICT and mobile investments to address inequalities and one of the things we looked at was digitising education. The starting point was empowering educators and enabled them to teach using 21st century technology,” Jarana. said

Jarana said the platform would enable pupils to get quality education through bringing actual experiments to pupils regardless of their location.

“This is how we bridge inequality, this is how we use digital technology to make sure the future generations have a chance in life,” Jarana said.

The education superintendent-general Themba Kojana said the province was on a trajectory to improve the quality education. “This platform will expose pupils in rural areas to the best quality teaching so that they can compete favourably with any other child in the country,” said Kojana.

Kojana said the concept will also address the challenge of maths and science teachers shortages, but emphasised that it will not replace teachers.

“But it will definitely assist in enhancing the quality of teaching,” Kojana said.

Kota said while it was important to recognise steps and note the attempts taken by the private sector to improve education in the province and to address what is essentially a societal issue, there were also concerns to be noted.

“While the stated intention is to bring some of the best teachers to learners from rural schools and to improve learning outcomes – this does not address the root problems in terms of ensuring that the best teaching and learning opportunities exist within those communities

“It is most concerning and a clear indication of some fundamental weaknesses within the system if learners have to be taken to other areas in order to access better learning facilities,” he said.

Kota said this was also indicative of the need to place greater emphasis to address inequality.

“Resource constraints [human and otherwise] are still worst felt by learners in rural and township schools.

“Access to quality education should mean access within learners’ own communities. This is what the constitution provides for.

“This is not what it currently being delivered for many learners,” she said.

Kota said there was a need to address critical challenges such as acquiring skilled educators across all subjects, in all districts, to improve school functionality and for more accountable, responsive leadership at school, district and provincial levels.

Kota advised the department to closely monitor the programme to ensure it fulfilled its purpose by answering the following question:

  • How will this intervention build capacity amongst current educators?;
  • How will the department monitor progress and long-term outcomes? and;
  • What kind of monitoring and evaluation systems are in place and was there a sustainable plan to create long-term access that does not require additional capital outlays? — arethal@dispatch.co.za

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