Wilma den Hartigh
Vodacom's new Mobile Education Programme, the first countrywide teacher-development initiative of its kind in South Africa, will make use of mobile technology to improve the quality of teaching in schools.
The focus of the programme is to improve instruction in all subjects, with an emphasis on maths, maths literacy and physical science from grades 10 to 12 – which are considered the most challenging subjects for pupils in South Africa.
Together the project partners will ensure that schools, teachers, pupils and communities have access to ICT and the internet.
At the launch in Midrand, Gauteng, on 18 October 2011, Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys said the project is one of the most ambitious and important projects yet to be spearheaded by the mobile telecommunications company.
"It involves a significant investment in our youth, who are the future of our country, and is a critical component of our commitment to using mobiles for good," he said.
Improving education in SA
The project hopes to offer solutions to some of the biggest shortcomings in South Africa's education system.
The mobile education scheme has four components: the mobile education ICT resource centres, the web-based digital classroom education portal, the mobile education virtual private network and the mobile education training programme.
Through the initiative, the project partners hope to upgrade the quality of instruction by ensuring that teachers throughout the country, in both rural and urban areas, have access to the highest quality teaching resources.
Uys said the project will help level the playing field for rural schools that often don't have access to the same quality of teaching material that urban schools have. "We are absolutely committed to helping government improve on the quality of education in our schools," he said.
The other goal is to use mobile technology to help the Department of Basic Education meet its objective of ensuring that a significant number of pupils have exposure to ICT.
Mobile education centres
Vodacom and the Department of Basic Education have set up nine ICT resource centres, one in every province, each serving up to 200 schools.
The nine centres are located in the following areas: Tshwane in Gauteng, Emalahleni in Mpumalanga, Worster in the Western Cape, Pinetown in KwaZulu-Natal, Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape, Upington in the Northern Cape, Makhado in Limpopo, Ganyesa in North West province and Mangaung in the Free State.
Uys said that six of the nine centres are already operational.
These centres will be the hub of each district's teacher-training programme where professional teacher-development training courses will take place. Training will focus on ICT literacy and the integration of digital content in the classroom.
Each centre has a computer classroom, equipped with 50 terminals, and an internet café.
"Technology and ICT can play such a big role in the country and the economy, and it starts with young children and giving them access to information," Uys said at the launch.
Vodacom digital classroom
To support the teacher training provided at the nine centres across the country, all teachers will have access to the digital classroom website. Here they can download web-based resources and teaching material presented in an accessible and attractive way.
The website will also provide information on each of the nine centres, discussion forums where teachers and trainers can help each other resolve education-related problems, education news and links to local and international educational resources.
In addition, teachers can access material on the site provided by the various technology partners of the project.
Microsoft will be supplying the software and Microsoft certification for teachers. Cisco is providing computer technician certification and entrepreneurship training through its Cisco Networking Academy programme and Mindset Learn has made the South African educational curriculum content available throughout the programme.
How does it work?
Uys said that for the first time, cloud computing will be used to allow teachers to access vital content, teacher-aids and resources to help deliver quality education.
Cloud computing uses a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage and process data, rather than a local server.
All the ICT Resource Centres are connected through a virtual private network to Vodacom's head office in Midrand. This connection serves as a pipeline of information, connecting the centres, participating schools and teachers to the internet and to teacher training resources.
Prioritising teacher development
In a statement, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said that her department has given its full support to programme.
At the launch Mohamed Surty, deputy minister of Basic Education, said that teacher development is a key component to improving education in South Africa.
When visiting schools across the country, he had found that the main challenge was the teaching methods, not the ability of pupils.
The department has found that the country has 10 000 under-qualified and 20 000 unqualified teachers in need of further education and training.
"It has the support of my department and the nine provincial education departments and I am sure it will go a long way in addressing the ICT challenges we have in education," Motshekga said.