As the Director of Green Shoots, a Cape Town based education organisation that utilises EdTech, I am often asked about the benefits and impact of EdTech within a South African context. My answer is simple and not necessarily a conventional one.
For me the benefit of EdTech is not found in having the sleekest tablet or using the zingiest augmented reality programme. For me the power of EdTech is in its ability to give the most disadvantaged learner, the ONE, the power to dream!
We all are fully aware that the problems faced in education are often huge, complex or even resistant; even more so in South Africa where I live and work. The everyday realities and magnitude of the historic inequality and poverty faced by the schools we support are stark and can often be overwhelming. Where or how do we, as Green Shoots, even start to work out our vision of ‘quality education for all?’ We start to tackle these issues by using EdTech to help make a change in ONE life at a time…
What drives me to do what I do?
Drive through a township (a community previously disadvantaged under the apartheid regime) early on a school morning and you will see the common sight of learners walking to school. These learners walking to school may have come from informal structures that lack running water or even electricity in some cases. They may come from single parent/guardian or child-headed households. However, these learners will still be immaculately dressed in pristine uniforms, often with bags bigger than they are! Their parents, grandmas or older siblings have done everything they can to prepare these children to be ready for school, often against the odds. It’s my role is to do everything I can to ensure once at school, these children get the quality of education they deserve and so desperately need to break this cycle of poverty, ONE by ONE.
So what about the EdTech angle?
Well for me, EdTech is an equalizer! EdTech can provide the ONE an equal opportunity to quality education. It doesn’t matter your background, home or even if you have shoes on when you are in front of that screen, EdTech ensures that each ONE has access to a quality lesson.
Green Shoots developed an ICT based project that improves Maths teaching, learning and attainment within the primary schools through the use of real-time data. We prioritize our support to focus on challenged South African communities. Quality education is not just in the content of the lesson, but also in the resources, activities and experiences that the learners are exposed to. For the majority of learners that we support, the first time they have used or even seen a PC or tablet is at school.
Children are hungry to explore and learn—our role is to fulfill that need and not just with ‘good enough’ lessons.
Children are hungry to explore and learn—our role is to fulfill that need and not just with ‘good enough’ lessons. Using a computer opens the world to these learners, beyond the limitations of their context. It can be chaos outside, even sometimes in the school, but for those 60 minutes it’s just the ONE and their online maths lesson!
As a teacher for over 10 years, I saw that learners really value being recognised as an individual. Primary schools in South Africa, especially in previously disadvantaged communities, regularly have classes of 40-50. Learners often get lost amongst the numbers in the large classes. Using an online programme that tracks individual progress throughout the year requires each learner to have their own log in and profile. Can you imagine the surprise on a learner’s face when they log in and their name appears on the screen? I have lost count of the many times that I have been asked by incredulous learners “How does the computer know my name?”
EdTech allows each ONE to have and own a unique identity within the group—this is MY name, these are MY activities, these are MY goals, these are MY achievements!
How did I do?
It is a basic human desire to want to know how we have done and be acknowledged for any achievement, no matter how small. Learners are no different. We had no idea of the power of immediate feedback to motivate learners when we started this programme.
Edtech provides each ONE with that immediate, personalized response.
What just cannot be beaten is seeing firsthand that spontaneous fist pump when the ONE submits their answers and sees that they have got something right, “I did it! I CAN do it!”
Learners who had been unengaged, even hostile to the idea of maths become proud of their incremental successes. We surveyed over 1000 learners on a project we were running within a rural community. We were pleasantly surprised that 89% of learners, after they got their feedback, wanted to try the exercise again to improve their score. Success is infectious, confidence grows, belief emerges.
EdTech is an equalizer, it encourages identity and promotes understanding and self-belief.
So for the ONE, EdTech is an equalizer, it encourages identity and promotes understanding and self-belief; in short EdTech emboldens the ONE to dream, “I can do anything, I can be anything I want to be”. EdTech is not a magic wand in a classroom nor can it instantly change the circumstances that these learners battle on a daily basis; it can provide an edge and opportunity.
It’s always has been and will always be the ONE that drives us to do what we do. Since 2012, we have given almost 93,000 ONEs an equal chance and the power to dream. In South Africa alone there are just over 6.6 million primary school age children, so many more ONEs to reach…
Featured images courtesy of Jo Besford, author.