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Perspectives on technology and education in South Africa

Stephen Woollard, Teacher at Harrogate Grammar School, gives us his viewpoint on EdTech in South Africa

Posted by Alex Diggins | July 03, 2018 | People, policy, politics

As the iPad Ambassador at Harrogate Grammar School, I am always interested in EdTech and the annual Bett show is one of the best opportunities to explore the latest EdTech trends. At Bett, I went straight to the ITSI stand to see what they had to offer. ITSI is an EdTech provider that blends technology with traditional methods, using eBooks and student data to encourage deeper engagement with content. Tracking students’ engagement with learning is something I am particularly interested in and it was this aspect of the ITSI system that attracted my attention.

While I was at the stand, I entered my information in a prize draw for a trip to South Africa. I never expected to win so I was overjoyed when I found out I had!

South Africa has been on my travel wish list for years. I actually taught in Kenya for three years from 1997, so I’m sure fate played its part in me winning the trip. Given my keen eye for photography, I expected that this would be a great opportunity for me to capture some extraordinary photos.

My itinerary for the trip included visits to seven schools all across the country, each with its own unique population to cater to and issues to solve, as well as a whole range of cultural activities including a visit to the Lion Park.

It was great to see how schools in South Africa operate on a daily basis - Stephen Woollard, Teacher and EdTech Ambassador 

What I took away from South Africa

I found the trips to all of the schools incredibly inspiring; it was great to see how schools in South Africa operate on a daily basis. While visiting these schools, it became apparent how much students enjoy using technology in their everyday learning. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that the teachers actively promote technology in the classroom, engaging students with rich content and even generating instant responses to activities. This method of teaching allows the students to gather a greater variety of information than if they were only using traditional textbooks. 

It is obvious that teachers also benefit from technology in the classroom. It allows them to track their students’ progression and engagement with activities. This access to data means that teachers are able to spot any problems with engagement or to see if a student is struggling. We know that this awareness is absolutely crucial for learners’ development.

Whilst most of the schools in South Africa I visited actively encouraged students to use other apps to support different pathways for learning, in the UK this is more developed with many educational and learning apps used to personalise the students experience. Thankfully, as in the UK, the mindset seems to be that technology provides a platform to enhance education, rather than simply being an addition to the classroom hardware. South African students really consider it to be a learning tool, and it is used with almost every activity. Perhaps the nature of free education in the UK leaves students taking for granted what is on offer.  

My time in South Africa gave me a lot to think about. Overall, the most significant lesson that I learned on my EdTech adventure was the importance of embedding technology into the curriculum rather than viewing it as an add-on. 

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