African education in the spotlight at new technology centre

A new centre that aims to increase access to technology in South African schools has opened its doors in Newtown, promising to ‘profoundly expand’ the educational capabilities for African classrooms by exposing teachers to different kinds of technology.

March 8, 2010

A new centre that aims to increase access to technology in South African schools has opened its doors in Newtown, promising to ‘profoundly expand’ the educational capabilities for African classrooms by exposing teachers to different kinds of technology.

The African School Technology Innovation Centre (STIC) is the result of a partnership between Microsoft and the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, a science and technology centre backed by the Department of Education, and 30-odd corporate partners who will be presenting their solutions at the centre.

Where Sci-Bono’s aim is to foster interest in science and technology among learners, the STIC’s focus is on developing and researching ways to use technology in the classroom, and giving teachers a better understanding of how to use digital tools in education.

STIC manager Victor Ngobeni – himself a qualified teacher, and recent convert to the use of technology in schools – says the goal of the new centre is to open the door to more engaged, interactive and personalised learning.

“The promise of technology is wide-ranging: it can help schools streamline and improve their administration, give teachers new tools to engage the connected youth of today and add richness and content to the learning process,” said Ngobeni.

“This centre is not going to be an academic place. It’s here to give teachers a living, breathing example of how to use technology to improve the quality of education across Africa.”

First opened by then Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor in the Johannesburg city centre in 2007, the STIC presents solutions by 30 partners collaborating in the education space.

“To date, the STIC has trained more than 3500 teachers, principals and learners through workshops and seminars on using technology in education,” says Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education in South Africa at the inaugural event.

In a keynote address at the opening of the centre, Mr Surty talked about his vision for how information and communications technologies can help transform African education.

“There’s no doubt that educating our youth is the cornerstone of sustainable economic growth. It is important that we support continued teacher professional development and use the most modern and effective learning tools and pedagogy to help our youth learn key skills, which will pave the way for future success and employability,” he said.

Microsoft South Africa MD Mteto Nyati sees one of the centre’s key functions as pooling the efforts of various technology companies, and providing a single platform for educational stakeholders to show off new approaches to technology and provide ongoing training to teachers.

One of the new technologies on show at the STIC is Microsoft’s newly-launched Windows MultiPoint Server 2010. In simple terms, it allows multiple students to share one computer using multiple screens, providing a low-cost alternative for schools that cannot afford to buy an individual computer for every student.

“New teaching aids and technologies can give educators a new lease on life,” said Nyati. “Suddenly, they can have access to content that they could not have dreamed of. Having a computer with learning material on it can be like having a science laboratory where you can perform any experiment you can think of, and explain calculations more vividly than ever before. Students are not repeating something they learned by rote, but making if-then judgments. The more of that you can do, the more real learning takes place.”

For all its promise to improve education, says centre manager Ngobeni, technology is no substitute for one person tutoring another. But it certainly smoothes the process when educating large numbers of students with limited resources.

That’s why STIC is part of a broader programme designed to effect change in education across Africa. Ngobeni hopes to emulate the successes of the Lesotho STIC, based at the Lesotho College of Education in Maseru, where manager Dr Kasongo Kalanda has trained more than 915 teachers – and 900 student teachers – from 75 schools have been trained in digital literacy in little more than a year using Microsoft’s Partners in Learning (PiL) programme.

By his own admission, Ngobeni is a passionate evangelist for the PiL network, which provides information, content, tools and resources for teachers wanting to use technology more effectively.

“Four years ago, I simply didn’t know how to use technology well enough to prepare our learners for the modern world,” said Ngobeni. “By finding ways to use technology in my teaching, the possibilities become endless. Learners use technology for research, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, editing work and communicating. These tools are important to everything that happens in the classroom.”