Matric pass rates: technology can help

Joseph Nsengimana gives his views on how technology can aid ailing Matric pass rates.

February 1, 2011

Whatever you think about the 2010 matric pass rate in South Africa, one thing is certain: we’re not preparing enough young people for a meaningful career beyond school. But while the debate rages, there are some quick and easy things we can be doing to give the Class of 2011 a head start – and right now, technology’s our best chance.

There’s nothing new about delivering rich learning content through computers and the internet. It’s a mechanism that has proven to be effective in a range of contexts, especially workplace education and post-graduate studies. But we’re finding, through years of experience in this field in schools across South Africa and the region, that today’s students respond incredibly well to technology in the classroom.

Let’s make one thing clear. Even as we discuss online content and technology, it must be seen within the context of empowering and augmenting the efforts of teachers. There’s no doubt that committed, engaged teachers remain central to meaningful education and good matric pass rates; they cannot, and will not, be replaced by technology. Technology also doesn’t replace the old-fashioned virtues of discipline and diligence.

Having said that, computers and the internet are a great tool to support learning, especially for a group of young people embarking on the most important school year of their lives.

Our experience shows that providing easily accessible online content and curricula can make a significant difference to pass rates. It enriches existing lessons, overcomes the problem of too few textbooks, gives learners the option of working at their own pace and provides a valuable tool to teachers to drive better learning outcomes.

This doesn’t require one computer per learner. A few computers in every school, that can project content onto the nearest wall, can go a long way towards addressing backlogs and getting learners interested.

Quite simply, learners tend to enjoy online content. It’s one thing learning the theory of something. It’s another watching online how other students tackle the same subjects – and more importantly, how those subjects are applied in the real world. If we can succeed in inspiring our learners, we will empower them.

Cloud computing is a popular buzzword right now, and it holds great promise for education. Essentially, cloud computing is all about providing content and services through the internet (the cloud). With content hosted in the cloud, there is nothing that prevents learners from accessing material from home, if they have a suitable device – and that doesn’t have to be a notebook or a PC. Today, learners can use mobile phones to access and share educational material, with several examples of mobile-based programmes that help learners with subjects like maths and science.

Until now, Intel’s initiatives to support education and learning in South Africa have been teacher-centric, geared to support and equip teachers to use technology effectively in the classroom. Initiatives like this can also help parents and learners themselves play a more active role in education.

Ultimately, our goal is to produce articulate, numerate, literate and capable school leavers. And to do that, we need to empower teachers and learners alike, giving them the tools they need to absorb and apply more information. Technology might not be the silver bullet that will fix the entire education system. But it’s a good start.