Teachers must get comfortable with tech - expert

January 20, 2016, 4:25am

Tablets have education application potential. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

By Duncan Alfreds, Fin24

Cape Town – Local educators need to be trained in using technology tools which are becoming increasingly available in classrooms, says an expert.

Provinces such as Gauteng and the Western Cape are driving digital tools in the classroom, but unless the delivery of the technology is accompanied by a robust teacher training mechanism, there is a risk that deployments could fail.

“The most effective way to train teachers for digital education is face-to-face training, particularly for teachers who have never worked with technology before," Kobus van Wyk, chief executive of the Associated Distributors of Educational Supplies in Southern Africa told Fin24.

"The idea to use technology to train teachers with no knowledge (or inclination toward technology) by means of technology is simply wrong,” said van Wyk.

In Gauteng, the paperless classroom got off to a rocky start when a number of tablets were stolen in 2015.

However, despite initial challenges, education technology has been identified as a driver to boost learning and teaching.

On Saturday, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor officially handed over mobile computer labs to help 29 schools in Umkhanyakude District in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Van Wyk, who managed the Khanya Project for a decade in the Western Cape, said that the scale of helping to train teachers was huge in SA.

“In the beginning stages, nothing can replace the warm body of a human trainer. Having said that, we are faced with the upskilling of about 400 000 teachers in South Africa… so it is impossible to use only face-to-face training, and therefore we will have to harness the power and affordances of technology.”

Teachers who are used to chalk-and-talk methods of instruction may find technology tools intimidating, said van Wyk. But van Wyk argued that training methods would have to focus on relevance to particular learning material.

‘Fruitless efforts’

“Often technology is moved into a school without paying attention to the way teachers may feel about it. They say you can take a horse to the water but cannot make it drink… but rather than putting forth fruitless efforts trying to force the horse to drink, one should pause and think why it does not want to drink. Maybe the answer is simple: The horse is not thirsty.

“The same applies to teachers: We complain that many of them do not respond favourably to training, but maybe the reason is simple: They do not see the relevance; they do not see how using technology will improve their teaching and how it could improve learner performance; they also do not see how it could lighten their admin load,” he added.

Digital tools may assist particularly in areas of mathematics, life science and physical science, and Van Wyk urged that beyond training, teachers should be encouraged to see technology as a means to improve the quality of education in SA.

“I believe that, in addition to training, and even before training, more advocacy must be done: sort of a soft-sell to teachers to help them understand that using technology will be advantageous to them and their learners.”