Cheap technology not cheap education
Reflections from Marj Brown (South Africa), Varkey Teacher Ambassador
I live in a country of great inequality in terms of access to education and resources. This impacts greatly on how I view education in 2030. The tools of social media are nearly universal in my resource-constrained country through the ownership of inexpensive cell phones.
- South Africa has one of the largest telecommunications markets on the African continent. In fact, South Africa is ranked fifth in the world for mobile data usage (first is Russia and seventh is the United States of America). Put simply, there are more mobile phones in my country than taxis and TVs and radios combined.
- Cell phones are taking the place of computer internet access and, as recent reports show, more than 60 percent of South African regularly use cell phones to access the Internet.
- Although half the 50 million people in South Africa live below the poverty line, more than 75% among those in low-income groups who are 15 years or older own a mobile phone.
So, when I see students in my classroom with their cell phones I still see that a quality education is required to make the most of this cheap wide spread technology.
The lack of literacy in my country is still an enormous obstacle to learning. In the PIRLS ( Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) survey in 2017, it was found that 78% of South African pupils in Grade 4 (roughly 10 year olds) could not understand what they were reading.
Whilst the use of audio books and online texts accessible on cell phones is growing, including efforts aimed at teenagers (Fundza, a literary NGO)for most South African pupils their level of literacy effects their ability to access and understand information whether written in books or on electronic devices.
South Africa is also a country where the majority of youth leaving school remain unemployed. Functional literacy is part of the reason, as well as high unemployment rates in the country generally. This results in a frustrated group in society – aged 18-25, who are the largest component in our society.
I work in a well-resourced girls’ school, Roedean, where the girls bring their own electronic devices and have access to computers, I-pads and laptops at school. Our flipped classroom learning and research encourages critical thinking skills, and develops flexible thinkers who are creative, and able to change jobs, upskill continuously as adults and be able to think interdependently as the world of work requires these skills more and more.
Whilst access to communications and knowledge via the internet means youth can learn more quickly about jobs and tasks, it takes the fundamentals of education – including critical thinking skills to secure them.
- Inclusive tolerance
There is no secret that South Africa has been a country divided in is history. Empathy is integral both to the ability to form a society and to work together for survival. That is why being part of the Sustainable Development Goals campaign for the realisation of SDG 4, the right to education, through the UNESCO Education 2030 campaign, is necessary for all teachers so that we become inclusive in our approach to the right to education, beyond our school.
Whilst access to knowledge and information is greater than ever before, it is possible that technology is destroying empathy and the boundaries of what are acceptable actions. That means that the role of the teacher in facilitating critical through and stimulating debate and creating opportunities for real-life observation or storytelling, is even more critical for our children to imagine what it is like in someone else’s shoes.
The Global Education and Skills Forum is taking place on 17th and 18th March 2018 in Dubai, UAE, with the theme of “How do we prepare young people for the world of 2030 and beyond?” I am looking forward to these topics and more emerging at the Public Briefing – Education in Africa in 2030 on Sunday 18th March.