Here’s a turn-up for the books. Quite literally. The Gauteng Department of Education is planning to turn every school in the province into a textbook-free zone. Speaking on Radio 702’s Midday Report, MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi told host Stephen Grootes that plans to transform state schools in the area over the next few years by completely doing away with textbooks. All students will have a tablet and access to online learning resources via the internet, and he also pledged to work with schools and provide the levels of infrastructure required.
Think it’s impossible? We’ve already written extensively about South Africa’s first state school to go textbook-free. Sunward Park – which not only managed to convince every parent in its disadvantaged community to purchase a tablet last year, but rewarded them with some of the best matric scores of any school in the province.
The MEC has visited Sunward Park over the last few weeks, and the school will be used as the model for the rest of the province and, reportedly, a national plan along similar lines due to be unveiled over the coming months.
Deputy principal of Sunward Park, Enoch Thango, says that he’s enormously excited to be part of the project. Sunward will provide resources for other schools to learn about the transformation to digital in return for further assistance from the education department to expand its own programme. Thango says that he wants to turn Sunward into the “school of the future”, focussing on every detail of learning down to the furniture in the classroom.
While there’s no timescale or budget for the tablet programme yet announced, Lesufi has said that every new school built in the province will be modelled on Sunward. As Thango acknowledges, however, this is no quick fix: it’s taken Sunward many years and a lot of failures to get to the stage where it is today. The transition to digital requires a big commitment from parents, teachers and pupils alike.
The department of education hasn’t made a formal announcement yet, nor has it confirmed what new budget – if any – will be available for this new commitment. That said, Sunward was able to implement its textbook-free strategy within its existing budgetary constraints.
However, ambitious as the plan might be, there are concerns being raised about Gauteng’s ability to deliver. Many secondary schools in the province are currently without any form of IT equipment after the contract to provide PCs and connectivity under Gauteng Online ran out at the end of last year. A programme to deliver 88 000 Huawei tablets to replace them is already running into issues. Teachers have complained about lack of training with the new tablets and availability of software. I’ve personally visited two poorly-resourced schools in the last couple of months where the Gauteng Online tablets have arrived but haven’t yet been unpackaged because teachers don’t know what to do with them. PCs from the previous, now-defunct initiative sit under dust covers, unused.
As one Twitter user put it:
— Mabena Motshoane (@MotshoaneMabena) June 9, 2014