Every school child in Gauteng between grades four to nine will have their own tablet within the next two years. That’s the word from Gauteng MEC for education, Panyaza Lesufi, who says that after that the scheme will be extended to students in grade 10 or above.

Lesufi made the commitment today at a media round table on behalf of the Worldwide innovation Summit for Education, at the African Eduweek conference in Gauteng, in reponse to a question about his recently announced project to do away with text books in all government schools in the province in favour of one tablet per child.

Details about the project since Lesufi’s original announcement on 702 Radio have been hard to come by, as budgets, policy and time tables are drawn up.

Lesufi says that the project will cost around R2bn a year and will be initiated over four phases of development. The first phase, he explains, will be to ensure that all schools in the province have broadband connectivity cable of carrying voice, data and video for pupils and teachers.

The second phase is the digitisation of the curriculum and developing a learning platform appropriate for the South African curriculum allowing schools to go “textbook free”.

“It’s no secret among South Africans that we have had difficulty with textbook delivery in the past,” Lesufi says, adding that switching to digital textbooks will help schools overcome this problem.

These two phases, says Lesufi, are almost complete, leaving the department to focus on phases three and four. These cover the distribution of gadgets and training of staff. Lesufi says that the department has already spent R600m on training staff to use tablets in the classroom.

The current focus is on 21 pioneer schools, which will be used to develop policy specifics and train teachers from other institutions. These include Sunward Park at Boksburg which the MEC has flagged as an inspiration in the past.

As more details are fleshed out, however, there are still questions about the project which the department needs to answer. Specifically, how the new proposals sit alongside the existing “elearning platform” project which has seen all schools in Gauteng receive 40 Huawei tablets. Many schools are still awaiting teacher training around this rollout.

Sarietjie Musgrave, head of ICT at Free State University, has overseen school technology projects in rural areas in er province, and says that teacher training is the key to success.

“Bringing technology into our classrooms,” Musgrave says, “There are so many good things already happening. But if you introduce any form of tech in class [it raises fears] for the teacher about whether you know how to see it… it’s almost like we give the learner or the teacher a Ferrari but we forget to tar the road.”

Lesufi says that in order to improve the discussion around IT in schools and tap into local talent he;s instigated “Innovation Thursday” in his office. Any local business or entrepreneur can contact the department and pitch ideas directly to the MEC once a week.

Fancy trying that? Let us know how you get on.