It’s been a little over five months since the official launch of paperless classrooms in a number of Gauteng government schools.

While the Gauteng Dpartment of Education has been quiet on how the schools involved in its Classrooms of the Future project are getting on, many other schools in the province – private and former model “C” – are embracing tablet-based education and seeing their pupils thrive. Not every experience has been positive, however.

SABC Education African EduWeek hosted a panel discussion on the subject from an educator’s perspective on its benefits and pitfalls.

Randfontein High School began implementing digital tools in their classes in 2014 before the Classrooms of the Future launch. All 1 3000 pupils at the school have an iPad they use during lessons and assessments, and every single classroom has been digitised.

Before going digital, the school started off by having all its staff trained. “Our older teachers above 60 years took a bit longer to adjust because we had to prod them a bit more during the training,” Randfontein High English teacher Jason Fisher told htxt.africa.

Jason Fisher (second from right)
Jason Fisher (second from right)

“I think they way it’s disseminated and the way the vision is made real to teachers, most teachers are very willing too learn. At our school we offer support for teachers during training and partner them with other very competent educators and they eventually get the hang of it,” he says.

The adoption of paperless classrooms hasn’t been without its problems, according to Fisher.

“Taking textbooks and simply putting PDF versions on tablets is completely going digital, there’s still so much more that needs to be done. We still have to mark essays on paper and kids write exams on paper at the end of the day. The theft of tablets has been disheartening but we’re glad there’s action being taken to solve that already,” he says.

On the positive side, Fisher says the system has helped improve the quality of the school’s matric exam results and in monitoring learners’ progress during lessons and communicating with them when they’re not inside the classrooms.

As a languages teachers, Fisher says he is able to make literature, particularly those of a historical nature such as Shakespeare, come alive for the learners and get them to better understand it and be more interested in it.

Hazel Bonaretti, a teacher at Springs Boys High School, says the transition to elearning is longer than most teachers, parents and learners perceive it to be.

While the system certainly has many benefits and is a major step forward, “the notion that elearning is all about making work easier for teachers is a myth, we’re working harder than ever before,” she says.

“Conducting assessments are sometimes an issues due to the duplication of admin work we have to do digitally and on paper,” she says, “In terms of lessons, on site tech support is absolutely invaluable because they can show us where to go and what to do along the way.”

Bonaretti added that the content on tablets needs to be revisited and PDF textbooks version should be perhaps be replaced by versions that contain a lot more multimedia and enable learners to engage more with it beyond just reading it.

Hazel Bonaretti (third from left)
Hazel Bonaretti (third from left)

“We’re looking at a situation where we may have to re-look the roll out method of paperless classrooms in the next couple of years due to the issues currently faced,” Bonaretti says.

Andre Christian, education business development manager at Intel shared Bonaretti’s views on usage and implementation. “We must be careful with strategy implementation otherwise technology will begin to hamper learning,” he said. “Teachers and learners must be able to contribute to what goes into it, because they are the ones who have to use it at the end of the day. The top-down implementation approach doesn’t work anymore.”

“Technology isn’t a magic wand; it’s an accelerator that enables learners to acquire skills they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.”