A panel at the Trialogue CSI Conference, held in Bryanston on 24 and 25 May 2016, debated the merits of using ICT as a mechanism to deliver education. The panellists all agreed that ICT enhances learning, but that an understanding of the learning context, the teaching pedagogy and the entire technology ecosystem are essential to a successful digital learning experience.

ICT in education panel (fltr): Ben-Carl Havemann, Steve Vosloo, Mthobeli Tengimfene and Thabang Skwambane

ICT in education panel (fltr): Ben-Carl Havemann, Steve Vosloo, Mthobeli Tengimfene and Thabang Skwambane

“The most important thing to understand is that this is a new frontier and we are learning every day,” said Ben-Carl Havemann, chief product and strategy officer at The Reach Trust. “Another important factor to take into consideration is that technology has changed basically every sphere of our lives, so there’s a natural transition into education as well.”

However, he said that this will only be successfully achieved by product developers if they clearly identify the purpose of their products, identify the end user and use a blended approach to share learnings, rather than trying to implement a one-size-fits-all solution.

Steve Vosloo, the head of mobile at Pearson South Africa, agreed that using a blended approach is best. “Printed books are technology. But can a child look at a printed book and understand photosynthesis? A video will make more sense to them.”

He added that what he finds exciting about ICT in education is the new frontier of interconnected users on a continent that until recently had very low levels of connectivity. “Africa has never been connected on a substantial scale, but now there are millions of connections. It’s incredible to be plugged into a community of people that you can reach, and who are able to reach back.”

Mthobeli Tengimfene, executive head at the Vodacom Foundation, shared his organisation’s years of learnings in implementation. “What we’ve learnt over the years is that to use technology without consideration of the sociological aspect leads to failures. Technology by itself can’t stand, you have to take into account the target and the intended outcome. Unless it is linked to that, technology itself will not succeed.”

He said that all successful interventions are those that use technology as an enabler, not as the solution itself. “How it is utilised needs to be informed by pedagogy. If you understand that technology is an enabler, it’s a tool teaching a person and not something standing alone, then it will have a better chance of success.”

Vosloo added that digital learning is a journey, and there is a spectrum of penetration, from “not at all” to South Korea being fully digital – and different schools, cities and counties are all in different places on that journey.

“For example, very low tech doesn’t provide the advances that technology promises, but it is an important step along the journey. If you are talking about pedagogy – and a teacher says something that the 70 children repeat four times, then you give them a whiteboard but they are still doing lessons in the same way, then the pedagogy has not caught up.”

Tengimfene added that teachers are the aggregators of learning. “The teacher has to embrace the solution. Learners can be targeted through their excitement in using the technology, but pedagogical elements can get lost in the process. It’s important to focus on those, because once you’ve trained a teacher, the teacher can train multiple others.”

However, he emphasised that no one organisation can deliver a full implementation of educational ICT in isolation. “We acknowledge that we cannot provide all that is necessary on our own. We need to find other partners. We’re not talking about one gadget, we are talking about an ecosystem, we’re talking about content, we’re talking about hardware, software and connectivity. The solution needs to be able to talk to the whole ecosystem of technology.”