Province gets behind e-learning

NABEELAH MOHEDEEN

Given the increase in the amount of pupils in the Western Cape, government will never be able to afford the number of teachers needed in the province, therefore e-learning will become an integrated part of learning in our schools.

So said premier Helen Zille in her state of the province address recently, singling out Eros Primary School in Athlone, which caters for pupils who have specific learning difficulties or are physically challenged by cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or genetic conditions, as an example where e-learning is already yielding results.

Ms Zille said the province is allocating major resources behind e-learning because they understand the importance of connectivity among young people. “We understand the importance of connectivity in creating opportunity and opening up a world of knowledge for more young people. We also know that the way in which young people interact, engage and learn is changing. That is why we are putting major resources behind e-learning. Specifically, we are working to enhance the teaching and learning experience, predominantly in maths and languages, of all Western Cape pupils through the use of technology.”

Speaking to the Athlone News, Joelene Juries, head of Eros School’s foundation phase, said e-learning has helped her to get away from the usual classroom learning and is especially a help for pupils who struggle with their speech.

“In 1980 we received computers from different universities because we needed it for our pupils. We used typewriters and tape recorders which assisted the pupils to get their matric certificates. Our old overhead projector has now been replaced with a data projector and a visualiser to get away from ordinary classroom learning,” said Ms Juries.

“Some of the pupils who cannot speak properly use the screen to select the toilet symbol to show me that they need to use the toilet, so it assists with their communication skills.”

Eros School now has 14 smart classrooms which consists of a laptop, a data projector, a Mimio interactive teaching device, and a visualiser. The pupils are able to select labels on a diagram with the Mimio device, and manipulate the content to the way they understand it. It allows the action of repetitive work which the pupils need in order to remember their work. The smart classrooms also allow for visual stimulation which according to the teachers helps a lot because it is better for the pupils to see a moving object rather than to hear someone repeating it.

“It allows for greater visual and auditory stimulation. Pupils can see the variety of colours and hear the sound on the clips. They can connect to the internet and research content they are learning at that time. They can do quizzes, puzzles, and we can give them immediate feedback on their work. Because they can interact with the technology themselves it makes it more real for them. It motivates them to do better and push themselves to get past their problems. Each time they do a a puzzle or quiz it becomes easier to complete.

“Some of the challenges, however, is that we need a technician at the school to be available in case we need to ask him something about the equipment so that the lessons can run smoothly. “

Another school who uses smart classroom technology is Mary Harding Training Centre in Athlone. The school started using interactive whiteboards three years ago and caters for intellectually disabled pupils.

Intermediate phase teacher Edward Ontong, said the interactive whiteboards allow the pupils to move shapes around, write text, and move figures on the board.

“At the moment we are doing the theme ‘time’ so we have a clock on the board.The pupils can move the arms of the clock to whatever time it is and write what the digital time is.

“Our pupils respond very well to visual moving images, it is more effective than hearing it from someone’s mouth. The boards help them with writing and reading because they can do it over and over which increases their memory. Ten of our classrooms now have interactive whiteboards,” Mr Ontong said.

Foundation phase teacher Jonathan Gordon said the white board helps the pupils with their writing skills and is very user-friendly.

“Pupils can write on the board in their handwriting and if it is untidy the white board will convert it to neater handwriting. We use a Mimio pen which is a two piece device which can be used to select objects on the board.

“The docking station with the other part of the device detects where the pen is and what is it doing,” said Mr Gordon.

“The pupils love their smart classrooms. They immediately get excited when the board is switched on. Because of their 5-6 minute attention span they need visual stimulation to keep them attentive. This is a very good tool to have in the class because it helps the teachers a lot. It has all the editing facilities like a normal computer,” Mr Gordan said.

Ms Zille said the government aims to have free high speed internet available in all schools by the end of 2016.

“We delivered over 3300 smart classrooms in the 2014/15 financial year and will have delivered a great deal more by the end of this financial year in April,” she said.