Afrobarometer’s recent report “Developing Africa’s Infrastructure: the Rough Road to Better Services”, reveals that more people across 34 African countries have access to a cellphone network than they do to electricity, piped water or a clinic.
South Africa has the most developed telecommunications network on the continent and the use of mobile phones has exploded in the 2000’s – with usage increasing from 17% of adults in 2000 to 76% in 2010. Although half the country’s population live below the poverty line, more than 75% of people in low income groups who are 15 years or older own a mobile phone.
With an education system in a state of crisis and a government failing to take responsibility, it is time for South Africans to take matters into their own hands and seize the opportunity that technology offers. Twenty years ago if someone had predicted that the majority of the population would be contactable by phone – no one would have believed it. But the cell phone can be used as a valuable learning tool if managed correctly.
One such example is explained by Kathy McCabe, CEO of Radical Learning, a training and skills development enterprise and software developer, which created a new product to support educators using cell phone technology. Says McCabe: “We have designed simple, effective daily lesson plans for teachers to use in maths and literacy from Grade R to Grade 3. With the companion product, a weekly homework activity schedule, parents too can keep up to date with what their children are learning. Much needed support is available at the touch of a cell phone button! All that a teacher or parent needs is a cell phone that can access the internet.”
Another example is the VITAL Maths project at Rhodes which uses short video clips playable on cell phones to demonstrate mathematical concepts.
Although a cell phone can in no way replace a teacher or a classroom, it is important that their potential value as a tool to empower learners is harnessed for positive benefit. Imagine if homework support groups, problem solving text messages, apps to learn languages, history and science were available to the thousands of learners across the country who are thirsty for knowledge, desperate for feedback on their work and don’t know how to access more information. Cellphone technology can be used for training outside of the school environment too – in the workplace to inform employees about company events, payroll dates and safety. They can be used to transmit ideas and designs and to ensure that employees all receive a common message on key communication points.
The potential is enormous and could signify an enormous breakthrough for our education system. Better yet, the technology exists, we do not need to rely on government delivery, we just need to be proactive.