Education systems often reflect the destinies of nations. They are the vehicles that bring about societal change which become vital instruments that shape the people of tomorrow. Education and the appropriate technology to develop skills aligned to a changing world are fundamental to a country’s development and growth.

Using App Technology To Solve The Problem Of Poor Education

This study explores the crisis within the education system in South Africa and how it can be addressed using application technology by studying teachers and learners from different grades in secondary schools in the Vhembe district in Limpopo Province.

South Africa has had a unique education system until 1994, which was based on The Bantu Education Act of 1953. Racial segregation in education became mandatory under the Act, and education for people of colour was based on an inferior curriculum. Decades after democracy, the South African education system is continuously being adjusted to be on par with the rest of the continent and the world at large, and in the process, it is frequently criticised for its poor quality when compared to other nations.

Post-1994, in addressing the education of “an apartheid-era” numerous attempts were made “to correct the inequalities of the past”. Curriculum changes were the first attempt. The curriculum of 2005 was revised to the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) and the Outcomes Based Education (OBE) with the objective being to “cleanse” the racist education system. The Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, eventually announced the new approach, the CAPS system, an acronym for Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements which was executed in 2012 for Grades 10 and Grades R-3 (Curriculum News, 2011:5).  The objective of CAPS was to improve teaching and learning as well as improve the skills and knowledge of students in South Africa.

With no escape from the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), it was established that technology was firmly connected with teaching and learning. 4IR is changing our general surroundings and evolving education. More importantly, it can expand students’ knowledge and achievement and has the potential to make them learned citizens of the world. Despite all the challenges, the introduction of technology can salvage the education system in the country.

Education in South Africa has consistently been fraught with many challenges in its path to producing competent learners who are ready to engage successfully with the rapidly changing world. The failure of South Africa’s education system has had an intense effect on the country’s economy contributing to the current high rates of unemployment.

The Vhembe District, in the Limpopo Province, which is the chosen area of study, has not been spared from these challenges. In the epoch of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, many schools are still using the traditional approach to teaching and learning and have not yet adopted present-day technology in the classroom. This brings us to the aim of this study which is “to explore the possibility of using application technology in solving the problem of poor education in South Africa”.

The Introduction of Technology to Education:

The introduction of technology to all facets of life cannot be ignored. It is here to stay so no matter how “third world we are” we have to adapt and embrace these changes if we are to be part of the community of nations and what better place to begin than in the field of education.

Technology can be defined as a set of knowledge, skills, experience and techniques through which humans change, transform and use the environment around them to create tools, machines, products and services that meet the needs and desires of people (Raja & Nagasabramani, 2018). This ingenuity drove the previous industrial revolutions and it is driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Computers, smartphones, tablets, electric vehicles, and planes amongst other things are the latest technology. Education technology has also become advanced through the use of flash notes, lore, study blue, chrome books, and celli instead of using paper, notes and chalks and chalkboards.

The integration of Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) in education refer to the utilisation of computer-based correspondence that fuses into the everyday study. ICT integration in education generally means technology-based teaching and learning processes that closely relate to the utilisation of learning technologies in schools (Grabe, 2017). Since students are familiar with technology, they will learn better within a technology-based environment, hence the issue of ICT integration in schools, specifically in the classroom is vital (DoE, 2013). The use of technology in education contributes to many pedagogical aspects where the application of ICT leads to effective learning (Jamieson-Procter et al., 2013). ICT provides the help and complementary support for both teachers and students where it involves learning with the help of computers to serve the purpose of learning aids (Jorge et.al., 2013).  This leads us to the conclusion that technology is perhaps the most powerful component shaping the academic landscape today.

AN OVERVIEW OF APPLICATION TECHNOLOGY

Application technology is a programme or software package that performs a specific function directly for an end-user (Larkin, 2011). There are different examples of applications which include word processors, web browsers, database programs, development tools, image editors and communication platforms. Examples of proprietary applications that can be used in schools include reading eggs, learning English, Listening Master, ABCmouse.com, Kahoot, and Quizlet, among others. The application of technology tools and devices in the teaching and learning processes involves the usage, knowledge, skill and competence in solving problems or performing specific functions during academic activities (Picciano & Seaman, 2010). Hence application technology is the use of physical hardware, software and educational theoretics to facilitate learning and improve performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources. This is usually what people refer to as “EdTech”.Researchers have viewed application technology and blended learning as an extremely popular way of academic improvement for students. Schools, universities and colleges are now using application technology and blended learning methods to deliver teaching lessons and lectures to students, at seminars and conferences (Schlosser & Simonson, 2010).

As with the introduction of all new things, we rely on tested theories to provide a framework for understanding. A theory allows us to link the abstract and the concrete. It is a system of interconnected ideas that condenses and organises knowledge and explains how it works.

The Constructivist Theory of Learning:

The constructivist theory of learning is based on the principle that students build new knowledge based on prior knowledge. It is an approach to teaching based on how children learn. It is a process in which knowledge, already residing within the learner is altered and expanded as new information is added. The theory of Constructivism has been recognized as one of the primary learning theories in education, it focuses on learning as a change in behaviour, learning as an internal process followed by an application, and learning as information constructed by the learner (Driscoll, 2007). The introduction and good use of learning technologies can promote good and effective learning by providing an environment that fosters independent learner-centred experiences. The theory puts the learner at the centre and in control of the learning experience. Learning technologies promote the learning process. It demonstrates the rate of change in academia which has far-reaching effects. It prepares the learners for the future embracing the evolving role of technology.

Current Challenges in Education:

Despite attempts to amend the curriculum to embrace blended learning, the present challenges that education faces pose a greater threat to the economy of the country. Blended learning is a method of teaching that integrates technology and digital media with traditional instructor-led classroom activities, giving students more flexibility to customize their learning experiences. These challenges are the rate of school dropouts, the lack of basic skills and inequities in education.

  • School Dropout – At present, the school dropout rate is very high, especially among those with learning difficulties and problem behaviour. Exclusion from class due to disciplinary measures is another contributing factor. Ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic location, emotional disturbances, failure in a grade, and feelings of isolation and alienation often lead to social and psychological disengagement that results in school dropout. It is anticipated that if schools implement application technology it might help in reducing the dropout rate.
  • Lack of Basic Skills – A lack of basic reading, writing and mathematical skills among students and educators is one of the challenges schools are currently facing. Learners do not get the full value of the learning experience because of their limited vocabulary which inhibits their ability to participate and contribute. The scores in mathematics and science subjects in South Africa are of the lowest on the continent.  If schools in South Africa used application technology, it will assist in raising these scores.
  • Inequities in Education – Inequities in education have given rise to internal inefficiencies and unequal educational outcomes. While some schools are well-resourced with computer centres, libraries and science laboratories, most learners continue to be educated in conditions of extreme neglect. The implementation of application technology has the potential to address this challenge (Obiakor & Beachum, 2015).

The Challenges of Using Application Technology

Although the intention of using application technology in schools is commendable, it is, however, plagued by many challenges. Some of these challenges are briefly described hereunder.

  • Insufficient Equipment – The implementation of educational technology is often not feasible due to the lack of adequate computers and fast internet connections. This hinders learners from becoming responsible digital citizens as they do not have access to a global community to improve the world around them (Bransford, Brown and Cocking, 2010). Schools should therefore have adequate equipment for the successful implementation of application technology to aid in the solution of poor education.
  • Infrastructure – In preparing students to achieve success academically in these rapidly changing times requires a robust infrastructure capable of global connectivity and engagement. Reliable connectivity is the foundation for developing an environment conducive to studying. It allows for immediate access to information. Developing an interactive, socially connected technology environment, allows students to interact beyond the classroom. The use of technology allows students to become familiar with the design and development of learning environments which also actively engage with educators thereby creating a stimulating learning environment. The internet is an avenue to bring the world into a classroom. Educational leaders should ensure that students have the right to connectivity and the necessary equipment to facilitate high-quality learning.
  • High-quality Digital Content – Kurtz and Sponder (2010) postulate that schools and colleges need to ensure that students have access to a variety of high-quality digital learning materials and resources to support their learning. The ability to curate and share digital learning content is an important component of a robust infrastructure for learning. One of the most effective ways to provide high-quality digital learning materials at scale is by using openly licensed educational resources (Coe & Priest, 2014). These resources may be used, modified, and shared without paying any licensing fees or requesting permission. Open licenses for this purpose have been created by organizations such as Creative Commons for learning resources. Openly licensed materials also allow teachers to exercise their own creativity and expertise so they can tailor learning materials to meet the needs of their students.  Unfortunately, schools do not have these available to them hence a challenge.
  • Inadequate Training – Without adequate training in new technology teachers and students will not be capable to obtain its maximum benefit. It is crucial that instructors and educators are willing to embrace the use of ICT tools and techniques without any reservations and in a manner that expedites the transformation from the old to the new version of learning (Coe & Priest, 2014).
  • Support Constraint – The barriers to technology integration in schools are inadequate technical, administrative and financial support. Finance is always a key challenge when working to bring technology to the classroom. A lack of financial support results in a lack of overall resources (Burns, 2010)

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