learning landscapes in southern africa


Sustainable computer use in schools

Herbert Thomas, University of Free State and Johannes Cronje, University of Pretoria
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Sustainable Computer Use in Schools

In the early 1990s the Free State Education department launched the CALIS (Computer-Assisted Learning In Schools) project, by which a number of schools were selected to identify a number of teachers who would be trained in the pedagogy of computer-integrated learning. These teachers were then supplied with one computer for every three learners, to be used as part of their regular classes. In 1995/6, as a result of policy changes and a shift in priorities by the new democratic government the CALIS project was abandoned, yet, now in 2005/6 we have found that there are a surprising number of schools who are either still using these computers, or, who have subsequently, on their own initiative, upgraded their facilities. The question we ask is Why? What were the factors that contributed to the sustained use of computers in schools. An analysis of the data on seven levels, suggests reasons in four categories: Personal, physical, programmatic, and systemic.

Physically a number of factors contributed. The restriction of the project to about seven computers per teacher to be installed in a regular classroom meant that the machines were always available. The vast physical distances of a rural province were overcome by a district-based structure with frequent district meetings. Additional support was provided by frequent site visits by the project team and the annual CALIS conference. In terms of the project the most striking factor lies in the enormous investment in training. The project team first trained themselves by means of overseas visits and consultation with academics from Pretoria. They then trained staff of the teachers' centres, and finally much effort went into training the educators. Educator training was both formal, by way of enrolling them in the Masters' course of the University of Pretoria, and informal by way of in-service training both at district level in the teachers centres, and at regional level during the CALIS conference. Further training occurred in the form of peer tutoring by participating teachers of their colleagues, and of the parents who assisted in the project. Systemically the buy-in from all levels contributed enormously. From the provincial chief executive who would allocate additional funding, through the programme team and even the mothers in the disadvantaged communities it was clear that there was a great will to succeed. Two recurrent themes that could be seen from the interviews were the metaphor of the seed. Time and time again interviewees would refer to the fact that they were planting seeds and encouraging them to grow. In this primarily corn-growing rural province the appropriateness of the metaphor cannot be underestimated. Secondly the very traditional view of educators as "missionaries" was very clear. The educators seemed to be religiously inspired to dedicate themselves to innovative teaching strategies. Thus an ironic tension existed between the traditional role of the teacher as provider of learning, and the new role of the teacher as innovator. The educators managed to integrate the two as they re-defined themselves as leaders in the learning process.