South Africa’s Gauteng Province Tests Tablet Pilot


South Africa's 2015 academic year kicked off with the promise to connect every child in the province of Gauteng to a world of better educational opportunities.

Seven Gauteng schools hailed the introduction of tablets to spearhead the new paperless education system pilot project and plans to upgrade public schools with the IT infrastructure and connectivity.

Named ‘The Big Switch On,' the program was launched by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, supported by Gauteng Premier David Makhura and Education MEC Panyaz Laesufi at Boitumelong Secondary School in Sedibeng Section, Tembisa.

The seven schools benefiting from the pilot are Sunward Park, Thandi Elanor Sibeko, Ponelopele Oracle Secondary, Boitumelong, Tlamatlama Primary, Tshepisa Primary, and Phumolong Secondary.

The national government supported the move, while Ramaposa stated the importance of the program.

"Technology, the internet, a multi-skilled workforce, innovation, and collaboration are critical to the success of the knowledge economy."

The paperless education program will provide students access to learning material, workbooks and other subject matter via the employment of information communications technology (ICT).

The pilot will be assessed over a period of two years with the aim of ensuring paperless classrooms in all public schools by the year 2018, writes Adam Oxford of ZDNet.

The program is the first move which focuses on bringing to reality Gauteng's vision of creating a world class education system. It hoped to modernize the public education system and improve overall performance rates of students within it.

The project is being led by Panyaza Laesufi.

"This is my commitment. There will be no difference in education between township schools and other schools… we're not looking to compete with other provinces in South Africa, we're competing with schools in Ghana, India, Brazil and Russia.This is a revolution to empower and equip our children. In the future these children won't rely on grants, they'll rely on skills."

The Big Switch On was inspired by Sunward Park, a local fee-paying public school which substituted textbooks for tablets around two years back.

The tablets are Android-powered Huawei MediaPads that were obtained a year ago for another project. Each school in the pilot is equipped with optical fiber connection and wi-fi network that has been set up by Ruckus Wireless. Each tablet also comes with 4G connectivity with a bandwidth tailored to allow children to study at home.

According to a section of their license commitments, South African mobile operators are expected to provide free internet access for underprivileged communities. However, most of them opt to pay fines over catering to the needs of the communities.

Lesufi stated that any savings from the textbook budget when students switch to ebooks can be used to cover other costs.

Students, such as tenth-grader Pearl Mokoena, anticipate the initiation of the program with high hopes that it will make learning more exciting.

"I do not think I will ever miss a day of school again and I will never have a reason to fail science or maths ever."

The major challenge faced by the project though is dealing with the security of the students holding tablets, as even low cost tablets possess a high value within the disadvantaged communities influenced by the program. Students facing risks of attack are encouraged to hand over their tablets while local police departments and private security firms have promised cooperation in recovering any stolen tablets via tracking software.

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