The early introduction of technology in schools is important so to close the gap between where current graduates are and where they need to be. Experts say technology can provide opportunities for children to become technologically literate at an early age, even those children without any means at home.
Michelle Lissoos, Managing Director of Think Ahead – an organisation that specialises in working with schools, ministries, CSI partners and foundations to plan and implement technological solutions to meet teacher and learner needs – said technological literacy goes further than digital literacy, “in that children with strong technological literacy are able to use, manage, understand and assess technology.”
According to a recent paper by McKinsey, the adopting of digital technologies at an early age could result in a net gain of 1.2 million jobs for South Africans by 2030.
The paper also predicts that productivity growth would be tripled, and per capita income doubled.
Nomfanelo Magwentshu, Partner at McKinsey & Company said one key challenge in South Africa is that the country has been slow to nurture the skills needed for companies to compete and grow in an increasingly technology-driven world.
“That matters for the millions of young South Africans struggling to build their own futures,” said Magwentshu.
Lissoos said filling these jobs would require graduates with higher life skills and strong technology-related backgrounds.
“Our South African reality, however, is that many learners attending schools are from homes without a strong technological infrastructure. Children need to be taught those skills that robots cannot do,” she said.
Candice Joubert, an educator at Charterhouse Pre-Primary School said the responsibility to teach children digital and technological skills rests on the education sector. Joubert said the sector should ensure that graduates have enough technological skills to fill projected demands.
“There are many situations where educators can utilise technology to spark creativity within learners.
“Learners with a lack of resources in the home can be exposed to music, dance, drama, art and photography through the use of quality apps,” said Joubert.
Adding that in the absence of available materials, apps such as Auryn Ink allows learners to create realistic looking watercolour artworks on a classroom iPad.
Joubert said that when learners need a space to create and share stories, the Storyrobe app provides an educator with the platform to do just that.
She said a quick internet search returns countless further apps that could be used to encourage expression and creativity.
Access to the internet remains a problem in South Africa.
According to the latest Statistic South Africa General Household Survey, just over 10.4% of South African households have access to the internet at home. This number is just 1.7% in Limpopo and 3% in the North West.
The Stats SA survey states that computer ownership in the country only sits at 21.5% with only 7.3% of households in metropolitan areas, 1.7% in rural areas with access to the internet at home.
“The responsibility, therefore, rests on the Education sector to ensure that these graduates will be available, at a scale large enough to fill projected demands,” said Joubert.
Joubert said a new kind of adult is needed for the future South Africa.
Technology is how we enable our children to become those adults, she said.
Joubert added that educators need to move towards using technology as a tool to enable learners to become creative, empathetic, higher-order thinkers.
“We already have the problems. It is time to start equipping our problem-solvers from a young age,” she said.
Adding that the Internet allows for learners to retrieve vast amounts of information on any number of subjects, which results in a greater challenge when it comes to forming conclusions and opinions.
“Even our youngest learners can develop their thinking skills by making use of fun, engaging tools like Terrapin’s Bee-Bots.
“These programmable robots are designed specifically for young children, and can be used in the classroom for all manner of problem solving.
“Young learners will be able to communicate and collaborate while manipulating the Bee-Bot through and along obstacles, solving problems as they encounter them and learning from prior mistakes,” she said.