On 3 December the Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, launched a technology programme in Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape to benefit learners and teachers in the rural area.
The Cofimvaba School District Technology Project is a joint initiative between the Department of Science and Technology, the national Department of Basic Education and the Eastern Cape Department of Education, and is aimed at contributing to the improvement of education in the rural area through technological innovation.
The Minister was joined at the launch by the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Enver Surty, the Eastern Cape MEC for Education, Mandla Makapula, and local authorities.
Addressing community members who attended the launch at the Arthur Mfebe Senior Secondary School, Minister Hanekom said global experience showed that efforts aimed at improving educational outcomes needed to extend beyond the classroom.
"This is because the inadequate provision of water, sanitation, energy and transport either at school, or where learners live, can negatively affect learner performance," said the Minister, also citing the negative effects of inadequate nutrition and healthcare on learning.
He said the policy learning that would be made as a result of this intervention would inform policy development and additional interventions that might be rolled out at district level and ultimately spilled over to other districts nationally.
Implemented by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) public entity, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the project provides for a range of technologies. Its primary aim is to examine whether and how technology can contribute to quality teaching and learning in a rural context.
For example, the Meraka Institute of the CSIR has installed a wireless mesh network in the area to open up access to broadband. In addition, about 16 local teachers and managers have received tablets and are being trained on how to use these in the classroom.
In another intervention, the provincial education department has invested R500 000 towards an experimental farm to enhance the teaching of agricultural management practice at the school. This contribution has seen the establishment of a piggery, a chicken coop, an orchard, experimental crop farming with drip irrigation, and a nursery.
In the pipeline are plans to establish a science centre that will serve as a skills training facility for teachers and unemployed youth on a range of technologies, including agricultural processing, building and maintenance.
Deputy Minister Surty welcomed this partnership, saying his department had been working with the DST to ensure that 1 650 schools in deep rural areas were provided with ICT infrastructure, with more than 800 schools having been supplied with equipment so far and a number of teachers having been trained.
To help improve Mathematics and Science literacy at the foundation phase, he said, from next year every learner in Grade 4, 5 and 6 would receive a text and a workbook in natural sciences and technology.
Talking about the importance of technology in education, he said government would not neglect learners in rural schools, as they also needed to prepare for university.
Dr Rachel Chikwamba, Group Executive: Strategic Alliances and Communication at the CSIR, said it was vital to liberate all parts of society, particularly the rural areas, where the bulk of the population and young people were.
Speaking about the possibilities that opened up when technology was integrated into education, Dr Chikwamba said, "We can bring up a cadre of youth that is technology savvy and well-equipped to be employable, as well as a cadre of youth that can create jobs for the communities in which they live".
She said technology could enable teachers to do their job more effectively and bring basic infrastructure to communities.
"The education of children does not just happen in a classroom - it happens within the context of society and the context of communities which support them and help to raise balanced people.
"We hope to learn - to learn through practice - what works, what doesn't, and what requires adjustment. We hope to replicate in a step-by-step manner the learning we acquire here."