South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is providing multimedia tablets and training to 160 teachers at 11 schools in the Eastern Cape as part of a project that aims to develop a mobile teaching model that can be applied countrywide.
The CSIR's Meraka Institute said on Friday that it had completed a one-year pilot phase in which 17 teachers at Arthur Mfebe Senior Secondary School in Cofimvaba were trained in using digital content on tablets to support traditional teaching and learning.
A comprehensive mobile learning curriculum had been developed for this purpose, the CSIR said, and learnings from the pilot phase were being applied in the first phase of the project, which would see tablets rolled out to 11 additional schools over the next two years.
The rollout began on Friday, and would be followed by a second phase, starting in 2014, in which tablets would be rolled out to a further 14 schools.
The Meraka Institute's Merryl Ford believes that the innovative use of mobile technology has the power to transform education.
"These devices will help to change the landscape of education in rural areas, allowing teachers and students greater access to knowledge and education resources," Ford said in a statement on Friday.
She added that the project was "turning old models and approaches upside down by starting with the most disadvantaged schools in the country ... If what we're doing works in rural schools, it will work anywhere."
The project employs a "learn to earn" model, in which teachers get the opportunity to earn their tablets by attending training courses once a month in the afternoons, and by using them in their classrooms to support teaching and learning processes. This is further supported by a system in which teachers are rewarded with "digital badges" to encourage their progress.
Once the teachers at each school show that they are ready, the rollout will be extended to learners as well. At Arthur Mfebe Senior Secondary, the second phase began on 18 July with each matric student receiving their own tablet to support their studies.
"We want to develop a sustainable, replicable model that can be implemented across the country," Ford said, adding: "The project is a partnership between ourselves, government, teachers and learners where everyone has a responsibility to make it work.
"We are doing this with the schools, not for them, and we hope that by helping them become agents in their own success, the project will be successful far beyond our involvement."
The project, dubbed ICT4RED, is a sub-projects of the over-arching Technology for Rural Education Development (TECH4RED) project, a collaborative effort between the national departments of Science and Technology, Basic Education and Rural Development and Land Reform, and the Eastern Cape Department of Education.