WCED Future Focused Education Conference
Well, the day has finally arrived, and after many months of planning, it is my great privilege and pleasure to be the first human to officially open and welcome you to the historic first ever education conference hosted by the WCED.
This conference is an opportunity for the Western Cape education community, as well as education stakeholders across the country to network with leaders, strategic thinkers and entrepreneurs from Africa and across the globe, right here in our own province.
A very warm welcome to education officials, teachers, principals and education experts from the Western Cape, South Africa and further afield.
I am especially pleased to welcome to this conference 2018 Global Teacher of the Year Award Winner Andria Zafirakou from the UK, who will join us tomorrow, and Co-Founder of HeyMath, Nirmala Sankaran, from India.
And of course let me not forget Microsoft’s Pepper! (Pepper is Microsoft’s Humoid Robot that was programmed to also say a few words of welcome).
Our Superintendent General of the Department, Brian Schreuder, will join us later this afternoon after he jets in from the GESF in Dubai, where he witnessed the 2019 Teacher of the Year winner being announced yesterday – none other than Peter Tabichi from Kenya.
The phrase “Future Focused Education” was born in a hotel in Midrand, when myself and my HOD were trying to come up with a catchy slogan that encapsulates everything we are doing and wanting to do in education in the Western Cape.
It could quite legitimately be asked why we are wanting to worry about the future, when there are so many things we still have to deal with in the present, especially in our country.
But the reason, simply, is because we have no choice but to do both simultaneously. If we don’t, our young people are going to be at an even greater disadvantage than they are now.
The children that we are teaching today need skills that they will need for the rest of their lives.
So as a department we must direct a great deal of our attention to ensuring that our education system serves the dual purpose of ensuring that the basics are in place, and yet also anticipating and teaching the skills that will be needed when these children leave school, in up to 12 years’ time.
But education is not really known to be particularly quick to respond to change. And the same goes for government!
And with some good reason, because the system is huge. In the Western Cape alone we have over 1 000 000 learners and 40 000 staff, 33 000 of whom are teachers.
And so it is much easier to carry on doing what we’ve always done, not always realising or sufficiently appreciating that things have changed, and if we do not change with them, we are doing our young people a disservice in not preparing them adequately to face the world they must live and work in when they leave school. It obviously also has an impact on our country too, as if we do not adapt, we will not have the skills that we need in our economy to grow it and reduce our unacceptably high rate of unemployment. Future Focused Education is designed to ensure that we constantly focus on what is changing in the world and in education, and constantly apply our minds to how we can ensure that we are adequately preparing our learners to be productive citizens in a fast-changing, globalised world.
A crucial part of this is how we incorporate technology. Digital technologies are changing the way that learners learn, the way teachers teach, and where and when learning takes place.
So, firstly, Future Focused Education must focus on 3 things:
- Future Focused Learning
- Future Focused Teaching; and
- Future Focused Classrooms
Future Focused Learning – e-learning game changer
As a provincial government, we have identified e-learning as what has been termed a “game-changer”. It is part of our Strategic Goal 2: Improving Education Outcomes and opportunities for youth development.
We believe it is important because it will enable all our learners –and teachers - to access modern technology, and in so doing more easily access a variety of resources that would otherwise not be available to them. Of course, it is also essential in the modern economy to be computer literate, and many jobs are and will be needed in the field of technology in the future.
Our vision, initially, is to use eLearning to improve literacy and numeracy, as these are areas where we are still nowhere near where we should be. Also, more and more skills that are needed in the economy require maths. But simultaneously we are wanting to expand our offering to include coding and computational skills.
Of course, it is also essential for our teachers to be properly equipped in order to obtain maximal benefit in the system. Any profession requires ongoing professional development, and e-learning can likewise open up many opportunities for them to access quality training and tools to use in the classroom.
So we have developed the e-learning strategy into six streams, and refined the focus onto three of our top priorities in the department, namely teacher development, and improvements in maths and language.
The WCED is working to ensure that every school in the Province begins to feel the benefits and transformative nature of this exciting project.
As new technologies are used more and more in teaching and learning, as well as in the home and throughout social life, our learners need to develop more than just their ICT skills. They need a broad digital awareness of the wider context in which technologies operate in order that they can participate in this increasingly digital world. And that, of course, brings its own dangers that we also have to mitigate, with appropriate cyber-security policies.
Focusing on e-learning and digital literacy and participation is important because we need to equip our learners with the ability to be technologically competent and ask relevant, appropriate and critical questions in this environment.
This also means enhancing young people’s ability to use ICT in ways that strengthen their skills, knowledge and understanding as learners, and that heighten their capacities for social, cultural, civic and economic participation in everyday life.
A Grade 4 learner from a Western Cape school, named Ben, provided the following perspective on eLearning:
“I think digital learning has helped our class because it makes learning exciting. It also assists us to make learning faster. We can look up the spelling of words rather than using a dictionary. I think it makes learning fun and exciting when we get to use our iPads and the Digital Projector. It’s easy to learn to use apps and more fun. I like using iMovie, Keynote and Pages the most. I enjoy using my iPad with the iBooks because I can highlight and make notes as we go through it.”
Now we are not here to promote Apple, it just happened to be what he was using!
We are also focusing on making available resources to schools that cana’t afford them. This can help significantly to reduce the inequalities in education, as the well-resourced schools already have access to technology, and failure to provide it to those who cannot afford it will just exacerbate the inequalities we still face.
It is evident that the digital environment is already empowering learners and teachers as never before. We now need to ensure that all young learners have access to devices, networks, modern learning environments and future-focused teaching. This is where the challenge lies for us as government, in this current fiscal environment, as we simply cannot afford to provide all of that for all our learners. But we have taken the bold step of making a start, and creating the enabling environment. I am already seeing our schools taking some of their own initiative in this space too, which is exciting.
Some people have questioned whether we should be spending money on developing e-learning when there are so many other needs that we have. Our view is that we cannot afford NOT to do so, as we are doing our children a disservice if we do not equip them for life in the outside world. Interestingly, the stakeholders who understand poor communities have not complained about it at all – they realise the potential it has to bridge the gap between rich and poor schools.
Future focused teaching
We all know that such a bold initiative will not be successful if teachers do not embrace it. And unless the introduction of eLearning is accompanied by significant changes in the pedagogy and classroom practice, impact is limited.
We have to ensure that our principals, teachers, school management support and curriculum support teams are equipped to use technology effectively and innovatively. And we need them to WANT to use it. Some are too scared they will be shown up by the children! And some may be right .
It is critical that teachers and principals who will be benefitting from our E-learning initiative are orientated and trained in the integrated use of the new technology being introduced at their schools and incorporating it into the curriculum. The WCED has a comprehensive training programme that is provided for educators and principals who will benefit from the Smart School Project. The purpose of this is to empower our teachers and give them the confidence they need in using the technology effectively in the classroom.
But good leaders are also innovative, as I saw some time ago, when I visited a high school that is not one of our model schools (which I will explain shortly). The principal felt that the Department’s training was not meeting their needs, so he has identified a good teacher at the school and together they are developing new ways of delivering the curriculum at their school. That is the kind of leadership we need.
It also important that we engage with our teachers. I must share with you feedback from a teacher’s perspective on eLearning. A Grade 5 head shared the following feedback:
“I feel digital learning has changed the way of learning. It allows children to take control of their learning and allow teachers to take on the role of facilitators, to help children explore the curriculum.”
“Children have the chance to independently interact with the content, which encourages them to take responsibility for their learning.”
“Digital devices have also helped children with various difficulties, or to become more confident in their approach to learning.
The best effect is the ability for students to now transfer meaningful learning in a way that ignites passion and perseverance. These are our digital natives and digital learning is no longer an option.”
We will always need the teacher in the classroom – as we can see from Pepper, there are some things a robot just can’t do! But we need to adjust to a different way of teaching.
To assist our teachers, the WCED has also developed an online self-assessment tool to identify the eLearning training needs of individual teachers. Teachers at a first target group of 178 schools can now update their personal profiles, complete the online assessment from any internet enabled device (including cell phones), receive feedback on their personal competency level, consider available courses for every level, and book training by date, venue and times.
The online tool guides teachers, principals and officials through a set of statements which assesses the teacher’s technological ability and how he or she has succeeded in infusing this in the pedagogical context in the classroom. This helps to identify the user's knowledge and skills in using education technology, in a way in which those who are not quite so up-to-date on the technology front do not have to feel intimidated or self-conscious. The system then rates these skills and knowledge automatically and suggests training courses covering five levels of competency, from basic, introductory skills to advanced training on eTeaching.
Future Focused Schools
Digital technology has improved access to quality learning materials as well as resources for ongoing teacher development and has the potential of improving every aspect of schooling, from teaching and learning to assessment, school management and parent support.
We are also focusing on improving our e-Administration, to streamline our processes so that we avoid duplication of effort. I really hope I a live to see that materialise! It will not happen very soon, I’m afraid, but the Department is working hard at developing a system so that when one piece of information is entered onto the system, it can be used everywhere it is needed! We are also working hard to ensure that we use our data far more effectively, to enable evidence-based decision-making.
The WCED is aware that some schools are already providing leadership in eLearning, while others have the potential of doing so.
We have identified three types of schools for support, with varying roles and responsibilities.
The first type of school is the “Universal school” which are schools where teachers and learners will have access to digital resources via the WAN, computer laboratories and wi-fi access points.
The second type of school is the “Enhanced school”. These schools will have more resources to introduce, develop and experiment with eLearning concepts.
The Third type of school is the “Model School”. The Model Schools will provide an environment where, leveraging off the WAN and LAN infrastructure, every classroom will become a Smart Classroom, and every learner will be allocated a device. These schools, with their full eLearning environments and well-trained teachers, are launching our eLearning community of practice and will provide the environment where the school, principal, teachers and learners alike, embrace the culture of eLearning in Education, where we develop and provide learnings and examples of best practice methods of integrating eLearning into the classroom which will be shared throughout the Province.
The Model schools will provide leadership by demonstrating best practice in diverse contexts and will assist the department in building a culture of eLearning in all schools.
The WCG is providing high-speed broadband connectivity to almost every school in the province via a wide area network (WAN), and alternative connectivity to schools that cannot connect to the fibre-optic grid.
The WCED is providing local area networks (LANS) in schools as and when possible in terms of budget, and wifi connectivity for almost every site.
The department is providing technology progressively in schools, from equipping smart classrooms to refreshing computer laboratories, providing devices, teacher training and support, and we are providing access to digital teaching and learning materials via an ePortal. We will work with schools and content developers to populate the portal progressively with CAPS-aligned, digital resources.
We are working with schools and partners to lay a solid foundation for eLearning in the province.
One of the things that is hindering us is the safety of the technology. I hope that this will be discussed during this conference and some ideas developed for how we safeguard our equipment from criminals who quite literally rob our children of their opportunities.
21st Century Skills
But as important as technology is, it is by no means the only thing we need to incorporate in our teaching and learning in order to prepare future-ready globally competitive citizens.
We know that we are living in a rapidly changing world. We know that many of today’s jobs will be automated soon or simply won’t exist. We also know that people do not generally have one career for a lifetime anymore, and that many of the jobs we have to prepare our learners for do not yet exist. Preparing a child for a world that does not exist is a difficult task for any teacher. We therefore need to ensure that learners have the critical skills needed to survive and succeed in any world.
We are now talking about “21st century skills”, four of the most crucial of which are generally agreed as being Collaboration and Teamwork, Creativity and Imagination, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.
A Hanover Research analysis also identifies a second tier of important skills – Flexibility and Adaptability, Global and Cultural Awareness, Information Literacy and Leadership.
These are the skills that are regarded as essential for a person to be able to be economically active in the 21st century.
How many of them are we teaching our children?. Also, how many of these do we have ourselves?. Are we trying to develop them?
Now I know that we cannot keep on changing the curriculum, but we have to think about how we can teach these crucial skills within the system.
Technical and Vocational Skills
To ensure that we are adequately equipping our learners for the future, it is vital that we educate them in the skills that are needed in our economy. Many of these skills are technical and vocational in nature.
That is why I have been emphasizing technical schools a lot since I have come into office, and am very pleased that the National Department of Basic Education is now promoting the three stream model which includes academic, technical and vocational training. I am of the view that future focused education must include expanding opportunities to access technical and vocational education.
And lastly, we can’t plan for the future if we don’t have a Vision. And our Head of Department and his team have been working extremely hard to drive our vision of a province of excellence where every child has a quality education in every classroom in every school in the province. And this includes a programme of mindset change and growth mindset, as far too many of our teachers and learners have been traumatised by our history and what happens in some communities, that they don’t have the self-belief that they can do all these wonderful new things. Well they can – and they will.
We are pioneering new things in the Western Cape in Education. But we still have many difficulties to deal with along the way. I hope that you will have fruitful discussions over the next two days that will help us to better deal with some of these difficulties.
Ultimately, we hope to create the ladder of opportunity that young people need to become productive adults with brighter futures, so that we break the cycle of poverty in many of our communities. Our systems must support the development of “Future-Ready” learners in a Future Focused World.
I would like to thank the organisers of this conference for all the hard work in ensuring this event will be the success we are anticipating, which is that it will contribute to charting the way forward for innovation in school and education leadership in the 21st century, at a time of unbelievable change in global education.
I certainly look forward to learning from the many deliberations and having it impact meaningfully on education here in the Western Cape and in South Africa.