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Inside South Africa's First Fully Digital Government School 47

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-more-papers-no-more-books dept.
An anonymous reader writes "State education in South Africa has been described as 'in crisis'. A recent report (pdf) says that even the top 20% of private schools only achieve the same results as the average in other middle income countries like Chile. In maths and science, teachers often can't answer and don't understand the questions they have to set their pupils. One government school in Johannesburg, however, has taken an enormously bold step and gone 'fully digital' in a move that others may follow. Since January, all pupils have been required to buy a tablet computer instead of textbooks — which, astonishingly, saves families around R500 ($50) in the first year and R1500 ($150) in subsequent years, a huge amount of money for many families there. The teachers are confident that that learning outcomes are better as well — and if the end of year tests in a month's time are positive, other schools may follow suit."
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Inside South Africa's First Fully Digital Government School

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  • by oic0 (1864384) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @12:01PM (#45251565)
    Were they not able to sell or trade used books before? I know in college they change books like every year to squeeze more money out of you, but I figured in south africa they might assume the people cant quite afford it and use the same book year after year.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by beelsebob (529313)

      Were they not able to sell or trade used books before? I know in college they change books like every year to squeeze more money out of you, but I figured in south africa they might assume the people cant quite afford it and use the same book year after year.

      If you think changing the book is to squeeze money out of you, and not... you know, because you've finished learning from it and need something else to learn, then you're in trouble. Using the same book year after year is probably one of the reasons the learning outcomes are so terrible :P

      • by evilviper (135110) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @01:24PM (#45252009) Journal

        If you think changing the book is to squeeze money out of you, and not... you know, because you've finished learning from it and need something else to learn, then you're in trouble. Using the same book year after year is probably one of the reasons the learning outcomes are so terrible

        Back in college, I enrolled in the intro to C++ course in the summer semester, bought the book, and attended the first few classes, but had to drop it when I realized my course load was too heavy. I re-enrolled in the fall, no problem, only to find the C++ book had been updated to a new edition, which was almost exactly the same, but had changed the layout just enough that page numbers were completely out-of-whack, chapter numbers didn't quite match either, and there were a few small wording changes in some of the assignments that significantly changed them.

        I wasn't too interested in buying another $60+ book, that I was previously told would be good for all three semesters of C++. As a result, those handful of us with the old books spent half the class tracking down what examples everyone else was looking at, and hours figuring out where to find the assignments we needed to complete, which were sometimes slightly different. Of course the teacher wasn't interested in the changes and just didn't want to be bothered. In the end, about half the people with the old books ended up buying new ones halfway through the class. And those of us who kept the old couldn't manage anything more than a C in that class.

        It's many years of incidents like that which left me with very little respect for textbook publishers, college education, and teachers in general. Anything which undermines that horrible system, while actually providing a reasonable education, is aces in my book.

        • Digital books aren't going to help this at all. Instead, you will have the opportunity to rent the book for 80-90% of the cost of buying the physical book, and it will magically disappear from your tablet once your semester is over.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            "Digital books aren't going to help this at all. Instead, you will have the opportunity to rent the book for 80-90% of the cost of buying the physical book, and it will magically disappear from your tablet once your semester is over."

            They paid a few retired teachers and profs to create new books, free, as in free beer.
            As it should have been done 100 years ago.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          There is no reason why books can't be (aside from printing costs) free. So much money could be saved (for taxpayers, people paying for college, and for schools in general) if the government just had some experts produce high-quality books and then released them into the public domain, assuming they'd be used. It's truly sad that we allow the textbook publishers and schools to get away with such egregious corruption.

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          C++? I learned it in a week in order to teach it to a class of students, and the first edition of the book was so new that I used online notes and documents.

          What about other books? What has changed so much in algebra and geometry that they need new books? When I was in school we always had old books in the school, new books were only there to replace the ones that wore out.

          • I couldn't agree more, the subject matter does not change from year to year. I remember when I was in my final year in high school getting my accountancy text book and realising that it was the same one my sister had 4 years previously (I noticed because of the bored doodlings in the pages). If they are changing the text books yearly it means it's just a way to suck more money out of people.
        • couldn't manage anything more than a C in that class

          Not even a C+?

        • by Dthief (1700318)
          So make a friend (or even more).....and do the problems in their book on the assigned pages......

          I know friends are scary.....but thats part of the college experience.

          Sometimes its just that wording one certain questions was unclear such that lots of students misunderstood the question, or new information or a better way of explaining a section (or realizing a section was being glossed over too quickly) is often the motivation. Education, like science, is not static, and sometimes one idea of how to pres

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      When i was in primary school you rented them. ( both in actual hard dollars, and in taxes )

      In my college, like your experience, a lot of times they would change the book 'just enough' so the next class wouldn't get to use them and had to buy their own copies new. ( that is what you get when your professors write the books that are used in class )

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        We often used the same books year after year in university, especially those books for courses that don't change much. Sure there'd be a new edition every 2 or 3 years but you didn't need new editions because the subject matter wasn't changing much. So using the used book store was the best deal, and if occasionally one of the math assignments had a problem that wasn't in your old edition then you asked someone who had a new book what it was.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      dunno.. how many of your highschool books were you actually able to resell?

      reselling the books might work if the books were published by the school and stayed the same for at least few years..... and besides that, the value for new books is obviously different than for used books.

      (oh and I remember getting sometimes used books in school but that was elementary school during the early '90s depression in finland... because the books were provided by the school, they were used).

    • No!

      First lets put this into perspective. The ANC led goverment have closed down about 2000 schools since 1994. That is saying something. Schools are mostly self funded. There is some money from the goverment but a significant number of students are paid from the schools own funds (School funds) paid by parents. So in areas where parents can afford it the education is simply much better than in areas where the parents cannot afford it. Please understand this, education is very important for South African par

    • Hmm, maybe it was like in Kenya, where we "rented" books?

      I spent 5 years (94-99) in Kenya, and every year, we would go to the moldy old book room to get books, which we would return at the year end (if you lost one, you had to replace at your own cost) I think they charged a fix rental, regardless of how many books, and they would regularly replace the books falling apart. I can't recall how much because we paid a lump sum every (four-month) term which included tuition, books and notebooks.

      Which was good, b

  • by Zeorge (1954266) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @12:02PM (#45251577)
    The students quickly used the tablet for entertainment vice studying. Something like a Kindle paper white on the other hand would be better. Too slow to be used for anything other than reading and making notes.
  • Question 1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DiamondGeezer (872237) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @12:04PM (#45251585) Homepage

    Q1: Your schoolchildren are not achieving as much as they should because your teachers don't have the knowledge to answer the advanced questions of your brightest students.

    Do you
    a) immediately mandate a digital policy in order to save money on books or
    b) get better teachers

    Answers to the South African Dept of Education.

    Hint: one of these answers might be racist.

    • Re:Question 1 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by beelsebob (529313) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @12:08PM (#45251601)

      I believe the point is that the latter is impossible, and will remain impossible until the general level of education rises. Of course, then you're stuck in a catch 22. The former helps to increase the level of education, and saves people money, it therefore can not be a bad thing.

      • I believe the point is that the latter is impossible, and will remain impossible until the general level of education rises.

        Only if you restrict your teachers to South Africans. It's just barely possible that teachers from other countries might be interested in teaching jobs in SA.

        Of course, that only works if you have no requirement that your teachers be African.

        • by Dthief (1700318)
          they also may want local teachers because the language in SA varies hugely from place to place, and there arent a ton of people outside that speak (for example) Afrikaans
    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Education must change with the availability of internet. The information is all just there, ready to be picked up and used by the childrens, there is no need to be a teacher doing a monologue in front of you, or memorizing lessons without a meaning attached. The teacher role should be more guidance, what to know, where to go to get it, helping to discern what is trustable and what not, and how to use and apply it, and even being teached by the students on those topics. But for this, of course, the teachers
    • How are you going to get better teachers in a country where 85% of the population grew up as second class citizens on reservations with little education just 20 years ago? It's going to take a few generations at least.
      • How are you going to get better teachers in a country where 85% of the population grew up as second class citizens on reservations with little education just 20 years ago? It's going to take a few generations at least.

        It's already been a few generations you idiot. I live here. Close to 100% of the students entering teacher-training colleges next year were born after apartheid and grew up under ANC rule. Close to 90% of the current crop of teachers were appointed during ANC rule (they purged the education system of non-struggle teachers the minute they gained control).

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      The problem is not with the brightest students. They will do well no matter how good or lousy the teachers are and they can learnon their own if they have to.. The concern should be with the children who need good teachers just to make it through school.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 27, 2013 @12:37PM (#45251729)

    The teachers are confident that that learning outcomes are better as well...

    Wait, the opinion of these people:

    In maths and science, teachers often can't answer and don't understand the questions they have to set their pupils.

    So, they have incompetent teachers and they think replacing textbooks with tablets is going to fix that.

    The one thing that the school insists on, however, is that each lesson starts with a five minute test completed on the tablet screen which is based on the last lesson.

    Back in my day, we had a quiz every class and we got the results the next class. Then the teacher would go over any material that the class didn't learn - or we would go over the answers in class and another student graded. This was all uphill - both ways - in the snow! And the only "tablets" we had were our Flintstones vitamins!

    It became a competition and most of our grades went up.

    This was all paper and pencil - you know the shit brown recycled paper that we used to get in public schools.

    I tell ya, technology is not a panacea for education - although, it sure helps the bottom line for the tech manufacturers.

    • The teachers are confident that that learning outcomes are better as well...

      Wait, the opinion of these people:

      In maths and science, teachers often can't answer and don't understand the questions they have to set their pupils.

      So, they have incompetent teachers and they think replacing textbooks with tablets is going to fix that.

      Nope. This school isn't one of those. The teachers here are good, and underpaid. They already get above average results from the school at matric and have a relatively low dropout rate. The question is, can what they do here help those other schools? Again, it comes down to costs - textbooks cost a fortune, if you can reduce the price of books to a tenth of what they are currently in the schools that are fully state funded (where parents don't have to buy books), that's a lot more money in the system for te

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Renting digital files will save money in the short term, but the long-term cost to society will be huge as temporary books only last as long as the payments keep coming in. Knowledge will only exist as long as the digital books are paid for. They're temporary. Books and libraries used to be permanent repositories of human knowledge. Now it's all disposable. Kids would be better off with well-crafted, long-lasting books instead of temporary DRM-protected digital files. The only people saving money are the pu

  • I don't see touch being able to replace them for doing any kind of big typing / paper work.

    • Coursework and exams still have to be submitted on paper. The tablets are really used as book replacements, for sketching things like circuit diagrams and answering multiple choice tests. There's no requirements for teachers to force kids to use them, other than for reading or the tests that start each lesson.
  • This is only astonishing if you're unfamiliar with the increasingly dizzying prices of textbooks. I presume that South Africa is little different than the US in this regard, though this presumption is unchecked.

  • teachers often can't answer and don't understand the questions they have to set their pupils.

    It seems obvious to me that they need to invest in teacher training, rather than anything else

    • Yes, but the thing about this story is that it isn't a replacement for teacher training. It's one school in Johannesburg which already has good teachers by local standards, acting autonomously to try and improve itself. The education department is watching to see if what they do has an effect, and will then look at other needier schools - so in reply to the commentators that it's SA trying to buy its way out of a bigger problem with inappropriate tech, that's not true in this this case (I'm the author of th
  • by Xenna (37238) on Monday October 28, 2013 @05:29AM (#45256849)

    I just took my 7 year old out of a school that made a similar 'enormously bold move', yeah, and I'm an old time Slashdot nerd.

    In the case of my son's school the idea was to replace all the practice material for all the important subjects by similar material on a (custom made) tablet. No writing skills were necessary anymore. Making math exercises is now a matter of guessing, the tablet will immediately respond with correct or false and the kid can go back and fix things.

    I love technology and all but I'm seriously worried about what such a 'bold move' will do to my kid's future cognitive abilities. The long term effects of this are unknown. So we took him to another school where they teach according to the (properly debugged) Montessori model.

    The kicker is that pilots for this system are going on on 10% of Dutch schools and none of the other parents of the 200 or so affected children seemed to be bothered by this.We'll probably know the results of this experiment in another 5 years.

    • Funnily enough, my daughter is in a Montessori school too (I wrote the feature linked here). What I liked about this school's approach is that they haven't abandonded paper and pen, which are still used for most things (as commented above). The test scores aren't reported on the tablets, they're posted to a white board where they're discussed with the whole class and used as a springboard for the rest of the lesson. I think it's hard to compare countries like South Africa and Holland. This is a very specif
      • by Xenna (37238)

        Hi Adam,

        "I think it's hard to compare countries like South Africa and Holland."

        I agree, what comes to mind is the old saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The text book system is working well enough as far as I can see.

        X.

    • by LienRag (1787684)
      In the mid-eighties France launched a big program to give all schools Thomson PC computers (making people joke about computer helped education: in France it was the education which helped computer industry - Thomson being a state-owned industry at the time).
      Without any real thought about how to use them in schools nor teachers' involvement in the decision making, nor even a real formation effort for the teachers themselves, most computers ended on shelves and it was one of the big failures of the old-style

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