Wits’ Initiative to skill-up educators in ICT gathers momentum
An Information Communication Technology (ICT) skills development programme being rolled out by Wits Enterprise has touched the lives of over 2930 educators, with the goal to equip them for the 21st century classroom. The Wits initiative enables intersection between ICT skills, digital pedagogies, and research to inspire disruptive innovations in the classroom.
The initiative, funded by the provincial Departments of Education and the EDTP SETA, provides training in ICT, financial literacy and business acumen to teachers, focusing primarily on rural areas where skills gaps are most prevalent. The goal is to bridge the digital divide, to prevent the digital skills gap from widening and causing more digital inequalities in our schools. Since 2017, the initiative has reached 2106 educators in Limpopo, 550 in Mpumalanga, 175 in the North West Province and 300 in Gauteng.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg, with over 500 000 educators in South Africa and the vision being to upskill all of them with essential ICT skills. The Wits School of Education’s Educational Information & Engineering Technology (EDIET) division recognizes that ICTs pervade our modern world and we are convinced that a new paradigm for working professionals must emerge through structured opportunities for retraining, upgrading and acquisition of new technical knowledge and skills. It is not only about teaching technology skills to educators, but also ensuring that they have an understanding of how it can be applied practically to enhance their teaching and make them more efficient.
“Technology can be intimidating when you do not have the skills or the know how to use it to access the information that is readily available online. Equipping primary school educators in particular is important as they are in a position to impart their knowledge to learners at a young age so that they too have the skills to access information available to them online,” says Reuben Dlamini at Wits.
Currently there are four 13-week courses offered through the programme. Course content is prepared by Wits University Academics and delegates are trained by a combination of WITS’ Academics, Sessional Staff and postgraduate students, most of whom are in the teaching profession. Educators are required to complete assignments and meet with their facilitators on a weekly basis and through various digital platforms to ensure continuous learning.
Although a formal impact is yet to be done to gauge the programme’s impact, Dlamini says that the success is evident in the number of educators who are generating reports online, capturing attendance and accessing online resources made available by the Department of Basic Education which they previously did not know how to access.
“We conduct monitoring and evaluation by going back into schools to follow up educators that have been through the programme. We are heartened to see how so many of them are leveraging technology in the classroom to source material, generate reports, teach and communicate. In many of the communities, it was like going in at ground zero. However, by the time we leave, we are seeing educators using social media and forming Whatsapp groups to aid knowledge share and communication. Unfortunately, the disparate distribution of ICT infrastructure in public schools remains a challenge.
“Research drives the initiatives to understand the complexities on the ground and avoid a one-size-fits-all model that is divorced from the realities on the ground. The monitoring and evaluation, and research activities inform our practice and enable us to develop a systematic approach to ICT adoption, appropriation and integration in education.”
Courses offered include Strategic Implementation of ICT Integration in Education [Teaching with Technology]; Information Technology and Programming Fundamentals; Financial Literacy and Business Fundamentals, and Digital Technologies for Civic Engagement and Digital Citizenship which offers participants with an opportunity to develop various digital and computing skills, including computer literacy, social media etiquette, digital pedagogies and digital literacy.
Dlamini concludes: “Technology is changing the way in which we live, work, communicate, access information and teach. Yet, access to technology as well as lack of skills to utilise digital technologies are marginalising certain communities, specifically in rural areas. Through this programme we can ensure that our educators, as well as those supporting them at a departmental, district and school level are able to help them with navigating technology and accessing information that is available through technology.
“We would like to see the number of educators and education support staff participating in the programme growing by 20% in 2020 to create digital pedagogies champions to drive ICT professional learning communities in schools.”