In this blog I would like to explore the past, ponder about the present and envision the future of ICT and Technology in education.

As well as share best practices from teachers in the ICT and Technology implementation.


Yours in technology


Its all about ANA

19 September 2015

This article was written in response to the news re postponement of the ANA (Annual National Assessment)

“In a last-minute move, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on Friday announced that the 2015 Annual National Assessment (ANA), which was scheduled to start on Tuesday and be written by 8.6 million pupils, has been postponed until February next year,” News24 reported on 13th September: This news raises some questions and controversy regarding the DBE allegedly giving in to pressure by teachers’ unions: the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) and the South African Onderwysersunie (SAOU).

There is a sense reflected in the media of the discontent from this decision, although it was clear from previous reports that academics, schools and teachers’ unions were dissatisfied with the standards of the ANA and there was a need to re-examine and review the benchmark testing model.  Why the disappointment?  I think it is based on three main elements:

Leadership (or lack thereof) – the announcement was originated two days before the ANA exams were supposed to be administered. Some schools testified that they had already collected the exam papers and were prepared for the 15th of September. Why did negotiations between the two parties break down at the very last minute? And why were sms’s sent from the unions notifying schools of the expected cancellation while no notification from the Department of Basic Education was sent or received? This government body, whose role, according to its mission is  “ to provide leadership with respect to provinces, districts and schools in the establishment of a South African education system for the 21st century”, should be calling the shots, not the unions.

Accountability (or lack thereof) – the announcement by some of the teachers’ unions demanding that the assessments be done in three-year cycles in order to create time for remedial action, as published by IOL on the 14th of September, is worrying. If this statement is any indication of what is expected ahead, the purpose of administrating such benchmarking assessments collapses.  A period of three years for remedial action is excessive, unnecessary and defeats the role of assessment in education.

Opportunity (or missed one) – ANA caused tremendous debate in the scholar, academic and political world and many agreed that the way ANA is designed, administered and checked is not credible, not-authentic and not valid. The energy and efforts should focus on improving this benchmark assessment in order to use it as information for improving rather than auditing performance.

According to Grant Wiggins, an assessment expert, we must recapture the primary aim of assessment; to help students better learn and teachers to better instruct.  Teachers’ job is to teach to the outcomes, not to the test.

Students deserve a credible, relevant and user friendly assessment, they deserve timeous feedback and opportunities to practice and improve.

To achieve this, I believe that the DBE should focus also on teachers’ professional development, incorporating assessment.

In the ORT SA-Bidvest Math ICT programme, we include in a teachers professional development programme, the practice of planning, scoring, analysis and recording of pupils’ assessments on an on-going basis. Feedback to pupils and parents is practiced as well as adjusting teaching in alignment with the analysis of results. Assessments have the power to improve teaching and learning and teachers must be empowered to utilise it rather than be intimidated from it.

Albert Einstein reportedly had a sign on his office wall that stated: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Tests don’t just measure; they teach what we value.

Innovation in schools

This article was published in The Jewish Life Magazine August 2015

In the past few months worldwide, the broadcast and print media have covered taxi driver protests objecting to the operations of Uber. Uber is an online taxi application which allows one to order a taxi using a mobile device. You are given the name of the driver who is collecting you, the registration number and type of car, the time you will be picked up and all this is done at a very competitive rate. This innovation has created huge resistance from taxi drivers in countries where Uber operates, as their livelihood is threatened by this system.
However, Uber may not be the ultimate disruption in public/ private transportation. We may find that another innovation such as the driver-less car will soon take precedence over both Uber and Taxis. Fantasy? Google, Volvo and other well-known car brands have already produced the first prototype of cars that cruise the road without a driver! One can only imagine the implications of such innovation, not only on our own lives, but also on the lives of the future workforce.
Globalization, skills shortage, escalation in the unemployment rate, leadership crisis, the need for a sustained plan to look after our natural resources and the climate crisis are all challenges that motivate us to transform education. The perception is that any future growth and prosperity will depend upon the education system -systems that theoretically are meant to provide our students with 21st century skills that will equip them to adapt to an uncertain future.
This requires schools to become leaders in innovation and to embrace and adapt it as part of their values and culture. I believe the three main components to drive innovative leadership in education are curriculum, pedagogy and leadership. What we teach, how we teach it and the leadership to do so in an innovative manner.

“If you are not changing your curriculum, you are saying that nothing is changing” Heidi Hayes Jacobs.
ORT Argentina realised the importance of entrepreneurship for the future of the economy and incorporated it as a part of their school curriculum. They have adopted the approach that although entrepreneurship can be taught, they do not guarantee to produce a Bill Gates or a Donna Karan, any more than a physic professor can guarantee to produce an Albert Einstein, or a tennis coach to produce a Venus Williams. However, by getting students with a suitable aptitude to start a business, ORT Argentina guaranteed to make them better entrepreneurs.

“If we teach today’s students, as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” – John Dewey
How we teach must echo how our students learn and it must also prepare them for the future. Education systems are more and more adopting an approach to teaching that takes into consideration the learning and teaching that will be required in the 21st Century.
In Israel, Kadima Mada has implemented Smart Classrooms in schools at the periphery of the country, simultaneously training the teachers on the new pedagogy. The Smart Classrooms are technology enhanced classrooms that foster opportunities for teaching and learning by integrating learning technology, such as computers, specialized software and audio/visual resources.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and follower” Steve Jobs
Becoming innovative schools leaders, who promote innovative teaching and stimulates innovation amongst students and teachers, requires a proactive approach from school principals and school management teams. Innovation cannot be delegated and has to be modeled by the leaders of the schools. This can be done, by embedding it into schools’ values, promoting programmes such as exchanges students/ teachers with other schools to learn and explore other successful models, by continuous learning of future trends and by modelling creative thinking and communicating.
The World ORT ICT Seminars are held globally. In South Africa it is hosted by the South African Board of Jewish Education (SABJE) and driven by ORT SA. They assist Jewish Schools to learn about cutting edge technologies and trends and to actively learn about new pedagogies which support 21st century learning.

We all need to be able to learn to operate in a challenging, unpredictable environment. Change cannot be avoided and unfortunately cannot be predicted either. We therefore need to adopt an approach of innovation and leadership that will assist us with adopting change and gaining skills to help us cope effectively in unfamiliar and complex situations.

Grade 9 exit plan is not enough

(This article was published at the Saturday Star, 16th May 2015)

The Minister of Education Mrs. Angie Motshekga, when delivering her budget to Parliament last week, announced the Grade 9 School Exit Plan, which introduces a school leaving certificate for Grade 9 pupils. Motshekga anticipates that this “Grade 9 School Exit Level Certificate would address unemployment and the country’s skills shortages.”

Surely something is missing in this plan! How can nine years of schooling help with reducing unemployment when we are still producing school leavers who are mathematically and language illiterate? This has been substantiated over the past few years by the Grade 9 ANA results. In 2014 Grade 9 pupils achieved on average 10.8% in Math, 48,3% in Home Language and 34,4% in First Additional Language.

How will the issuing of this certificate yield any better results than what we currently have?

I am not totally against the Minister’s announcement, but I’d like to elaborate on some points that I feel should be taken into consideration in regard to the “Grade 9 Exit Plan”. Since 1994, The Department of Education has implemented many new changes e.g. they have managed to increase the Grade 1 enrolment to nearly 100%, which is a remarkable achievement. However, the QUALITY of schooling is very poor, as reflected by the ANA results, by international benchmarking and by our matric results. SA is placed last in math education in the world. The 2008 plan to increase the number of teachers has been successfully implemented BUT the QUALITY of entrants to the teaching profession is a cause for concern, as was pointed out in recent research published by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE); Teachers in South Africa: Supply and Demand 2013-2025 If we keep compromising on the QUALITY of education in this country we will continue getting mediocre and below average outputs.

There is no doubt that the Department of Education has to first and foremost ensure that these first nine years of schooling will be of a HIGH QUALITY, providing good resources and sound teacher training.

But let’s take it one step further. When looking at top performing countries in the world in the field of education, Finland ranks as one of the best. Finland has only nine compulsory years of schooling, but has been one of the role models for QUALITY in education, placed top in international benchmarking assessments such as the TIMSS and the PISA. This, however, is not where it ends. In Finland, after nine years of basic education a pupil, at the age of 16, can select from two paths, either to continue their secondary education on an academic track, or choose a vocational track.

Many countries in the world, where ORT schools operate successfully, implement this type of system and are able to offer vocational routes to their pupils. ORT High Schools in France, for example, meet the dynamic needs of the job market by offering optics, banking, informatics and other qualifications. In the Former Soviet Union (FSU), more than 20 vocational training schools and colleges have been established by ORT in countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. This places ORT as a leader in delivering career-oriented training in this region.

In December2014 CDE published a presentation by Ricardo Hausmann, a Harvard economist, who has been leading an intensive study of the South Africa economy. One of the recommendations Prof. Hausmann makes is for a higher rate of job creation in SA. He suggests that due to SA’s significant skills constraints, the country should aim to shift from non-tradable sectors, such as tourism, finance, construction, retail, wholesale and transportation, which require highly skilled professionals, to tradable sectors, producing things that are exportable, such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing.

If we were to adopt this recommendation, we would develop a vocational path that would focus on the needs of the market and it would also improve the South African economy. It would be a win- win situation for the country, as it would also reduce the rate of unemployment and increase the labour force. The exit plan presented by the Minister means that those Grade 9 pupils that exit the system at this level will not follow the academic stream for the National Senior Certificate. These pupils could then choose from among 26 skills and vocational subjects offered by technical schools that have been upgraded or technical and vocational education colleges. Maybe, we should look at this proposal by the Minister in a different light; maybe the approach to this plan should be different.

In my view, any Grade 9 pupil, from whatever social background, should be able to make this choice, based on his/her competency and interest, as to whether they follow the academic or vocational route. If a pupil chooses a vocational path it should not be perceived as a poor choice. This requires a change in the mind-set of the nation!

Most South Africans perceive the academic route as the most prestigious and fulfilling path to follow. We should all respect the opportunities that lie within the vocational route. The vocational path should also be appreciated and advocated, as South Africa has a huge shortage of people with these specialized skills. Both routes should be valued and therefore invested in.

Vocational Training providers should also be upgraded so that they are able to offer top quality education and training. As the CDE report concludes “SA needs skills, and it needs a clear strategy, coordinated across many sectors of the state and the economy. Only then will the country grow and create jobs that will reduce inequality and eradicate poverty” Prof. Ricardo Hausmann Education is the most important vehicle to reduce poverty and unemployment. It will grow the labour force and provide equality.

If we want to improve the economy and enhance education in this country there should be a common vision, by all stakeholders, and not silo –policies declared sporadically. So to ensure that immaterial of the school exit level of a pupil, that he/she receives QUALITY education, thus ensuring they leave the system both literate and numerate.

Written by Ariellah Rosenberg, CEO, ORT SA. ORT SA is an NGO in education, vocational and enterprise development training. http://www.ortsa.org.za , Twitter: @ORT_SA , @Ariellah

Building a strong and inspired teaching force in South Africa

I have worked in the educational field for more than 20 years, mainly working with teachers, offering them professional development and training, and giving them classroom-based support. One of the main things I have learnt is that teaching is tough!

The longer I am involved in teaching, the more I realise that teaching is Art and Science combined, as it is such a complex and intricate profession.

Teachers are required to be ‘on top’ in regard to their area of speciality, and they must also be able to adapt to imparting this knowledge, at different depths and levels, to various age groups.  Simultaneously teachers need to take into consideration differentiation, classroom management and assessment tools, while always keeping in mind the home backgrounds and emotional states of the learners, and at the end of all this they must remain well-balanced and sane!  With all the talks on technological trends in education, the one role, I have no doubt will remain is that of the teacher. No sophisticated online, e-learning cloud can replace the physical and mental human being that’s called a teacher.

We therefore need to invest in our teachers, by treating them as professionals and prioritising their status to one of the top ranks on the professional scale.  No other entity has the most impact on the future of education in the country than the teacher. Mckinsey reports, James Stronge’s research and the findings by Harry Wong all conclude that the single greatest effect on student achievement is the effectiveness of the teacher. If students’ achievements eventually determine the number of critical thinkers, the level of Science Literacy, and the number of future innovators and entrepreneurs the country produces, then the link of teachers to the future economy of the country is non-negotiable.

In order to raise the professional standards of teachers, some major steps need to be taken in South Africa. There is a need to raise the quality of pre-service teacher training offered by universities, especially in the field of Math, Science and Technology (MST) Education, where the MST Task team, nominated by the DBE Minister, found that the Higher Education Institutes are failing to deliver new adequately qualified MST teachers.
NewTeacherOnce teachers are in the system, a proper induction programme has to be implemented to support them and to prevent them dropping out early in their career. In countries like Singapore, a new teacher is assigned a mentor for a minimum period of 2-3 years.
Continuous and appropriate professional development needs to be implemented throughout a teacher’s career.  “Unless we continue to grow and learn as teachers after we graduate, within 3 to 5 years we will revert to teaching in ways we remember being taught…” Dr Dennis Rose.
So far ad-hock training has been provided to teachers without any Professional Development Plan and reporting system being put in place to monitor growth, relevancy and implementation.

Another important element, which must not be neglected, in applying any educational interventions, is to involve the teacher in the conceptualisation of reforms, or interventions.
The shift begins with the teachers and it will happen if there is buy-in from them. So far educational reforms have been done top-down, without much consultation with teachers. There is a major need to look at a bottom-up approach and get teachers to become proactive from the commencement of a reform, and therefore to become responsible and accountable professionals.

Giving teacher’s prestigious professional ranking, will also require that they are attractively compensated financially.   Another consideration is linking teachers’ performance to pay.

Another challenge that needs to be overcome is the generally negative perception that people have of teachers. How can we change this? That remains a challenge!

Lee Iacocca, an American businessman had this to say about teachers:

“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else”.

Engaging learners in STEM education

At Education Week (organised by Spintelligent), which was held at the Sandton Convention Centre, in June, this year, a STEM Panel was set up to elaborate on how to engage learners in STEM education. Members of the panel presented interesting projects, and described different approaches, that could be used to promote learners’ engagement in STEM education in South Africa.

The STEM subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are not very popular and are perceived as difficult, by most of our students and many of our teachers.  This poor perception and negative attitude towards these important subjects is part of a vicious cycle that is reflected in the poor performance of our students when they participate in National and International Benchmarking Tests, in both Math and Science.

Where does South Africa stand when it comes to creating a pool of STEM qualified professionals? Not in a good position at all!
In 2012, statistic of the Grade 12 Cohort showed that 66% of these learners were ‘lost’ somewhere along the way, during the planned 12 year period of their schooling. Only 27% of the cohort, who completed matric, qualified to study for a degree, at a university. In addition to this, if we took 1000 children who started Grade 1 in 2001, only SIX of them would choose to pursue a STEM Qualification at a tertiary level, and of these SIX, only THREE would complete the qualification. (SASOL Inzalo Foundation Report).

There are many factors contributing to this state of affairs. One of the crucial ones is the poor delivery of the STEM subjects, by our teaching force.

Members of the panel presented the following:

The Robotics Project, run by ORT SA CAPE, presented by Dr Lydia Able.  Robotic activities are offered to both boys and girls, from townships schools, in the Western Cape.  The use of Technology for learning and development is done through the use of Lego WeDo and Mindstorm NXT Robotics kits. The children use the kits to design and build robots which, besides developing critical thinking and auditory listening skills, encourage the development of fine motor skills and hand eye co-ordination. If one is to succeed in Mathematics and Science it is essential that one becomes a critical thinker, and this skill is the major skill developed when one participates in Robotics.

The Bloodhound Foundation, presented by Chirstopher Maxwell also shared their exciting project which is to be launched in 2014. The Foundation will bring the first Super Sonic Car in the world to Kimberly!!  When they work in schools, the Foundation aims to get learners to be enthusiastic and interested in science-based subjects.

The above presentation was followed by an interesting presentation, by Olatunde Osiyemi, from the University of Fort Hare, on Mathematical Literacy, and its potential impact on the state of STEM. This in turn, was followed by an inspiring presentation by Seliki Tlhabane, CEO of the Sangari Institute.  He shared his successful approach to the teaching of Mathematics.  Using his approach, he puts pupils into mixed ability groups and all members of the group take responsibility to ensure that all members of their group perform at an acceptable level.  When it comes to informal assessments, the group is allowed to peruse the question paper prior to writing it, to discuss the questions and what is required from them, in order to answer them correctly.  This really caused consternation and much discussion from members of the the audience, and it was eventually agreed that’ if we always did what we have always done, we will always get what we’ve always got. Therefore to improve our Maths and Science results we need to be open to using new and different approaches, especially those where the learners are achieving positive results.

South Africa can overcome its educational challenges with the persistent implementation of strategies, positive thinking and action, working in collaboration and partnership, and by working towards one goal – the child. We have to always keep in mind that investing in our children is investing in our future.  The most important contributing factor to this investment is first and foremost education, so we have to deliver high quality education, to ensure that our children will grow up to be responsible, contributing, independent citizens of South Africa.

Cherish Math with your children

What connotation does the word mathematics brings to your mind?

Many dread the word in any form – Math, Mathematics, Arithmetic, Numeracy and so on. For me the word mathematics brings memories of my Grade 9 High School Math teacher, Angela.  She was a rigid, dogmatic lady who spoke with a heavy Russian accent.  When she peered at you, over her reading glasses, one’s heart froze, and one’s hands and legs started shaking uncontrollably.  This was when my own fear and negative attitude towards the learning of Mathematics began – a fear that I only managed to overcome when I got to university.

Well, thankfully those days are over and I am now a parent of three beautiful daughters, who themselves have had varied experiences of learning mathematics.  Fortunately for them none of their teachers have ever invoked anywhere near the terror levels of teacher Angela, but I do, however, wonder if subconsciously, and through non-verbal cues, I have transferred to them some of my earlier fears and negative attitude towards the learning of mathematics.

What is Mathematics? Mathematics is the abstract science of space, number and quantity. It is a vehicle to cultivate the mind and to get us to think; therefore it is very important when teaching mathematics, to ensure that children have grasped the concept being taught. Well structured questions such as:  ‘Explain it.’  ‘How did you get your answer?’ are a very important means to achieve this end.   It is the process rather than the answer that is important. We need to get away from teaching procedural routines, and encourage our children to think about their thinking (Meta cognition) and get them to appreciate that, just like most things in life; there is usually more than one way to solve a problem.

Dr Yeap Ben Har, a World Renown Math expert from Singapore, visited South Africa recently and gave workshops on the unique approach Singapore take when teaching mathematics, elaborating on the model method they use when problem solving. He believes that to ensure that a child achieves, and develops a positive attitude towards Mathematics the most important contributing factor is adult support and reassurance. According to Dr Yeap Ben Har, when a child is fearful and anxious about learning  Math it originates from the adult interacting with the child (teacher, parent, care giver), and not from the child himself.

Now that we know that the adult’s behaviour and attitude towards Maths is key, we need to ask ourselves as parents, what we can do to help our children master mathematics.  When your child comes home from school with a mathematical problem he can’t solve, be patient, but don’t do it for him.  Begin by asking him:

‘What did you learn about this at school?’

If the answer he gives doesn’t enlighten you, you could then refer to his textbook, workbook or exercise book.  Give your child time to think and explore.  Don’t rush him.  Remember the quality of the practice is more important than the quantity, and never sacrifice your child’s attitude towards mathematics, for the sake of getting good results.

How can we, as parents contribute towards developing a love for Maths in our children?   Make learning fun. For example, when shopping, you can give your child an imaginary budget of X amount, and ask him to work out what items he could purchase, without going over budget.  By incorporating Mathematics into daily life our children will come to appreciate that it is an important life skill.  Playing well known games with your children, such as Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly etc will also develop sound Mathematical concepts, while at the same time ensuring you spend quality time together.   One can also download suitable mathematical games for your child onto their phones, tablets or computers.

We, as parents, also need to be role models for our children, and set an example of being lifelong learners. As Rene Descartes, a French philosopher and mathematician said:   “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well”.

(Thanks to Jane Horner for Proof Reading and Contribution)


How will technology impact the future of education?

Reflections from a Study Tour to Israel, MOFET 2013

Technology is progressing so fast that we never seem to be able to keep up to date with it.

As teachers, we sometimes feel that we, the “Desert Generation’s” main objective is to lead our students into the “Promised Land,” and by doing so we ourselves may be left behind, just observing the technological miracles envisaged by this new generation.

There is no question about whether or not technology has an impact on education.  Technology has, and always will, have power on shaping education. The real issue is the approach that we take when handling the changes and challenges that technology conveys.

Rabbi Kook, a significant thinker of the 19th Century said “In every era, you need to learn how to use the elements that influence the generation”. Adapting this to the 21st Century, the approach seems to be to learn what the future holds technologically, so that we can prepare this generation to cope with it.  When examining new and futuristic technologies, one needs to keep in mind the definition of Technology, as given by Allan Kay, an American Computer Scientist.  He said: “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born”. With the constant and endless changes in technologies today, we need to keep this definition in mind.   Think about the new upgraded cell phone that you have just purchased.  How long will it be before a new version comes onto the market?

In the past 30 years, research on education and technology has shown that since computers were introduced to schools, no change has occurred (Prof Hannan Yaniv, 2013).  There is, however, a need to change the way we think about technology and education. These life changing technologies challenge the digital pedagogy and the approach we take to these changes.  Instead of using new tools to change the way and what we learn we are doing what we have always done, but more efficiently (Jay Hurvitz, 2013).

Prof Sheizaf Refaeli from the Haifa University claims that disruptive technology can lead to disruptive change. The more established the organisation the more resistant it is to change e.g. Education.
Thornburg’s definition of disruptive technology is as follows: “an impossible-to-predict game changer that will fundamentally alter the conventional landscape”. The technology which he predicts will create the third education revolution is the always-connected mobile device.

Research shows how Africa is leapfrogging from an unwired, non-existent e-learning infrastructure to a wireless e-learning infrastructure with whole integration of online and wireless technologies and learning management systems (Brown, 2003). As a result, the potential of using mobile technology in Africa to bridge the digital divide is being re-examined and researched.

In this regard many questions are being posed to researchers and policy makers in the Educational field.  For example:

  1. “Do we understand technology enough to develop policies about it in education?”
  2. “When is learning effective?”

The leading answer seems to be that children need to become “designers for learning” and not the “consumers of learning”.  To achieve this end, there is a need for cultural change, and then one has to ask what the role of the teacher is?   The teacher will then be accountable for the quality of the content being learnt.

How can Technology be the catalyst for change? Examples from the Technion

  1. Use of mobile technology, such as laptops, in crowded classrooms to create active learning
  2. YouTube – used as a platform for assignments
  3. Cloud Pedagogy – learning can take place everywhere, no classroom boundaries

Virtual realities, simulations, mobile technology, virtual platform, cloud pedagogy and digital pedagogy, need to be examined to create lifelong learning.   This will equip our students for a future that we ourselves can’t even envisage.

From tablets to tablets


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