Back to the future

Building on past mistakes

Tablets to improve education
Solving the textbook crisis
Education in the Limpopo Province recently made the headlines of more than one media channel. Sadly, it was not for work well done. Along with all the usual barriers to education, already faced by the students in Limpopo, they now have the extra disadvantage of missing textbooks. 

In order to move past this unfortunate issue, leaders in the education department will have to start looking towards alternative mediums of supplying information. What does the future hold?

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, has pointed out a possible reason for the province's failure. The Limpopo government wasunder administration, and so lacked the finances to pay for the learning materials in question.
Wealthier schools have already “cut out the middle man” as it were, by using smart devices such as iPads and tablets to download their learning materials, avoiding delays in distribution and delivery. But is that really a viable option for South Africa? 

One has to consider the rate at which schools have been vandalized and burgled. With so many impoverished areas falling victim to drugs and gangsterism, the idea of supplying schools with such developed technology might not be realistic. 

There are many hurdles to overcome, before initiating such a system. Most rural areas do not have internet access or they rely on GSM or 3G. The costs involved are also rather steep. Not only will finance be needed for the devices but also for the internet subscription. Government will be heavy pressed to subsidize costs as far as possible.
Optimistic or realistic?

Wesley Lynch, CEO of Snapplify, a mobile solutions provider, believes that it could be a solution. “iPads and tablets can definitely aid the textbook crisis,” he says. “iPads in particular would probably feature more readily in private or wealthier schools, but Android tablets are more affordable and would provide a more realistic chance of institutions or the government being able to provide tablets to schools in South Africa.” 
Lynch explains that tablets will provide access to textbooks that have been digitally published as eBooks and educational web applications. “These devices allow for a better and richer experience of the web in a way that perhaps many of the students would have only previously experienced on their mobile phones.”
Experts believe that quality applications can improve a learner’s ability to process information. “The potential is there to provide educational apps with multimedia which would help to explain the content in a more comprehensive way – the sciences in particular could benefit immensely,” Lynch explains. “Mobile apps, such as Snapplify, have had a good uptake on training and educational material, and mobile means the student can have all his textbooks and notes with him at all times.”
It is also believed that innovations such as the recent satellite broadband service, YahClick, will provide greater access to the Internet in rural areas.
“This service specifically targets rural communities,” Jacques Visser, YahClick Project Manager has said. “We want to bring accessible, affordable internet to those users. We’ve already put hundreds of installation service providers in place around the country (in addition to our existing distribution network), to meet the needs of the customers who will be applying for the service or whom are already on the waiting list. This will mean that schools will have greater access to information and e-learning programmes.”
It seems as though the question as to whether or not technology can solve the textbook crisis is not easily answered. The cost of devices remain high, and broadband Internet is still quite inaccessible to rural communities. Should government wish to offset the cost of this investment with subsidies, technology may very well eliminate some ofthe problems of distribution and service delivery.
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Issue 58