The African classroom is changing and the blackboard is dead, No it isn’t


Picture this; a grade six teacher stands infront of a classroom filled with about 50 students each holding touchscreen rectangular devices on their desks loaded with the school curriculum and cached custom content from Wikipedia, Khan academy, and thousands of e-books.

The teacher creates an algebraic problem with her laptop and pushes it wirelessly to all the students’ tablets who tackle the problem. When done, the students each instantly submit their solutions using a custom classroom management platform . With in an instant the teacher is able to tell who got the answer right or wrong.

Advertisement - Continue reading below

Sounds like a script from a blockbuster Hollywood Sci-Fi script shot in 2050? No.

This is already happening, not just in Carlifornia but in South Africa in the Guateng province — which is home to Johannesburg and Pretoria. The province has started a pilot project to replace textbooks with tablets in seven government schools, Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said as South African Tech site Techcentral reports. The schools were provided with broadband, wireless and 4G connectivity, he said.

A Technical Centre where students tablets can be repaired should they fail as well as a security company to ensure the safety of the devices have also been instituted.

But that’s not all. If successful, the project will be extended to all 44 000 schools in the area. This shows the level of ambition that the South African has mounted to forge a paperless classroom. The potential of tablets transforming the Education and the classroom especially in Africa can’t be overstated.

The use of Education Technology or EdTech where students have access to affordable textbooks, collaboration and communications tools, while teachers can monitor the progress of students in real-time has several benefits. Well, atleast in theory. A student’s management system and dashboards ensure that tests are marked immediately and scores are instantly stored in a secure database. The interactive Edu-platforms such as Google’s “Google Classroom” ensure student in-class engagement is super high, with classroom management tasks such as student results and attendance automated.

But e-learning isn’t new in Africa.

Rwanda’s One Laptop per Child project a brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte,  co-founder and director of the MIT Media Laborator,  has seen over 203,000 laptops distributed to primary school pupils. In Kenya, President Uhuru pledged to supply 1.2 million laptops to first year primary pupils. It was to be a $600 million project, with a $100 price tag per laptop. But alledgation of corruption have since stalled the project from seeing the light of day.

Another problem is taking away the blackboard is equivalent to getting the teacher out of the picture. Up untill now, teachers have been known to be the custodians of knowledge and the materials such as the blackboard used to deliver it. The teachers have for years become accustomed to effectively use these tools — although, if true then that would defeat the whole essense of EdTech — from their professional training. They are not like the millennials who find these new mobile devices a natural extension of their daily lives. These young people use smartphones and tablets to text each other, share homework and access social networks almost on a daily basis. Mxit for instance, a social networking App based in South Africa with well over 10 million users is used by students to share class notes, do quizes and access past paper exam questions with some of the platform’s Educational apps.

If the whiteboard, projector and tablets are to replace the good old blackboard, then the teachers must in the same measure be trained to effectively use  these high-tech tools and should become effective in impacting knowledge to students as they did with chalk. However, currently teachers are intimated and quite overwhelmed by the rapidly changing technology according to this article on the Mail & Guardian; “although tablets provide the opportunity for learning to become more student-centred, interactive, collaborative and flexible, many teachers feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the technology”.

The future of the classroom is no doubt one that’s paperless, and probably one not bound by four corners. But figuring out how to get there is something  that continues to haunt Educationists.