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South Africa's Western Cape invests in e-learning


Premier Helen Zille and Education MEC Debbie Schafer outlined the details of the e-learning project the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is rolling out across the province.

"This is a very exciting initiative that has taken years of planning and has the potential to make a major contribution towards improving the quality of teaching and learning in the province," Schafer said ahead of the announcement, on 23 February last year.

The strategy includes a number of components that are critical for e-learning in schools, namely: The linking of schools through a high-speed, real-time wide area network (WAN); The provision of local area networks (LANs) in schools; The refreshing of existing computer laboratories and the provision of new laboratories and technology-rich classrooms (smart classrooms); The development and expansion of online digital resources that are made available to all pupils, parents and teachers; Teacher training and development in ICT and the use of e-learning in schools; and, Private sector and donor funding.

This follow's Zille announcement of eight game-changers for the province on 20 February; one of these was the roll-out of e-learning in schools.

"E-learning will assist us in tackling some of the problems we face, including increasing access to quality education in disadvantaged communities, providing support for struggling learners, contributing towards teachers’ training and professional development and improving management and administration at schools. It will also provide learners with the skills to participate in our increasingly technology-based economy in the future."

The WCED will invest heavily in this project over the next five years. Without taking into account the Western Cape government’s investment into the WAN, the rollout of the LAN and various infrastructure, equipment and devices, will cost the WCED R1.2- billion over the next five years.

 

The WAN and the LAN

Schools will be linked through a high-speed, real-time WAN. The provincial government aims to connect as many schools as possible to the WAN by the end of 2016, and 366 school sites have already been surveyed for implementation. It is envisaged that the first schools will go live on the WAN Neotel network in April, while 1 250 schools will be connected to high-speed broadband by July 2016. Once the WAN is up, LANs will be installed, and schools will be fitted with a wireless distributed network (WiFi) for internet and inter-connectivity within a school.

The tender for the implementation for the LAN closed at the beginning of February and the bid evaluation is under way. It is estimated that the first delivery and implementation of the LAN will be in August. The WCED aims to roll out the LAN project to 510 schools in Quintiles 1 to 3 and Special Education Needs Schools (LSEN) over the next five years.

 

 

Lab Refreshes and Smart Classrooms

The department will introduce the Smart School Project, which includes refreshing existing Khanya Laboratories and the provision of Smart Classrooms. High school laboratories will be upgraded in an on-going three-year cycle, and 126 will receive refreshed computer labs this year. A smart classroom is linked to the WAN and the LAN and is capacitated with mobile technology comprising a laptop for the teacher, a data projector, and other technological devices for teaching and learning.

This financial year, 3 350 classrooms in 248 schools will benefit from the Smart Classroom Project, focusing on schools in Quintiles 1 to 3 and LSEN, with an invest of R65-million. In addition, the department has developed an online catalogue of digital education resources that can be accessed by teachers, pupils and parents. The catalogue will be launched in the next few weeks and will be regularly updated.

It has also begun to roll out a comprehensive training programme to teachers and principals who will be affected by the Smart School Project over the next few months. Training of teachers began in January at the Cape Teaching and Leadership Institute and will continue to be a primary focus area of the WCED’s teacher training budget in the next financial year.

While the provincial education department has budgeted R1.2-billion for the rollout of e-learning in poorer Quintiles 1 to 3 and LSEN schools, the private sector and donors will be encouraged to help get Smart Schools to Quintiles 4 and 5 schools.

"This has been a long time in the making, but we believe that our intensive planning and resourcing of the project will ensure its long-term success… This project has the potential to revolutionise teaching and learning in our schools."

 

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Image credit: Western Cape Government. Thandokhulu High School in Mowbray, Cape Town.

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