The COVID era, emerging in the midst of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, has thrust educators and learners into a new hybrid world where teaching and learning take place partly on-site at schools – as well as remotely.

Globally, in this novel and challenging context, there is an urgent need to create a new kind of interactive learning environment that utilizes digital resources effectively. Educators can use this type of environment to support successful learning as well as prepare learners to participate in a rapidly changing world, whether as students or, in the future, as adults. 

In South Africa, funding from the British High Commission through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), has enabled an exciting online digital skills curriculum integration project that is helping hundreds of educators at schools in rural communities in Limpopo Province.

The innovative project has been designed by Bellamatrix ICT Foundation and is delivered in association with the Limpopo Department of Education (LDoE).

Some barriers to change

As Bellamatrix ICT Foundation’s Director, Milford Malunga, has highlighted, ‘The way we change is the way we succeed – and there is an unprecedented need for change in the way we teach and learn.’

There are many obvious barriers to change, like lack of access to expensive digital resources and connectivity. But the issues go way beyond practicalities like these. In fact, as a spokesperson for the LDoE has observed, ‘One of the main factors obstructing the crucial changes needed is the lack of skills and confidence amongst our educators. Teacher development is one of the nightmares of our Department, due to a lack of financial resources. The provision of gadgets to learners without drivers is a futile exercise and tantamount to wasteful expenditure.’

Train the Trainer Project

Bellamatrix ICT Foundation has many years’ experience responding to the need for professional development digital skills training and the courses offered to go beyond teaching basic digital literacy skills.

Zanele Mchunu, the Project Coordinator at Bellamatrix ICT Foundation, says, ‘Experience shows that digital resources, when used skilfully, can change educational challenges into opportunities. Learning can be easy and learning can be fun. In 2021, in Limpopo Province, the main focus of our work has been on a Train the Trainer project.

Against the odds, in the midst of the many uncertainties during the past year, we trained over 600 students across all ten districts in Limpopo. Participants included school principals, heads of departments, and educators.’

The Train the Trainer project was made possible through generous funding and support from the British High Commission through their Digital Access Programme (DAP) and delivered in association with the Limpopo Department of Education Online Educator Training initiative.

ICT champions

All graduates of Bellmatrix’s SACE-endorsed courses are encouraged to become information and technology (ICT) champions through sharing their training with peers at their school – and even further afield, in their community.

Mr. Malunga explained, ‘This is a vitally important aspect of the project because it helps to extend the reach of the training. There are over 52000 educators in Limpopo Province. Given funding limitations, it could take many decades to reach everyone. However, through adopting a train the trainer approach, we are hoping that peer-to-peer training can help spread the digital skills training further to students we cannot reach directly.’

Bellamatrix’s courses introduce exciting digital resources like Apps and learning platforms. Through our 4th industrial revolution teaching methodologies, educators are encouraged to implement new strategies like game-based learning to engage learners’ attention and stimulate their imagination and creativity.

New self-assessment activities can be introduced into learning tasks and learners are taught to collaborate, whether they are working on-site in their classrooms or remotely. In addition, learners can repeat lessons delivered digitally, enhancing their understanding and performance.

No silver bullet

The truth, of course, is that there is no silver bullet for solving all the challenges raised in education, particularly in socio-economic circumstances where access to digital resources and skills can differ wildly.

Nevertheless, no matter how challenging the circumstances, educators who have attended the Train the Trainer professional development training courses have responded with excitement – and surprise! As one educator said, ‘ I never thought I could use my phone to teach!’. Countless other educators report that their learners are excelling through using digital resources – and some parents are even getting involved with the game-based learning activities.

The Limpopo Department of Education and Bellamtrix ICT Foundation are most grateful to the British High Commission for the ongoing funding to help bridge the digital divide and make certain that no educator or child is left behind in Limpopo Province.

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