• Technology can help ease education issues

    It is widely agreed that education holds the key to the future of South Africa, and it is crucial that the current challenges faced by the education system are addressed, both quickly and sustainably. With more than ZAR640 million being allocated to basic education in this year’s budget speech, as well the announcement of a ZAR17 billion e-skills project being launched across South African schools in the next few years, hope for significant improvements within the South African education sector is in sight.

    Sandi Ntshongwana, HR director at Software AG says that these educational improvements – such as the streamlining of content delivery between students and educational bodies, tracking and analysis of student performance, the tailoring of educational and skills training programmes to suit specific individuals – are crucial. ‘There is a definitive link between our economic performance, our standard of education, as well as new technologies and innovations, which are now available to us,’ she explains. ‘The major global trend of the digitisation of education, as seen in Gartner’s report, Top 10 Strategic Technologies Impacting Education in 2015, has begun to gain traction in South Africa. Decision makers have begun to recognise the massive potential that software innovations and technology can add to local education and skills development.’

    Ntshongwana adds, ‘Exposing children to mobile technology and devices, such as smartphones and tablets, will not only facilitate the delivery of educational content to any location at any time – it will prepare learners for the multi-skilled qualities required in today’s workplace.’

    Ntshongwana goes on to explain that the technologies and solutions being rolled out in schools, both currently and those planned for the future, will also allow for a clearer picture on individual progress of students. ‘If pupils are able to access educational materials while at school and from the comfort of their homes, as well as communicate with educators on a regular basis, this automatically allows for more in-depth dialogue as well as the tracking and collecting of valuable streaming data. This data collection and analysis facilitates exciting new possibilities in terms of the ability to tailor educational material to suit each individual child’s needs and development track.’

    Ntshongwana explains that data collection and streaming analysis, from a wide variety of touch points, has huge potential if insights drawn from this data are harnessed correctly through an effective and customisable software solution. A globally successful example of this is the technology used at the core of Software AG’s Digital Business Platform, Apama Streaming Analytics. This customisable and easily integrated software allows organisations to analyse and act on high-volumes of interactions in real-time, rapidly correlating and aggregating information from multiple sources, and identifying patterns across large volumes of fast-moving data.

    ‘This allows educators to take the right action at the right time, making instant decisions in the personalisation and adaptation of instruction based on in-depth feedback, and having the capability to respond immediately to millions of unique interactions from learners. Educational incentive systems for both learners and lecturers, also known as “microcredentials”, which reward successes with points or badges can also be incorporated to encourage development,’ she says. ‘Over time, the historical data analysis conducted by this platform also means that each individual pupil will have access to personalised educational processes and materials. This can be actioned both automatically by the system, as well as by educators who are able to customise responses through a visual dashboard, from any PC or smart device. These customisations are then made specifically to suit that learner’s needs and strengths based on indicators.

    ‘In addition to this, introducing children to new ways of approaching problems and solutions is absolutely essential in today’s ever expanding and constantly evolving knowledge economy,’ continues Ntshongwana. ‘With that being said, it is not only up to the child to figure out how these new tools work,’ she notes. ‘It is the responsibility of educators, parents and key education industry decision makers to establish best practices in the use of skills development and academic software innovations. It is a crucial part of any intervention of this nature to ensure the appropriate training on the technology and programs is carried out among stakeholders.’ Ntshongwana insists that in order for new systems and educational opportunities offered by technology to work effectively, a holistic commitment will need to be adhered to, and the educational environment at large will need to embrace this move.

    ‘As many are hopeful that the results of educational and skills development technologies in South African schools and training facilities will be significant and positive, the recent undertakings and commitments by government, in the form of increased funding and digital learning programmes, are encouraging steps toward improved educational practices. The solutions being implemented address both learning and economic challenges, and by proxy – could produce a better equipped and empowered workforce,’ concludes Ntshongwana.

    18 June 2015