29 April 2022

The Premier of Mpumalanga, Ms Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane, together with the MEC for Education, Mr Bonakele Majuba, recently launched an e-Learning Programme in the province. Aimed at grade 12 learners, the programme intends to revolutionise the delivery of education in the province to enable future growth and improvement of digital skills to ensure that learners in the province attain competitive contemporary 21st century quality education.

The province, in partnership with Bongani Rainmaker Logistics and other unspecified stakeholders, has purchased more than 55 000 android tablets for learners and 6 700 laptops device for teachers. Each grade 12 learner from about 517 schools will receive free monthly data to enable easy access to digitised Learning and Teaching Support Materials (LTSMs) in the form of textbooks and workbooks. This further includes support and maintenance of the devices for a period of three years.

Senior lecturer at the University of Mpumalanga (UMP) School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, Dr Mncedisi Bembe looks at the advantages of this bold move by the Provincial government.

Improving the quality of education

The concept of e-Learning refers to the use of information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance learning education. This definition is generic as it covers a wide range of systems, from learners using e-mail and accessing subjects to work online. In essence, e-learning unveils a bigger picture of sources to learners available remotely with the holistic approach to learn from anywhere with minimal cost and effort. This feature implies that the Mpumalanga government hopes to improve the quality of education by allowing easy access to resources as the programme aims to provide textbooks and workbooks for the learners.

The programme will further enable individual instructions provided that the e-learning system adopted have a bidirectional communication between the learners and teachers. The provision of data will allow students to be exposed to different learning styles that are provided through different platforms available online. There are other advantages associated with the system, such as flexibility, motivating and interesting, as well as being available online, and offline.

Creating opportunities

As much as the current system adopted in the province provides advantages, these are not exhaustive to what e-learning system can achieve. The current programme and features of the e-learning system are associated with opportunities that includes live interaction with teachers, feedback, and an evaluation platform. 

The programme through the e-learning system further provides a platform that can permit the provision of personalized learning, expanded learning opportunities, high engagement learning, competency-based learning, collaborative learning, quality learning products, etc. Since the programme is in its inception stage, it is understandable that at this stage not all forms of e-learning functions are employed.  

UMP The e-learning programme intends to revolutionise the delivery of education in the province. 

Grooming learners to take up STEM careers

South Africa has recognised the need for more people with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills among secondary school learners. These skills are necessary for South Africa's infrastructure development. The programme is essential to provide a well-rounded education, including science subjects that are a foundation to STEM careers. This is due to the ability of the programme to proving access to up-to-date information to enhance the curriculum.

The incorporation of e-learning is an important tool for teachers in rural areas where resources are minimal as compared to urban counterparts. The access benefits are not limited to learners, but also networking and professional development opportunities for teachers. The access to e-learning presented by this programme is that teachers will have exposure to a greater network of other science teachers for information sharing.

Learners and teachers alike will benefit from information on the most up-to-date information and exposure to STEM related technologies. This implies that the adoption of e-learning in the province will stimulate and groom learners to take STEM (including ICT) related courses in higher education training as a pathway to taking careers around this area.

Learning towards the future

The future requires that we all adopt new paradigms, especially considering the effects of COVID-19 that affected learning around the globe. Despite all the challenges that the system might face, it should be remembered that the adoption of this kind of system is made solely for the desire to want to compete with the best education systems in the world. The desire is for the province to produce learners that are amongst the best in the world, and this is the objective of the Mpumalanga e-learning programme.

However, as important and vital as this programme is to the transformation of the education standard in the province, there are some challenges associated with this initiative. The programme requires knowledge and skills from teachers and content providers. This will mean that the provincial government will have to invest more money to ensure that the system is competitive to leading international e-learning systems.

The amount of free data that the programme will provide is not specified and there is a possibility that there will be lack of resources to support all the envisioned qualities of e-learning. The learners using this system might be isolated and suffer from missing social contact associated with negative attitude. The literature has also shown that ICT systems are susceptible to technical defect which might impair the ability to access resources remotely.

Lastly, it is my hope that the programme does not get extended to primary school learners, especially pupils that are 12 years old or younger as the dangers have been shown to be immense and complex than the positive for such ages.  

@ This is an opinion piece by Dr Mncedisi Bembe, Senior lecturer at the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences. Pictures supplied.