The flood of software solutions within the education sphere, be it for formal learning environments, homeschooling or informal learning, stunts true progress for our children.
South African schools can benefit greatly from the assistance that software solutions can bring to learning, but the dangers are real.
Firstly, the fact that the students can navigate through the software on their own, all in the name of independent learning, may work later in school life. But at primary school level, it can be counterproductive. Young children will learn mistakes as part of their learning experience unless they are gently coached and supported by teachers and staff. In all our work in South Africa, I have seen one model in the Northern Cape where technology-assisted learning adds and not distracts from true learning.
What these pioneers under the leadership of Prof Dieter von Willert did and still do well is that they do not leave the child unattended while working through the language or mathematical studies. The Prof calls his method, the Kagiso Analysis, and places it at the core of the learning experience.
There is a valuable lesson to learn for all of us. We need to work hard to place the software for learning in its rightful place - as a tool that will enable the teacher to not only see what the sttudent does right, but what is incorrect. Interestingly, and I saw this firsthand, Prof von Willert and his team check where the blunders are and then re-teach those need-areas in order to foster true learning and progress. It happens in our schools that we move on to the next subject or the next lesson even though the child has not mastered the previous steps. BUT this must stop and we must resist solutions that impair our capacity to help our children achieve their best.
Secondly, time is required for schools and administrators to see what really works and time to study impact. We do not have need for more software solutions as if there is a desperate shortage. What we need is consistency over a reasonable amount of time to use and measure the impact of a proposed software solution. We should be wary of simply buying and installing another software package without a legitimate reason for abandoning the previous one.
Thirdly, broadband connections in our schools are still a fragmented affair at best. It is worse, the further you go from the bigger cities. Software solutions that places a heavy burden on the quality of internet connections can be detrimental to the quality of learning process. Again, throughout the years, where we have used Skype/Webex and Blackboard in our development work, we have often caused more damage by over-reliance on broadband services often leading to enormous chunks of time being wasted.
These three abovementioned realities also represent three variables that must be carefully studied on a local school level, by the school, to determine impact. The point is that, understanding the impact of software solutions for learning depends heavily on the true support learners receive from teachers (not technology), needs time for implementation and requires an understanding of the difference broadband connection reliability makes, BEFORE we can determine it as contributing meaningfully to our schools.
At the same time, and probably most important of all, we need to bath our implementation in the humble recognition that our children are not inanimate objects that can be discarded from a conveyer belt if it does not turn out the way the software anticipated. Our children are precious human beings whose lives have been entrusted to us for a brief but crucial moment known as childhood.