Posted on September 26, 2010 · Posted in SF Fellow

Today I attended the opening day of the Innovate 2010 Schools ICT Conference held at The Cape Academy for Mathematics, Science and Technology in Cape Town. I saw a talk that made me rejoice and despair; laugh and cry and pull my hair out, all at the same time.

The rejoicing and laughter

Parklands College were reporting on the use of technology in their school, specifically the Apple One2One programme they have. They have absolutely astounding results. Results which are inspiring and showcase the massive potential impact of technology in the classroom.

Their flagship success story has to be Duncan. Duncan is in Grade 4 this year. He only started at Parklands at the end of Grade 2 and was, somewhat harshly, an academic disaster. He was receiving multiple sessions of multiple different types of therapy a week and was pushed into Grade 3. He absolutely despaired at going to school and his parents had no idea how to help him.

Through their programme he discovered a new voice, using tools like iMovie on a MacBook he learnt to express himself, began to enjoy learning, acquired the confidence to become creative about this work and the delivery of his assignments. For those more worried about formal standards, all his marks improved significantly and one of his weakest areas, languages, shot to 70%. All in less than a year.

This is remarkable, there are probably many children like Duncan who will just be lost, who will never find a voice and for whom despair is the only road they’ll travel.

There were also numerous stories of learners becoming content producers, everything from generating a school newspaper site to vlog book reviews as was reported on by a couple of teachers. For Parklands, the use of technology is a resounding success with numerous remarks as to the level engagement, enthusiasm, drive and quality of learning.

One could use the Parklands success, after only THREE months, as a super candidate for technology.

The despair

The Parklands teachers seemed resigned to give all the credit for the success to the technology itself. This makes me sad, they should know that there are numerous cases where similar technology has been deployed and nothing has come of it. Surely the educators that create the enabling environment must be important too?

The hair pulling

I feel that the entire presentation, 2 teachers, 1 consultant, and 1 Apple service provider did the conference a disservice. I understand that it was an Apple programme but I feel that someone should have extracted the message that was relevant to the educators in the room – who will not for the foreseeable future be able to purchase MacBooks in the quantities Parklands did. The underlying message was that being able to create content and express themselves in their own way made learning engaging, fun and effective.

The tears

The message that was presented was essentially that MacBooks + iLife transformed education. No clear acknowledgement for the fact that it was the ability to generate their own material that engaged the learners and that this could be done with other technology. Why is this a problem, because most educators left the room think not that using what technology they have to let learners express themselves might make a difference but rather that they will never be able to demonstrate anything similar because they do not have MacBooks.

Not only that, a comment was made that a PC-lab that Parklands had for 7 years had resulted in nothing but 3 months with MacBooks changed everything. Again, a simple comment that creates a massive misconception amongst the audience. The remark about the PC-lab was followed by a description of a massive programme that was implemented to train the educators, learners and parents about the MacBooks were to be used. Something that was unlikely to have happened with the acquisition of the PCs. Again, what software were the PCs running, were they comparable to the MacBooks.

I’m not an Apple fan but I feel that the opportunity to spread the message that using technology (not just MacBooks) to allow learners to express themselves was lost and large audience left with significant misconceptions regarding what is required to do what the Parklands learners did. There are millions of videos on Youtube, very similar to the quality shown in the Parklands talk, that were not made on a MacBook.

I think that Parklands have achieved wonderful results, I just feel that marketing took precedence over education today and that is not fine with me.

About the Author

Mark Horner is the CEO of Siyavula Education, a social enterprise working in the school sector in South Africa. While working as the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow for Open and Collaborative Resources, Mark was able to transform the Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project, which he co-founded, into Siyavula Education. In this process, openly-licensed, collaboratively authored textbooks have been printed and distributed nationally in South Africa. Working at the intersection of community, openness and technology; Mark intends to leverage this success to make Siyavula an innovative, technology provider in education that works effectively as part of the education community to ensure better learning opportunities for all. A recent notable event being the delivery of Siyavula's textbooks over Mxit, the most popular mobile chat solution in South Africa. Mark has a PhD in physics from the University of Cape Town and conducted his research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California on the results from the STAR experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. His work is carried out in the belief that the liberation of information and support of education in South Africa will lead to a peaceful and prosperous future for all South Africans.