The buzzword in many industries all around the world is undoubtedly digital transformation. In the education sector the key is how it will continue to revolutionise the learning experience. Simply put, the ability to share knowledge and resources at increasingly lower costs is a fundamental reason why the current eLearning or digital education environment offers such enormous potential to improve education in South Africa.
Due to budget, it is nearly impossible to expect the South African Government to single-handedly introduce digital transformation in the education system. The private sector needs to come to the party and join forces with the government, to help develop speedy and cost-effective solutions that will benefit the entire country.
Recently, an annual digital study by global agency, We are Social, revealed that just under 50% of South Africa’s total population have access to the internet, with the figure standing at 26.8 million users in January 2016. In terms of platforms used, 92% use mobile phones while 18% use a laptop or desktop computer.
With mobile being the preferred device to access information, coupled with the introduction of apps such as mobile money, instant messaging and social media, the popularity and impact of mobile technology has the potential to revolutionise and empower communities.
With the development of more affordable smartphones more people are able to access devices that enhance the growth of digitalisation. Examples include Facebook, which is a widely used platform for content sharing at zero-to-no cost, and serves as a forum for interactive discussions between students and lecturers. The social media site also has several applications that can be harnessed by educators. An example is We Read, where students can manage books on their reading lists and discuss content with other students.
It is clear that the adoption of basic digital learning programmes is already starting to make inroads locally, in terms of transforming learning experiences. A scenario where a high school learner, who is struggling with the interpretation of a subject, is able to point their smartphone to the text so that an explanatory video pops up on the screen, is not far off. This is known as Augmented Reality (AR), technology that includes supplementary features to the printed word, such as pictures, text or video. This is already being used in classrooms in some parts of the world.
Virtual Reality (VR) is another emerging technology which has the potential to transform the learning experience. It enables students to learn in a three-dimensional (3D) environment, bringing abstract concepts to ‘life’. A great example is when learners are studying the Grand Canyon, and then they are able to ‘see’ it for themselves thanks to smartphones with virtual reality headsets.
A number of private and public schools in South Africa have already introduced digital content- including Pearson, having moved away from simply providing e-books, to delivering interactive materials aimed at keeping learners engaged. It is only a matter of time before such technologies become more common in South Africa and become a game-changer in the education system.
If digital technology is to be successful in the classroom environment in South Africa, and potentially address many of the current shortcomings in terms of access, quality and limited resources, much still needs to be done. While the burden of this falls mainly on the state, it is critical that significant support is provided by the private sector.
While the initial outlay may be costly, it is outweighed by the long-term benefits of improved access to education for the masses. Naturally, a lot more field work, development, training and planning needs to take place among all the industry stakeholders – including government, the education sector, mobile service providers and private companies. Such collaboration is vital in order to ensure a robust methodology is developed to take our education system forward into a digital future.