Q&A with Equal Education's Tracey Malawana

President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to start computer programming studies at every school and give every pupil a tablet. Chris Barron asked Tracey Malawana of Equal Education...

28 April 2019 - 00:00 By Chris Barron

What do you make of the president's promises?
Long ago, I think in about 2007, there was an introduction of computer programming in Gauteng called Gauteng Online, and there were a lot of issues.
What issues?
We had a computer period at my school, but we never went to the computer lab because there were issues of connectivity. Gauteng Online was always offline.
So that needs to be sorted?
Yes, what does it mean if there are computers and tablets that are not working? It means there'll be no learning taking place. We've had terrible experiences around computer labs where schools didn't even know the Wi-Fi password, or had to go for a week without electricity. There are issues of Eskom that have to be sorted out.
As far as tablets go, there are issues of violence; schools are not safe; there's a lot of theft. Before introducing tablets, the government needs to make sure schools are safe and that pupils walking to school are safe.
Will tablets turn the pupils into targets for criminals?
There is that danger. We know every day when we're driving or walking around with our phones we're not comfortable, so imagine if you have a grade 1 pupil carrying a tablet in their schoolbag. That's not a good idea at all. It means they'll be targets for crime.
And with computer labs at schools - I know a number of schools where there were break-ins and they took all the computers. So if we're introducing this we need to think about issues of safety.
Other issues?There are basic issues of infrastructure that the president and the department of basic education need to deal with, and they're not dealing with those issues.To this day we have about 4,000 pit latrines that still need to be eradicated at schools. Since the introduction of norms and standards in 2013, we haven't seen a huge change in schools that don't have water, sanitation or electricity.Will computer programming in those schools be difficult?That's going to be very difficult. We also have issues around teaching and learning. We have pupils in grade 4 who cannot read or write, so we already have issues of teacher training. If you're introducing another thing on top of the issues we already have, it will further jeopardise the education system.Do you see any positives?I think these things can have a positive impact, but if we're failing to deal with basic infrastructure issues, if we're failing to deal with teacher and learning issues, if we're failing to address early grade reading, then I don't think we should add issues that will cause more stress on top of the things we're already struggling with.When we've resolved issues of connectivity and pit latrines and electricity and water - basic issues - then we can start thinking about the introduction of paperless classes, or tablets.Imagine if you're a teacher who is not well trained and you're expected to teach computer programming but you don't even know how to teach reading. it will be creating a lot of stress.

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