The iPad in South African schools – a response

Much has been made of the use of iPads in the South African school context. I fear though that schools are rushing to this piece of technology without spending time examining how it will improve the level of teaching and learning in the classroom. Others seem to want to get on the iPad bandwagon in their quest to be in front of the race for enrolment while others ask parents to buy iPads and then use them 1 hour a week in an iPad lesson instead of integrating them into the learning process several times during the week.

Let me be upfront and say that the school I lead has embarked on an iPad in the classroom project in one of our grades and we are walking the road slowly with constant evaluation of its effectiveness. We have bought 25 iPads to be shared amongst the classes in the grade and have regular evaluation meetings with the grade teachers to review how the iPad is being used and to share lesson integration ideas. I am a school leader who believes in embracing technology where appropriate but not simply for the sake of being trendy!

Let’s be clear about this: A bad teacher remains a bad teacher when an iPad is put in their hands. Technology is not the key for a bad teacher – accountability and on-going training is the first step!

The Core Group recently uploaded a video entitled “Revolutionising Education: the iPad in South African schools”. This video shows several examples of pupils in varying school contexts across South Africa using iPads in their classrooms. There are some interesting interviews with educators and there is clearly some very good work being done with these devices in some of the schools. However there are some concerns as well.

In the video a teacher is seen to extol the virtues of the iPad in a maths lesson. She tells the viewer that the pupils can now count apples on the iPad and this is helping them understand the concept better. Please explain why this could not have been done without the iPad. Why not have the pupils collect small stones, bottle tops or something similar and bring these into class where the children could explore numeracy concepts in a concrete way? Do we need an iPad to do this? This teachers also mentions that absenteeism is reduced as pupils do not want to miss an iPad class. Imagine if her teaching in all her other classes was so exciting and ignited the imagination in new and dynamic ways, that her pupils did not want to miss her class regardless of what technology, if any, was being used…

I really like the Sacred Heart College approach of engaging their Grade 7 pupils in the creation of their own iPad apps. This seems to be a very forward-thinking and appropriate use of the technology – focus on creating not simply consuming! The learning is in the hands of the learners. I love the little guy who is the sound engineer!

The Key School for Specialised Education is obviously keen on the use of technology in the classroom for all the right reasons but what are they doing using the iPad as what appears to be a TV screen? Come on Core – give them a VGA adapter cable and a monitor on their wall! On the other hand, just use a DVD player if you’re going to be showing the children movies! The story of Reuben told by Dr Jenni Gous is a model story of what can be done with the correct use of the iPad. It is an inspirational story – well done to Reuben’s teacher and mom who have embraced this technology with an open mind.

Here is the video :


This video does not cover the good folks at Kragveld Primary who proudly advertise their school as the only one in the country using iPads from Grade R-7. Clearly they have not seen the video above! Take a look at their video here :

While I applaud their first steps towards a new pedagogy in their classrooms, I am not convinced that they ‘get’ it! The iPads are being used as a device to broadcast information in the front of the class instead of being a tool which engages the learners in a creative process. Yes, it certainly puts wonderful graphics on the screen and it certainly has educational value but it is not using the iPad to its potential as a tool for learning. Quite frankly, I am less than impressed by the quality of teaching and learning  put across in this video – a great shame as I believe the teachers at this school have an openness to new ideas and possibilities. I wonder what these folks could do with further training and equipping in the use of the iPad as a teaching tool. This Kragveld video leaves me a bit sad – they seem to be on the right path but stuck in a 20th century paradigm of teaching. Is this revolutionary teaching? I think not…

So then, is the iPad revolutionising education in South Africa? I don’t believe so. Is it being used in exciting and creative ways in certain schools? Absolutely! So now, the question is, how do we bring the schools which are using iPads really well together with those who would like to but simply don’t know how to?

The South African education system is in need of much more basic intervention than simply adding iPads to the mix – a true revolution of the education system will be when every pupil has quality teachers in decent school buildings lead by competent principals supported by effective departments of education. As much as we may like to think so, the iPad is not the answer quite yet!

11 thoughts on “The iPad in South African schools – a response

  1. Thanks for sharing the iPad story and for the useful comments.
    Of course no technology replaces poor teaching, infrastructure , proper professional development, I think we all agree that. However, in all my years of working with technology in education – the iPad makes the access to the integration of technology ( which we all know is critical) more accessible and user friendly.
    Stones and bottle tops can be used – but this does not allow for digital literacy integrated into curriculum learning.
    The iPad video is only an example of some schools using the solution – and of course there are others such as Kragveld, Dainfern, Redhill, Northcliff High, Ridge, Pridwin, to name a few….
    Uses of iPad include a broad range of content consumption and content creation experiences. Sometimes the skills continuum needs to start at content consumption.
    In the short time the iPad has been in schools – benefits to teacher and learner in terms of engagement and motivation are clear – must say something for benefits of the tool

  2. Arthur Preston says:

    Hi Michelle

    Thanks for your comments – I thought this might elicit a reply from you or one of your team! I appreciate you taking the time to write.

    Let me be crystal clear on this – I am an iPad fan and believe that they are fantastic teaching tools capable of taking pupils on a wonderfully creative learning journey. My contention however is that there are simply way too many people who see this piece of technology as a panacea for poor teaching and as a one-size-fits-all quick fix in the classroom.

    You are absolutely correct in your assertion that stones and bottle tops will not allow for digital literacy but let’s fix our pedagogy first! I am a very vocal proponent of the integration of digital literacy into the curriculum so would love to see this as part and parcel of all learning in schools. However it would seem that many schools in South Africa need first to fix the basics before embarking on the journey towards effective 21st century teaching. This is true across schools of all descriptions and across all socio-economic sectors.

    There are some phenomenal educators doing the most amazing things with iPads in South Africa – our school hosts an iPad TeachMeet once a term and we see examples of this work from teachers across the Cape Peninsula. As I indicated, I believe one of our biggest challenges is to take this learning into all our schools!

    Thanks for all you are doing in this regard. You and your team are making a difference!

    Kind regards


  3. Hi Arthur, thanks for prompt response . I think what you say is correct for all technological interventions. I think we need to ensure that this is understood. There are certain basic criteria around introducing technology to the the classroom. I think what I have seen are benefits unique to iPad. I think we just need to separate the generic from the specific.
    Would love to hear more about TeachMeet.
    Best regards as always

  4. Hello Arthur

    I think the brevity of the video hides the planning and reflection that goes into these projects. You are correct as far as getting the pedagogy right before you throw technology into the mix. Pedagogy is of the utmost importance and that is why it is necessary to utilize resources and time for educator training. By training I’m not referring to technical training on how to use a device, but on ongoing professional development of an educator’s teaching pedagogy and practice. Our personal success can be attributed to such training at least 6 months prior to implementation with set objectives and with facilitation by an education expert. It is also best practice to have a curriculum specialist visiting classrooms in order to give feedback to both educators and the project team on the success of the applied teaching strategies. As a result you can develop instruments that allow the success of these ICT-integration strategies to be measured.

    Kind Regards
    Richard Knaggs
    (Parklands College)

  5. Arthur Preston says:

    Hi Richard

    Thanks for your comment!

    I agree with you – for any technology implementation project to be successful there has to be significant planning and preparation. The approach you have laid out is spot-on and I really like the fact that you have incorporated not only training but ongoing accountability into your iPad project.

    Please continue to add your voice to the ongoing edtech discussions amongst South Africa’s teaching community.

    Kind regards


  6. Good day. Yes we are the only school in SA to use the iPads as a teaching tool in all the classes all the time. We do not use any normal boards in our classes, some schools have a few iPads only to use in a certain grade or class but we are the only school in SA to work fully with the iPads in all our classes and all the teachers. We are also a government school and do not have the funds to buy each student an iPad but we have invested a great amount of money to have 2 meter boards to project all work on the iPad for all our 40 + children in a classroom to see.

    Because we are a public school we have all the CAPS and GET books (and many more) which the government curriculum assigned all the school in SA on our iPads, each class and teacher got their own resources.

    I hope you can visit us soon to see it in action. All the classrooms got internet access and our website is a information hub to all students and teachers.

    Just to mention, all the teachers bought their own iPads and no funds nor companies sponsored us. We did it because we believe in the best in education and this is truly the best.


    Mr. Wright
    Kragveld Primary

  7. Hi Arthur

    Technology by itself is no silver bullet that ‘fixes education’. And the video that you reference was, I guess, an attempt to show how much excitement can be generated, and how easy it is to engage learners for whom digital technology is not ‘special’ but a matter of course, unlike many teachers, who think of computers and iPads as an IT thing (in this day and age, analogous to someone thinking of pencils as a woodwork/graphite thing, instead of a creative tool).

    It’s a shame that almost all of the examples used were substitutive examples, rather than transformative ones (and here I must empathise with the creators of the video – making a short video that addresses a subject that complex in 5 short minutes is a challenge).

    And I agree with you about your bandwagon quote. Even though it’s expensive, signing off and purchasing the latest technology is very easy – it just requires a signature on the bottom of a purchase order. The really challenging part is the meaningful integration of that technology into the learning process. And with something as potentially revolutionary as the iPad, it’s a challenge. I’m looking at the quote from Mr. Wright above and without any further information other than a cursory look at their web site, I’d say the biggest challenge any school faces with a device like the iPad is the task of creating a powerful environment for learning, rather than an environment for teaching. (although I do like the idea of using an iPad as a virtual smart board rather than one of those expensive big clunkers)

    (Comments in a blog during the middle of a working day are not the best places to put forward a contentious argument either ; – )

    Professional development for teachers is so important. We just have to be sure that we are developing the right strategies.

    Keep up the great work and keep challenging the status quo.

    Alan (who keeps over using brackets as usual)

  8. Hi Arthur and Co

    I think it is great that we as South Africans are embracing technology in our schools, I believe it is the only way forward in this age where technology is advancing on a daily basis. I have watched the video clips of the various schools and one thing that stands out immediately is that we are going to end up with a generation that will suffer badly from repetitive strain injuries, both teachers and scholars a like. My company is about mechanical devices that make using these devices more comfortable and in the long run, reducing the risk of repetitive strain injuries. Please visit my website for contact details and product descriptions.

    Kind Regards

    Lance Mitchell

  9. Luke Martins says:

    My Neice has been asked to purchase an ipad and I was surfing the net to see what the overall opinion was on technology in the classroom.

    This article is perfection, black and white “as it is” and a great critique on the importance and shortfalls technology carries into a classroom.

    Well done Arthur!

  10. I love the fact that each child in my class has a piece of technology that connects them to wider world. Just having tech in the class means that the hidden curriculum can be explored and developed e.g. it is not a good idea to play dream team in every lesson instead of doing the work. My question is ipads vs laptops. I still think the device that is more likely to be used outside of school is a desktop or a laptop. An ipad is an on the go, interim device. Not a primary device or is it. AM I MISSING SOMETHING…

    I am not convinced the iPad is that revolutionary that it should supersede a laptop.

    I wonder if others are feeling this, any thoughts?

  11. Arthur Preston says:

    Hi Robert

    Much has changed since I wrote this post in 2012. Our school is now in its fourth year of 1:1 iPads in our classrooms and our fifth year of using iPads as a teaching and learning tool.

    I think the biggest influence on the decision on whether to use laptops or tablets lies in their intended use. Using iPads for tasks which require creation of content rather then simply consumption of content has opened up wonderful learning opportunities for pupils. It seems to me that as children enter their senior high years, the need for a laptop becomes greater as they use it for word processing and research purposes.

    What I would really hate to see is our pupils thinking that the only reason they have a mobile device (tablet or laptop) in their hands is to ‘look up stuff’ and type assignments.

    Laptops can be awkward devices for filming and taking outside the classroom. Tablets have far greater flexibility for activities such as these. On a practical note, they also take up less space when stored in the classroom!

    I’m sure that there are many other reasons our fellow-educators would give for preferring a tablet over a laptop in the primary and early high school years.

    Thank-you for being willing to make learning exciting and meaningful for your students using technology!

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