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!