Technology helps ‘democratise’ education system

Ayanda Mtanyana, head of advisory services at New Leaders Foundation.

Ayanda Mtanyana, head of advisory services at New Leaders Foundation.

Technology has been a critical enabler in democratising decision-making within the education sector, says Ayanda Mtanyana, head of advisory services at New Leaders Foundation (NLF).

Mtanyana spoke to ITWeb about the growth of technology-enabled monitoring, evaluation, research and learning in the local education space in recent years.

“What you find in public sector systems – where there are people at national and provincial office that are running or managing departments – is that the system is big and complex, in that every school is an organisation of its own.

“You need to be able empower each and every head of those institutions to be able to use insights, to drive the agenda of the institution and technology helps us do that at scale. You can democratise that decision-making and empower each of those individuals with insights that they can use to drive improvement.

“This is something that we are starting to see play out in education and we are quite excited about how that will change the landscape of education in South Africa, especially for the African child.”

Effective education outcomes

Not-for-profit organisation NLF, which works primarily in the education space, was established in 2009 by a former teacher with the aim to support leaders in education to be effective in how they drive the agenda of improving education outcomes.

The organisation counts the Department of Basic Education (DBE) among its partners, helping it to gain data from schools and use that data to effectively manage schools as well as support them, says Mtanyana.

Through what it describes as its flagship programme, the Data Driven Districts (DDD) programme, NLF is able to utilise data drawn on theDDD dashboard to help the DBE make decisions that improve efficiencies and ultimately learner outcomes.

The DDD programmeis led by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation in partnership with the DBE. NLF is the implementation partner, and provides support to national and provincial offices through training and capacity-building with tools, processes and skills for collecting and using quality data.

According to Mtanyana, the dashboard solution can be accessed via a browser and can be used to see performance at a national and provincial level all the way down to a school, to see how a specific grade is performing, leaner performance or even when teacher A was absent.

“We have rolled this out throughout the country and trained officials on how to use the data that comes from the dashboard in order for them to manage and support schools,” he explains.

“Before the dashboard, schools would submit Excel templates with data; the district would in turn take it [templates] to province. Sometimes those templates were paper-based, where teachers would write down leaners’ marks as well as any other information needed and that would then be sent to the district.

“Otherwise, the principal would go to the district office with a USB stick to supply the data. That data was not widely accessible and not used as part of the operations and mainly used for reporting purposes. Now, data can be seen at the click of a button.

“Timely data helps us really to be able to respond quite early on by providing the right interventions to support learners in their journeys.”

One of the challenges in education is that the system is really complex, he notes, adding that technology provides an opportunity to address this challenge.

“For example, you may have schools that are in the same street and serving the same community but one is better managed than the other; one school has a teacher who performs better than another in terms of the teaching practice.

“If you take that example and scale it up to more than 24 000 schools…that complexity makes it difficult, for instance, for someone at district, provincial or national level to be able to design programmes that are able to respond to the needs of the country in a way that addresses the underlying issues.

“This complexity then warrants the need for some level of intelligence that comes from the data, being able to pick up through data the challenges that are facing learners and teachers.

“Technology offers this in a timeous fashion. The context in which we are operating is changing and shifting over time; therefore, timely data is very important. It allows you to be able to respond to issues immediately because the need can be different at a later point in time.”

On the issue of more e-learning programmes and access to ICT-related devices in schools, Mtanyana advises first looking at the pedagogy.

In SA, and across the African continent, there has been a heightened effort by government and private organisations to roll out e-learning and ICT devices, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the issue that sometimes comes up is around the training in how to use the devices and resources that sometimes end up being white elephants in the schools.

“Look at the teaching,” he states. “What is it that one intends to teach the learner and what is the programme of learning that one is implementing, and then use the device as enabler in that context. Remain facilitating learning but use the device as an enabler.”

Turning to the future, Mtanyana says it is really looking bright in terms of what is currently being done and what technology stands to bring.

“Technology makes personal learning possible and future-proofs learners to have competencies required for the changing world.

“Also, in terms of digital literacy, our children will be able to plug into the global world and be relevant in South Africa,” he concluded.

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