What started as a pilot project two years ago with the ADvTECH Group to test the potential of remote teaching and learning at its South African schools, has evolved into a full-scale rollout to transform primary and high school education in South Africa, Botswana, and Kenya.
“Online learning as a concept has been discussed for many years. Unfortunately, up to now it has mostly been theoretical. But given how technology has permeated every facet of our lives, it has become essential to progress towards a more future-focused education environment. This requires an approach that goes beyond any specific curriculum and accounts for delivering content and skills on a variety of subjects using more innovative ways,” says John Luis, head of academics at ADvTECH.
Luis cautions that technology on its own does not necessarily enhance educational performance. Instead, it prepares learners for their future job environments.
“Online learning will not suddenly result in learners performing better at science, maths, and other subjects. It is a tool that gives our children the confidence they need to work with technology in a digital market. Schools that embrace this not only provide their learners with a quality education, but also a real sense of technology and how it integrates into the world of work,” he says.
ADvTECH partnered with Microsoft to roll out the technology company’s Teams integrated collaboration platform, which incorporates chat, video, and audio meetings, file storage, shared files, calendars and apps, and collaborative editing.
“With 110 schools in our stable, we approached Wits University to become our training partner to empower teachers with an intimate understanding of the platform. Each school identified two digital leaders to be trained, who in turn, conducted their own training at the school to implement Teams. As of the second semester (which began on 14 April), more than 2 000 teachers across the three countries were actively delivering classes via Teams,” says Luis.
Prior to the country lockdown, ADvTECH ensured that all teachers went through intensive refresher courses to make sure they would be comfortable with the online learning environment and knew how to structure lessons to optimally benefit learners.
“Despite being online, our schools are keeping stringent attendance registers to ensure learners attend the virtual classes. Many have kept their rosters unchanged so as to not disrupt the experience of going to school albeit using digital means. We have seen teachers embrace the Teams environment to make lessons more engaging and have incorporated technology to provide for quite an innovative classroom situation.”
He says one of the learnings to date has been that teachers present via their laptops and be participants on their mobile devices so they can see what their students see.
“This can mitigate the risk of the lesson not being displayed properly or any other visual challenges. Online education is highly dependent on the type of connectivity teachers and learners have at home. Fibre provides the best experience with 3G sometimes struggling to deliver an effective audio and visual experience.”
The way of the future
Beyond the current situation, Luis believes that Teams will change the future of remote teaching and learning.
“It is not going to be a case of going back to the old way of education. Instead, a hybrid approach will be driving learning. As teachers start getting comfortable with the technology, they are getting more excited about its potential. We will never move completely away from a face-to-face environment, but Teams can greatly enhance the potential of using technology at schools,” he concludes.