WCED announces details on e-learning “smart schools” project

logoOn Friday, Premier Helen Zille announced eight game-changers for the province.  One of these game-changers is the roll-out of E-learning in our schools.

This is a very exciting initiative that has taken years of planning and has the potential to make a major contribution towards improving the quality of teaching and learning in the province.

As the Premier said on Friday, E-learning will assist us in tackling some of the problems we face including increasing access to quality education in disadvantaged communities, providing support for struggling learners, contributing toward teachers’ training and professional development and improving management and administration at schools. It will also provide learners with the skills to participate in our increasingly technology-based economy in the future.

The WCED will be investing heavily in this project over the next five years.

Without taking into account the Western Cape Government’s (WCG) investment into the WAN, the rollout of the LAN and various infrastructure, equipment and devices, will cost the WCED R1.2 billion over the next five years.

So what does the E-learning game-changer entail?

The strategy includes a number of components that are critical to the provisioning of E-learning in our schools, namely:

  1. The linking of schools through a high-speed, real-time Wide Area Network (WAN).
  2. The provision of Local Area Networks (LANs) in schools.
  3. The refresh of existing computer laboratories and the provision of new laboratories and technology rich classrooms (smart classrooms).
  4. The development and expansion of online digital resources that are made available to all learners, parents and teachers.
  5. Teacher training and development in ICT and the use of E-learning in schools.
  6. Private Sector and donor funding

Details and rollout of each of these components are as follows:

  1. The linking of schools through a high-speed, real-time Wide Area Network (WAN). 

The WCG’s Broadband Strategy will include linking schools through a high-speed, real-time Wide Area Network (WAN).

This is one of the most critical requirements that will enable the WCED to begin to fully incorporate e-learning into our schools.

The Western Cape Government is aiming to connect as many schools as possible to the WAN by the end of 2016.

This component is currently in implementation mode. 366 school sites have already been surveyed for implementation.

It is envisaged that the first education sites will go live on the WAN Neotel network in April 2015.

1250 schools will be connected to high-speed broadband by July 2016 with 366 schools connected by June this year.

  1. The provision of Local Area Networks (LANs) in schools. 

The implementation of the broadband (WAN) will then enable the WCG to provide Local Area Networks (LANs) in schools. School sites will be fitted with a wireless distributed network (WiFi) for internet and inter-connectivity within a school.

The tender for the implementation for the LAN closed at the beginning of February. The bid evaluation process is now underway. It is estimated that the first delivery and implementation of the LAN will be in August 2015.

The WCED aims to roll out the LAN project to 510 schools in Quintiles 1 to 3 and LSEN over the next five years.  Many of the remaining schools will be assisted by the WCED to install local area networks, where possible, subject to financial constraints.

  1. Lab refreshes and smart classrooms. 

While the WAN and LAN are critical requirements for the e-learning strategy – our schools will not be able to fully utilize their potential without having the necessary ICT equipment.

Therefore, the WCED will be introducing the “Smart School Project” which includes refreshing existing Khanya Laboratories and the provision of “Smart Classrooms” so as to fully utilise their networks that have been created through the WAN and the LAN.

High School laboratories will be upgraded for the subjects of Computer Applications Technology, Information Technology and Engineering and Graphic and Design (CAT/IT/EGD) in an on-going three year cycle (approximately 120 schools in the first year and 86 per year in the following two years).

126 will receive refreshed computer labs this year. We will be seeking donor support to refresh more labs in the next five years.

I am very excited to introduce to schools the concept of a “Smart Classroom.”

A Smart Classroom is a classroom that is linked to the WAN and the LAN and is capacitated with mobile technology comprising a laptop for the teacher, a data projector, and other technological devices for teaching and learning.

3 350 classrooms across 248 schools will benefit from our Smart Classroom Project within this financial year, focusing on schools in Quintiles 1-3 and LSEN. R65 million will be spent during the current financial year, to convert these 3 350 classrooms to Smart Classrooms. Thereafter we will double this in the next five years. 

  1. Online digital resources for teachers and learners

It is critical that schools have access to the latest digital education resources so that we can optimise the use of e-Learning in order to improve education outcomes.

That is why the provincial department launched an E-Catalogue Resources Project at the end of last year. Developers of digital education resources have been invited to partner with the department as it expands access to e-Learning in the province.

The department has developed an online catalogue of digital education resources that can be accessed on the WCED website by teachers, learners and parents. The catalogue will be launched in the next few weeks and will be regularly updated.

The WCED is also expanding a Learning Management System (LMS) which encompasses a central digital resources repository that has curriculum content for teachers, learners and parents.  

  1. Teacher training and development in ICT and the use of E-learning in schools. 

The E-learning project will not succeed if our teachers do not know how to use the technology that will be provided.

It is critical that teachers and principals who will be benefitting from our E-learning game-changer are orientated and trained in the integrated use of the new technology being introduced at their schools and incorporating it into the curriculum.

We have therefore begun to roll out a comprehensive training programme to educators and principals who will be affected by the Smart School Project over the next few months.  Training of educators began in January at the Cape Teaching and Leadership Institute and will continue to be a primary focus area of the WCED’s teacher training budget in the next financial year.

  1. Private Sector and Donor Funding 

As mentioned earlier, the WCED has invested heavily into this project.

R1.2 billion is a major share of our budget and while we are able to cover the costs of implementing E-learning in our poorer Quintile 1-3 and LSEN schools we also require the support of the Private Sector and donors to assist us with the roll-out of Smart Schools to Quintile 4 and 5 schools.

Some of these schools are in poor areas that need our support.

In the few months the WCG will be announcing a funding model for investment into this project. However, in the interim you can still support the project by investing in a “Smart Classroom” or “Lab Refresh” at one or more of our schools.

Currently, MTN is refreshing the labs of 10 Quintile 4 schools in some of our poorest areas. We would like to thank them and encourage other business and donors both locally, nationally and internationally to invest in their own “Smart School” or “Smart Classroom Project”.

Please contact edumin.edumin@westerncape.gov.za if you would like to support this project or for more information.  

Conclusion 

We are very excited about what this game-changer can achieve in improving learner outcomes in this province.

This project has the potential to greatly advance the achievement of our main strategic objectives in education which is improving the level of language and mathematics in schools, increasing the number and quality of passes in the National Senior Certificate and increasing the quality of education provision in poorer communities.

Moreover, it is imperative that we prepare all our learners to be active participants in the economy after school. This investment will assist us in equipping learners with skills of the future and better prepare them with the 21st century skills needed in a global society.

This has been a long time in the making, but we believe that our intensive planning and resourcing of the project will ensure its long term success.

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