In February 2015, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) put into motion a 5 year project aiming at rolling out e-learning solutions in the province’s schools. This will allow for more qualitative education for all pupils in the Cape and help students and teachers alike to become well versed in the digital tools that are shaping the 21st century.
This initiative took years of planning and is one of the key “Game Changers” that Hellen Zille’s government has been developing before introducing it to the public in 2015. It is essentially a two-step project. Firstly, schools in the Western Cape need to be connected to free high speed internet. Secondly, pupils and teachers must be given access to the best digital materials possible.
To achieve this, the government has pledged to connect 1250 schools to high speed broadband internet by July 2016. They will first install Wide Area Networks (WAN) and then connect the schools through Local Area Networks (LAN).
Once connected, the next step for schools is an upgrade of their ICT infrastructure. This is primarily achieved by the creation of smart classrooms equipped with modern and adequate devises that are all connected to the newly implemented networks. By the end of 2015, the goal was to have smart classrooms in 248 schools and double that amount in the next 4 years of the project. As these smart classrooms are being developed, computer laboratories are also being upgraded or introduced where needed.
Along with the infrastructure’s update, the WCED also introduced a new Eportal in late 2015. Through this portal website, parents, learners and teachers now have access to the newest electronical educational tools. From school curriculums to extracurricular content and even tests, all of it is made readily available on the Eportal, which can be accessed via www.wcedeportal.co.za.
This landmark project in the Western Cape, as well as other internet-related projects in provinces all across South Africa, are the culmination of a technological evolution that was years in the making. From the country’s humble internet beginnings in the late 1980’s, to the implementation of broadband in the early 2000’s, to the rollout of fibre internet to residential areas in 2016, South Africa has always been at the forefront of the internet advances for the continent.
Initiatives like this “Game Changer” are the next logical step in getting the whole of South Africa online. The country now has its first generation of “Digital Natives”, which means a full generation has grown into young adults with the internet being a constant in their day-to-day existence.
By acknowledging this and actually making use of the tools the digital era offers as far as education is concerned, South Africa is giving the learners of today all the tools to become productive members of society tomorrow. E-learning in all its forms not only brings knowledge to students in a new way, but it does so using digital tools and methodologies that in themsleves, become an aquired skill and second nature for students of all ages. After all, the younger people are when introduced to new technology, the easier it is for them to master it.