A skill for the 21st Century: computational thinking in African schools

At the recent Innovation Africa conference, many African educational ministries were talking about ‘readying’ their learners for the 4th Industrial Revolution and developing 21st Century Skills to advance their economies. These skills are an undefined issue, which many education ministries are attempting to solve through providing digital content and devices in the hope that these skills are acquired as a side effect of technology usage. In Botswana, the MOBE initiated a pilot of digital devices and content, with Microsoft and partners, to foster these skills. In Zimbabwe, a new curriculum is rolling out with a subject Internet Communication Technology, including basic digital literacy as well as sections on digital citizenship and coding skills. The recent curriculum reform in Ghana sees a strong focus on ICT-integration as well as a new subject Computing, which covers ICT (operating a computer, word processing, databases, etc.) as well as internet skills. Nigeria is a tech-aspirational market with a keen interest in internet technology and the entrepreneurial opportunities it offers. In South Africa, the message around the 4th Industrial Revolution is consistently reiterated through government as well as party political communication channels as well as ongoing communication from the Department of Basic Education

South African Coding and Robotics Curriculum

The South African government is developing curricula for coding and robotics for grades R to 9, in order, according to the basic education minister, Angie Motshekga, to create sustainable industrialisation and keep pace with the world.

Computation thinking in South Africa – driven by coding and robotics

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Digital Classroom: Ten Trends

As part of the Digital Classroom Resource book we recently published, we identified ten digital trends that were going to have an impact on the futures of learners. These trends were a starting point for teacher-led classroom discussions, or could be used to set homework activities or projects.

3D printing

In 1986, an American inventor named Charles Hull successfully created the world’s first 3D printer in his quest for rapid prototyping. Little did he know that, many years later, 3D printing will have become so common and accessible, impacting society on a scale never before imagined.

We are printing gadgets and toys, replacement parts for our kitchen accessories, specialised parts for our vehicles, building bricks for houses, and biological components to aid in human and animal organ repairs and replacements. We are even printing food! Foodini is a machine that will print your food in any style and shape you want. Science and technology in the medical field are making great strides in the development of printing artificial organs such as liver, hearts, skin tissue and more. Houses are being printed, brick by brick. 3D printing allows us to create physical artefacts from digital files and opens up a whole new world of design realisation and tangible engineering solutions. 3D printers are becoming more affordable, faster and easier to use.

Discussion topics: What is the future of 3D printing for the average household? Will every house have their own printer and print whatever they need? What things will we print? Where will the materials come from that we use to print? What will be the impact on jobs and job creation – will some jobs be replaced and new ones created?

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Using print and digital resources to teach mathematics in South Africa

South Africa has an ongoing issue with the teaching and learning of mathematics. A University of Stellenbosch study in 2012 found that only 58% of grade 6 learners were functionally numerate, stating “at least a quarter of children have learnt so little in six years of formal full-time schooling that they have not even mastered functional literacy or numeracy”. The Department of Basic Education’s statistics shows that only 3% of grade nine learners got over a 50% average in mathematics. The problem is complex; factors include a poor grounding in numeracy in the Foundation Phase years, coupled with some teachers who are not comfortable with the subject. While in no ways a maths expert, I’ve been working on a digital and print blended maths product for the past year, which I hope could add to the resources teachers can draw on to assist learners understanding mathematical concepts. 

The Study & Master Maths Online Workbooks integrate a print book with targeted practice exercise and an online mathematics teaching and learning platform to improve understanding of critical mathematical topics. A recent report by the UNESCO Working Group on Education states that blending traditional off-line education approaches with digital applications appears to be a more successful approach to digital learning, with activities that involve engaging with physical resources proving effective in a wide variety of contexts.

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Teaching phonics in Nigeria

For the past few years I have been working (for Cambridge University Press) on the development of print and digital material for the Nigerian schools’ market. With a large and competitive schooling system, this has proven a challenging and engaging experience. In order to differentiate ourselves from our competitors we have tried a number of strategies. One of the more successful ones so far has been the development of an integrated digital phonics course, provided with our print English textbooks. Phonics are already included in the NERDC English curriculum and covered by the teacher in the classroom, but with many Nigerians second or third language English-speakers, correct pronunciation is highly valued.

But first, what is phonics?

Phonics is used to teach reading through the development of a child’s phonemic understanding. The aim of teaching phonics is for a learner to associate the smallest unit of sound (or phoneme) with the corresponding spelling patterns they represent. Learners will eventually be able to decode new words by sounding them out. It is a very successful approach to teaching reading and pronunciation, used in schools globally. 

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The Digital Classroom Resource

I recently published a new technology resource book for South African schools, with award-winning ICT teacher Matt Hains. The Digital Classroom Resource is a print and digital reference tool to support learners in their understanding of the theoretical concepts presented in Computer Applications Technology. This book covers terminology for the FET Phase of the South African Computer Applications Technology curriculum, as prescribed by the CAPS (Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement), and is written in clear, easy-to-understand language with diagrams and images to illustrate concepts. One of the key assessment standards is being able to “describe the terminology of relevant computer hardware and software” and this title responds directly to this curriculum requirement.

Videos

We created a number of short video clips on topics in the book. These could be used by a teacher to introduce a lesson or material to engage learners in new ways, perhaps in a Level 2 activity structured according to the Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Operating System

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