The Role of IBM in Education: briefing

Basic Education

26 February 2002
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


26 February 2002

Chairperson: Prof Mayatula

Documents handed out:
KidSmart Young Explorer Computer Programme (Phase 2) - CECD Report to the IBM
IBM in Africa (these documents should be available by 4 March; please email for a copy)
Foundation and IBM South Africa for the Period 1 January 2001 to 31 December 2110
European eLearning Summit (10-11 May 2001)

The central theme running through the IBM presentation was the transformation of education through technology. IBM is geared towards using existing technology for educational goals, from the lower to the higher levels of education.

Their initiatives include eLearning, which is being piloted in Early Childhood Development Learning in three provinces; Gauteng, Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Dr Mlokothi (External Relations Executive) led the presentation by introducing her colleagues and outlining the structure of the company, International Business Machines (IBM). She gave the floor to their Managing Director, Mr Harrison, to make the presentation.

Mr Harrison's theme was the transformation of education through technology. Two threads ran through the theme. The first one was that IBM's mission was not to chase after technology but rather to find ways of using the existing technology for educational goals without, however, ignoring technological developments. The second emphasis was that transforming education through technology should be a comprehensive process that begins from lower to higher levels of education.

He also noted the challenges to multimedia education. The main challenge is lack of infrastructure to support computer based education; for example a lack of telephone lines and access to telecommunications. Another challenge is lack of capacity to create life long learning skills accompanying multimedia education. Moreover most South Africans have no experience of computers.

The educational implication for such challenges is, firstly, to create a user friendly interface. Secondly creating a relevant educational content into the technology and finally to expand electronic learning (eLearning).

IBM has been piloting eLearning in Early Childhood Development Centers in disadvantaged communities in three provinces (Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal and Western Cape). The pilot has been successful (See Appendix A).

Mr Harrison noted that eLearning was also part of many corporations and universities, especially private ones. However, he also pointed out that there was no single co-ordinated strategy for comprehensive multimedia education to bridge the digital divide. He emphasised IBM's commitment to a comprehensive educational multimedia based on academic goals rather than purely commercial ones.

A Member asked what type of educational technology IBM would be using in ten years time and if it would be researched based and context specific.

Mr Harrison responded that the issue was not necessarily technology but how to best use the existing one for educational purposes. Therefore, he said that research should also be on how to use the technology. He also did not dismiss the fact that technology was rapidly changing.

Prof SS Ripinga (ANC) asked if IBM had an implementation strategy that complements the Department's backlogs on multimedia education.

Mr Harrison said that unfortunately there was no co-ordinated initiative nationally as different corporations had different visions. He proudly pointed out though that IBM was part of the presidential advisory committee.

Mr SB Ntuli (ANC) asked if there were some lessons that South Africa could learn from other developing countries that were trying to expand educational technologies.

Mr Harrison said that the main lesson was to try and find feasible ways to bridge the gap between ideas and lack of infrastructure.

A Member asked what the Committee could do to help. The response was that Members of the Committees could identify deserving schools (in their constituencies) that could be supplied with computer and Internet facilities.

Mr M Monstitsi (ANC) asked if IBM was involved in virtual universities and if inter-library connectivity was helpful.

Mr Harrison said that they were involved and that it was useful.

Mr LM Kgwele (ANC) asked if IBM had plans to expand the pilot.

Mr Harrison said that there would be one hundred computers added this year and another hundred in 2003.

A Member asked who would be responsible for maintenance and replacement of equipment. The response was that IMB would be responsible but subject to the progress made by a school.

A Member asked which three-percent of the population was being referred to which had access to the Internet.

Mr Harrison explained that it was the national population.

The meeting was adjourned.


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