E-learning Strategy: Western Cape Education Department briefing

Education (WCPP)

06 August 2019
Chairperson: Ms L Botha (DA)
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Meeting Summary

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) presented on its eLearning Strategy. There are three evolving categories of roll-out: Universal (821 schools), Enhanced (684 schools) and Model (16 schools) that address six integrated work streams at schools: eTechnology; eAdmin; eInfrastructure; eContent; eTeachers; eCulture. Schools with Wi-Fi access via the Western Cape Government (WCG) broadband are 91% (1 161 of 1 273 schools). Implementation is now reaching more than 50% of schools. Enhanced active schools represent 39% of broadband active schools. WCED also briefed the Committee on the accompanying challenges and risks and what has and has not worked.

Members asked about smart phones, quality control of eContent, physical and cyber security, integration and alternative solutions for schools in rural areas, the professional development of teachers, procurement and the company called Paper Video.

The WCED Directorate on Inclusive and Specialised Education Support briefed the Committee on the type of special schools available in the Western Cape and their location and the number of learners supported. The pathway to special schools was outlined as well as broadband access and the challenges of waiting lists, accommodation, transport, access and special care centres

Members asked about the waiting lists, funding, bringing services to students, communication with parents, and if learners dropped out of special schools.

Meeting report

eLearning presentation
Mr Peter Beets, WCED Deputy Director General: Curriculum and Assessment Management, introduced the presentation and handed over to the Director of eLearning to make the presentation.

Mr Clinton Walker, WCED Director: eLearning, covered the following topics: six integrated work streams, school categorization, infrastructure, technology in the classroom, eTeacher professional development, administration, and support

He outlined the challenges and what has worked and what has not worked in the past to solve these. He ended with a video from the Department.

Mr G Bosman (DA) asked about the online portal. What are the checks and balances to vet its content? What quality control mechanisms are in place? How many print textbooks have been made available as eLearning resources? He asked where the 16 model schools are located and if WCED can provide the names of the schools. Are all the available IT labs fully funded by the Department or some IT labs sponsored by someone else?

Mr M Kama (ANC) asked about the challenges with security concerns and with cyber safety. He noted the three categories of schools. Do the number of learners in a class affect the implementation of eLearning? Are there challenges for schools in remote areas due to number of learners?

Mr R Allen (DA) asked how the Department monitors that the technology is actually being used for its purpose in the 16 model schools? What monitoring tools are available? He noted that 70% of teachers underwent integration training. What is the actual number of teachers competent to use these tools available to them? He asked the Department to elaborate on alternative solutions for schools in rural areas. As an increasing number of learners enrol in Western Cape schools on a yearly basis, there will be a challenge to sustain the roll out of this program. What is being done to mitigate this challenge?

Mr C Dugmore (ANC) noted the WCED vision. He asked if there a reason it does not include the word ‘equal’ next to ‘quality’? Was this a debate in the Department? Was it not an issue? What is the view about a vision that talks about equal and quality education?

He referred to the reach of the programme and asked if the 32 000 learner devices that will be delivered by 2019 will be in addition to the 28 000 or is it 32 000 in total. What fraction is that compared to total number of learners in the province?

With 7 700 smart classrooms, what is the total number of smart classrooms in WCED public schools and what is the percentage that are now smart classrooms? What is meant by a refreshed Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) suite? Is that the old labs which have had their software updated? He said he is happy with the progress of professional development for teachers.

He noted that there is a lot of procurement involved. What is the supply chain process followed? Is it one make of tablet for all the tablets provided? Was there a particular decision about that and did the Department get good value?

He mentioned a concern about the WCED eLearning component being involved in the procurement of tablets given exclusively to the Paper Video Company. Does the Department have any knowledge about this? Were the owners involved? Can the Department share if proper procurement processes were followed?

Mr F Christians (ACDP) asked when will every learner receive a device. He noted the President's remarks in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) that government would provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device. Is this realistic and achievable?

He noted device tracking. What does the Department do in vulnerable communities? How do learners use these devices if they do not have Wi-Fi access at home? What are the alternatives for communities that have difficulty with connectivity, and how do we assist those children?

He mentioned poor schools in farm communities and asked what is their success with Wi-Fi and broadband? Are they being assisted? He requested a breakdown with figures. Is eLearning reaching the poor and vulnerable communities?

The Chairperson asked if the 28 871 devices include their own devices? Of those, how many have gone missing and been traced? What is the cost to school for this?

WCED response
Mr Walker responded about checks and balances for uploading material, saying there is a defined process. The first check is through Edumedia. The link is double checked. Then, it goes through the Senior Curriculum Planners at head office to ensure that the link matches the curriculum. Links are vetted and then released for online publication. Library services also do a check on online resources. Broken links are removed or do not go past the first phase of checking.

With digital textbooks, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has a range of textbooks that they print or that can be found in digital format in the online repository. Also, there are several service providers that offer their resources, this is for the school to access. Schools can also use the funding allocations for subscriptions and licensing.

The 16 model schools are across the province, two in each district, one secondary and one primary school. Mr Walker said he cannot name them all from memory.

The Chairperson requested a list of schools in writing.

Mr Walker noted the request.

Mr Beets explained that the selection of the schools was done in such a way that the Department can gain an understanding of how different schools in unique contexts can be assisted.

With digital books and reading, it is important for the Department to know if the students and school will use the resources. Some school have found that students in certain grades do not like to read from the laptop. The Department needs to keep tabs to make sure that these changes will have a positive impact.

Mr Walker replied that the IT labs are predominantly WCED only. Some are benefactor-funded programs, and are sometimes uncoordinated. The Department tries to work with benefactor funding, but the numbers cited in the presentation are from WCED.

Mr Walker replied about security concerns. There is the physical security to prevent the illicit removal of technology from the school itself and there is the online safety and security of learners. The Safe Schools Programme across all districts attends to physical security for schools. On the 26 July the Department held a Cyber Safety Conference and on 16 August a seminar will be held. Schools are invited to participate and learn about cyber security for learners.

With teachers assimilating technology into the classroom, it is more than just replacing the old with new. It is about addressing the challenge of teachers and students not always advancing at the same pace.

Mr Walker replied that the Department can provide the numbers of Universal, Enhanced, and Model school learner.  

The Department is looking at alternative solutions for schools that do not have broadband reach. It is significant in that it is 20 000 learners of the 1.2 million throughout the province. Those impacted schools are schools of low numbers in far reaching parts of the Western Cape. It is predominantly rural communities. Alternatives include providing access to digital resources other than broadband connectivity.

Mr Walker addressed teacher competency and professional development programmes. The development programmes need to be translated into action. Action happens at varying degrees of understanding and application. It is an ongoing learning experience. He noted an assessment tool that teachers may use after experiencing these professional development programmes to track teacher competency.

On monitoring and evaluation, the previous delivery support unit provided performance tracking and management. The data is available.

Mr Walker explained that 32 588 is the all-inclusive number, predominantly in the 16 model schools with a high rate of handheld technology for learners. He noted the national programme, the Universal Service and Access Obligations framework, that requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide schools with a level of connectivity and devices. That obligation accounts for 8 088 devices rolled out to public schools and public special schools. The number of learners with mobile technology is 32 000 of 1.2 million learners. This number of students with mobile technology is small.

Refreshed ICT suites do refer to a previous computer program. A periodical refresh and update needs to happen. Suites are being built upon what schools already have.

There are roughly 31 000 classrooms in the province and WCED has turned 7 700 into smart classrooms. That is 25 or 26% of the classrooms in the province. Of the 596 schools, at least 40-50% have smart classrooms.

Mr Walker replied that he is governance-orientated when it comes to the procurement mechanism. There are two modes of procurement. One is tender procurement. The other, is competitive bidding. He stated that involvement of this directorate did not exist before. This director had been a sub-directorate, so there was no involvement.

Tracking is only available on mobile technology. Net Trace is the company the Department uses where they can trace when a missing device goes online. The retrieval rate is significant. He would obtain specific numbers for this. He explained the gravity of the situation as vandalism and theft are a loss of learning opportunities. In a recent snapshot, there were 887 incidents of security breaches, vandalism and theft and loss. There was a greater degree of vandalism, rather than device loss and theft. He noted various methods the Department now uses to prevent vandalism

Mr Walker addressed the influx of learners, saying currently 96% of learners are in schools with broadband. National Treasury is also engaged in giving more learners mobile devices. Knowing when all students will have a device is dependent on the budget.

Mr Beets addressed ‘equal’ versus ‘quality’. Yes, it is part of the debate. In WCED's understanding of quality education, it is also equal education. He said that eLearning schools assist in ensuring equal and quality education. He then listed the schools in Western Cape districts that are categorized as model schools.

Discussion Follow Up
Mr Bosman asked what happens when the Department procures printed textbooks, and that text comes with some enhanced eLearning material? Does that automatically get uploaded as part of the purchase of the printed textbook or does the service provider sell that separately?

Mr Christians asked about more engagement with National Treasury about how and when every learner will receive a device. This was stated in the State of the Nation Address and there must be engagement to ensure that it is possible.

Mr Dugmore asked what is the debate in the Department on smart phones? Tablets have particular advantages, but young people often get their information from smart phones. What is the issues with phones in a Wi-Fi environment?

WCED Response
Mr Walker addressed QR codes (quick response codes) to provide access to digital information. Generally, when textbooks are procured with enhancements, the enhancements are offered within the purchase price.

With learner devices, he feels it is "early days" after the SONA. There is some heightened awareness within DBE. WCED is well poised to implement giving learners devices, should budgets allow. On 9 July, there was the first major session with DBE on the implementation plan of eLearning. Mr Walker still noted the challenges and explained that he does not have all the answers to these questions from the members.

On smart phones, Mr Walker noted that acceptable usage policies need to be revisited. Some schools have a no cell phone policy, but that policy needs to be revisited and managed. Policies need to include using the device as an all-encompassing learning tool. The Department has some guidelines and sample policies that have been sent to schools. This is a change that teachers need to prepare for and take time to integrate new policies.He also noted cyber security measures for students and teachers.

Mr Muaath Gabier, Education Convenor of the sub-committee of the Progressive Professionals Forum, asked if the Department's criteria for vetting eLearning content is sufficient? Who vetted Paper Video, specifically? Who was involved with the Senior Curriculum, and what was the time frame? How did that process work?

Mr Walker explained the online digital repository was created for online usage. For vetting, the repository goes through Edumedia, checking links, downloads, a contributor form, and whether it meets the curriculum. Vetting is focused on whether the media content meets the curriculum.

Mr Gabier directed his previous question to Mr Beets and asked if he can explain how Paper Video got past those in Senior Curriculum?

Mr Beets replied that he can only speak to what he has knowledge about. When he joined the Department three years before, Paper Video was part of the Department.

Special Schools Briefing of the Standing Committee Presentation
Mr Chasfred Ahrends, Deputy Chief Education Specialist, discussed the ten special sectors, and adaptive technology for learners. He noted the district distribution of special schools and presented the specifics about each sector. He touched on coding, broadband, smart classrooms, and universal service obligations in schools.

Ms Berenice Daniels, Director:  Specialised Education, spoke about the continuum of support and the learner support pathways to public special schools. She presented the number of learners and staff within special schools and noted the challenges with special schools, and school funding.

Mr Christians asked about hospital schools. Does it mean that a learner on the West Coast has to go to Groote Schuur? How does that work?

He asked if WCED is meeting the targets for those needing special schools? How many people are not in the system that need to be in the system?

He noted the ten sectors and discussed a student with cerebral palsy. How do they advance to the next level? If they complete schooling, can they then go to a university? On what level are children with learning disabilities? What is the hope for what they can do once they are done with the education they receive? How long is the waiting list for special schools and are they accommodated in a timely manner?

Mr Allen asked if there are learners that are rejected. Is there a mechanism to track the learners that have been rejected? If necessary, who would be responsible for funding an indoor therapy pool for learners?

The Chairperson asked if the number of learners currently in the system is 19 373. What was the number that started this academic year? Have there been dropouts? What are the reasons for dropping out?

She noted students with a learning disability in rural areas. She asked when a ‘slower’ learner exits, what is there available for that learner to go further? She feels there are parents in rural communities who may not know what do to next for their disabled children. In terms of the waiting lists, how are parents kept in the loop? How long does it take?

WCED Response
Mr Ahrends explained that therapists can be deployed across the province to assist learners where they are, even if the student is in a hospital without a special school. He said that there are loan centres for assistive devices for temporary usage.

He explained that cerebral palsy is a physical disability. Cognitively, they are fine and can excel in academics. Some students move on to university or become professionals. He noted that many times the barrier is physical, and the Department creates several resources to aid these learners.

Mr Ahrends replied about learners who are rejected, saying there is a continuum of support, and teachers adapt to assist the learner. If that does not help, there is a district-based support team that can give individual support. If that does not work, the learner is moved to a special school. Support and staff are then used to best aid the student so they can be moved successfully into special schools.

Many schools have pools, and some students need the pool and water stimulus. The Department provides Norms and Standards funding to the schools in April and October. The Department stipulates the funding, and pool upkeep is included.

Ms Daniels discussed targets for special schools. Following the new model, the Department is focusing on how to bring support to the learner. The Department is busy with the national Three-Stream Model. She hopes that next year there will be an exit qualification. She feels that is what is missing. She noted the potential of certificates that leave students with marketable skills.

On keeping parents in the loop, the Department is busy with a project to address and track students on the waiting list. In October, the Department will pilot that program, so hopefully in 2020 it will be functional.

Ms Daniels replied that most students in special schools do not drop out. There is a higher level of drop out in the four-year school of skills. Learners are not completing school because they are offered jobs. She thinks acquiring an exit qualification and certificate will be an incentive for students to stay for all four years.

The Chairperson asked about learner support for reading disabilities. Is that also accessible for students in ordinary public schools?

Mr Ahrends explained that the programme is not offered. The Department will make it available as soon as they have gathered all of the information.

The Chairperson asked when it will be accessible to students in the ordinary schools.

Mr Ahrends explained that it will be accessible for students soon.

Mr Walker explained that the Department and Committee need to be careful not to extrapolate some of the gains that are made, on a small sample.

The Chairperson asked again about waiting list applications. Do you know off hand the numbers per district?

Ms Daniels replied that the Department does not know those numbers off hand but it can be found out. The Department has changed how they manage the services and waiting list needs. She explained that there are options and support outside of special school.

Mr Ahrends added that there are application meetings throughout the year and waiting lists will shrink and expand.

The Chairperson asked if the meetings have happened this year? Can we see an example of the shrinkage?

Ms Daniels explained that the Department is busy at the moment focusing on referrals to the School of Skills. The Department can give the Committee that number of referrals and also how many learners to date have been earmarked for placement next year.

Closing Remarks and Adoption of Meeting Minutes and Programme
The Chairperson thanked the presenters and said she is sure there will be more questions as the Committee sees the reality in their communities more.

Ms Wasiema Moosa, Committee Secretary, noted the two recommendations from the Committee.

The Committee adopted meeting minutes for 4 June and 16 July and discussed the Committee programme.

The Committee was reminded that all the documentation had been emailed to them for the 13 August meeting.

The Chairperson noted that going forward, the Department will give only a summary presentation in the meeting. It will be assumed that committee members have read through and prepared for the presentation.

The Committee agreed.

The Chairperson noted the Committee visit to the Red Cross Hospital School on 10 September and its radio station. It was agreed to invite the Standing Committee on Cultural Affairs.

The Chairperson thanked Members for their participation and adjourned the meeting.


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