Ladies and Gentlemen
I am happy to join you today in what will go down in history as the greatest building blocks of the digital future for all of learners. It is indeed my great pleasure to be given an opportunity to participate in this Microsoft-hosted Education Transformation and Digital Technologies Workshop.
Programme Director; some 20 years ago, a great South African, perhaps - “the greatest liberator of the 20th century” and an international icon, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the draft Constitution into law at Sharpeville, Vereeniging on 10 December 1996. The date on which the Constitution was signed marked International Human Rights Day. Furthermore, the location where the Constitution was signed was significant and symbolic of the betrayal and brutality of past despotic regimes. On 21st March 1960, the apartheid police armed with hate and loaded guns opened fire on a crowd demonstrating against pass laws in Sharpeville, Vereeniging killing 69 peaceful protestors. We dare not forget. We dare not soldier on to make all progressive pronouncements in Constitution a lived experience.
Programme Director, our Constitution occupies an important space in the life of this nascent democracy. When President Mandela signed the Constitution into law, he on behalf of all South Africans entered us into a sacred covenant. The Constitution is a set of values upon which our democracy is founded. The Constitution is our overarching vision for the society we sought to create on the ashes of apartheid.
As we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Constitution, it is opportune to reflect on whether we have as the Constitution instructs us given our children quality education. The Constitution enjoins us to provide all young people with access to a universal, free and compulsory primary education of good quality.
Programme Director, we also converge here hardly a week after our country celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Soweto Uprising (16 June 1976). We have come to a determination that the best legacy we can give to the heroes and heroines of June 16, is to accelerate progress towards the delivery of an improved quality basic education. We want the 1976 generation to know that their bravely was not in vain. We call on all young people to dip their banners in honour of the Class of 1976, and more importantly to focus more on their digital future.
Programme Director, quality education is no longer about chalk and chalkboards. That’s the education of the 20th century. It is the education of yesteryear. Today, we are been called upon to be midwives of a new type of education that is futuristic and digital.
We must admit that the transformation of our education system into 21st century learning environments that provide our learners with the skills they need to succeed in today's information age economy is long overdue.
In this regard, in 2004, we developed a White Paper on e-Education. The vision of the 2004 White paper was and still is to transform learning and teaching through ICTs and to produce ICT capable learners. This capability is defined as the ability to use ICTs confidently and creatively to help develop the skills and knowledge needed to achieve personal goals and to be full participants in the global community.
Programme Director, I have a dream. My dream is deeply rooted in the Africa Rising narrative. My dream is that one-day all school going children in Africa in general and South Africa in particular will have access to free Wi-Fi. I have a dream that all learners who go through our State funded basic education will receive high quality tuition delivered by motivated teachers with the help of digital technology. I have a dream that in my lifetime, we shall wave goodbye to the legendary duster, the chalk and chalkboard. I have a dream that one-day the curriculum coverage will reach 100 percent because it will be delivered digitally and every learner will in turn receive those prepared lessons via digital devices while subject advisors monitor the whole process remotely. I have a dream that in my lifetime; we will one-day deliver only e- Learning and Teaching Support Material (e-LTSM) to every child and every teacher across the length and breadth of our country. I have a dream that all our learners will, in the foreseeable future have full access to classic and contemporary textbooks via digital means.
Programme Director, I imagine a graduate from our basic education -as a confident young black woman who is equipped with a set of skills that can only make her reach for the sky - literally. I have a new learner in my dream. She is versatile, tech savvy and confident. She reads at least one book a month. She and her peers decrease our dropout rate in the Senior Phase by a whopping 90% margin.
Programme Director, as we converge here I can already see in the distant horizon the birth of a new teacher. She is widely read and travelled. She is motivated and tech savvy. She delivers her lessons with aplomb using digital technology. She is a wizard of the 21st teaching methods. She possess the skills of the future. She teaches in the digital space. My new teacher only knows the smartboard. She thinks people who studied during the days of the chalkboard are ancient fellows.
Programme Director, my dream is not a pie in the sky dream. My dream is inspired by the injunction of our developmental blueprint, the National Development Plan (NDP). The NDP states that ICT is seen as an enabler with the potential to speed up delivery, support analysis, build intelligence and create new ways to share information, learn and engage. The NDP says by 2030:
- ICT will underpin the development of a dynamic and connected information society and a vibrant knowledge economy that is more inclusive and prosperous.
- A seamless information infrastructure will be universally available and accessible to all.
The NDP derives its bold pronouncement on the resolution of the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC). In its 53rd Conference (2012), the governing party, the ANC resolved that there shall be promotion of an e-literate society by making e-skills a compulsory subject in all public schools. It said this requires the curriculum to focus on end-user computing as well as encouraging young people to pursue careers in the ICT sector. The ANC further called upon the basic education sector to develop a detailed sectorial plan to strengthen the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP) in order to maximize the value of the development of ICT, and also accelerate the uptake and usage of ICT tools.
Programme Director, I am glad to report that we have thus created an ICT masterplan through the Presidential Operation Phakisa programme. The ICT masterplan is aligned to the DBE Action Plan to 2019. For its part, the Action Plan towards 2019 recognises the centrality of digital technologies as an enabler in achieving improved education access, quality, equity, redress and efficiency.
To realise the goals of the Action Plan towards 2019, NDP Vision 2030, and the Operation Phakisa ICT in Education 2015, we must galvanise strong partnerships with all sectors of society – private sector, non-governmental organisations, civil society and international partners amongst many others.
It is therefore fitting that the Microsoft as a leading technology company in South Africa is part and parcel of our partners to achieve a digital future in our lifetime. You have already played a pivotal role in raising awareness and mobilising other private sector partners in your quest to demonstrate the massive benefits of digital technologies within our basic education system.
This workshop is the outcome of a series of partnership meetings and events between the DBE and Microsoft. I had the occasion to meet the Microsoft Vice President for World Wide Education when he visited South Africa in October last year. I met with Mr. Hoosen and his team in Microsoft South Africa in February this year.
This was followed by a study tour in April 2016 which Microsoft hosted and sponsored in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in the USA. This study tour focused on the Imagine Academies in North Carolina and how they have been able to provide internationally-recognised certifications for teachers and youth in digital skills. This study tour was attended by representatives from all the Provinces, all Teacher Unions, UNICEF and the DBE's NICPD. This study tour has led to a plan to register Microsoft Imagine Academies at 60 Teacher Centres in all the provinces in partnership with the MICT Seta who are sponsoring young interns to be trained and then to help set up these Imagine Academies.
Following this study tour, the Education MEC for KwaZulu Natal and I led a delegation to the United Arab Emirates in April 2016 upon the invitation of Microsoft. Here we were exposed to all the lessons, insights, research and tools that Microsoft has to offer our education system in ways that can help us efficiently achieve quality education for all.
I was taught about Office Mix and how it can help learners with disabilities. I was shown the value of making learning fun through games. I learned about the value of teaching computational thinking skills by encouraging learners and teachers how to code. A young boy from the UAE taught me and the MEC how to play Minecraft Edu. I also learned about the integration of learning analytics, big data and e-Administration systems.
I was also interested to learn about how to choose devices for learning and teaching. Microsoft also spoke to us about their computer refurbishment programme which could also be another way for our youth to grow ICT skills.
In Abu Dhabi, we also discussed a Microsoft initiative in partnership with the National Education Board of Finland to establish a Leading Countries in Education Transformation Programme. I felt that South Africa can benefit immensely from the transformation journeys of other countries on this Programme, especially in view of their rich experiences with integrating ICT in their education systems.
This is the reason why I sent a delegation to represent me at the inaugural meeting of this programme in Finland in May this year.
The Microsoft Executive Briefing in Abu Dhabi and Dubai got me very excited about the possibilities that digital technologies hold for improving the efficiency of our administration systems and generating a love for learning and teaching.
As I sat through presentation after presentation and discussion after discussion, I concluded that it will make very good sense to host a two-day workshop with senior management of the DBE and PEDs in South Africa because there is so much that we can learn and share with each other. This is how we have come to be here today.
I invite all senior officials from the DBE, Provinces and the NECT Advisory Committee to participate in this workshop with an open mind to the possibilities that can bring about a major shift in our education system. ICT is no longer a choice. It has become a necessary part of our education transformation agenda. We are here to learn how best to harness the potential of digital technologies to improve learning, teaching and education management.
Allow me to thank Microsoft for being exemplary in their partnership with us. Mr. Hoosen, you and your team should be commended for the great work that you have done with us so far. I understand that you hosted a Microsoft Innovative Educator workshop last week and that this place was buzzing with training providers, teachers, unionists and principals. I also learned of your interest to align all your training programmes to our forthcoming Professional Development Framework for Digital Learning. Thank you for your continued support.
Our partners at Vodacom tell the story of a 16 year old boy named Sineliso who is driven to improve his Mathematics results. We are told that this young man, after school, he goes to sit on a hill near the cell phone tower in his village so that he can do his Siyavula Maths exercises on his cell phone. In this way he apparently did thousands of Maths lessons all by himself on his little feature cell phone. He was able to do this because Vodacom had zero-rated the Maths content. This story tells me of what is possible when we foster a love for learning through technologies, on the basis of good partnerships. This is the kind of love for learning that we want to nurture in all youth.
So, in celebration of youth month, I am reminded of the words by the late great Nelson Mandela who said “Whenever I am with energetic young people, I feel like a recharged battery.”
Please join me in paying tribute to the heroism of the class of 1976 and our youth of today. They are the reason why we are here to host this workshop with you.