Tom Stokes, MPP
DA KZN Spokesperson on Education
The Democratic Alliance welcomes a bold and dramatic plan to place a textbook for every subject in the hands of every learner in KwaZulu-Natal, presented earlier this week by Education MEC, Senzo Mchunu to the education portfolio committee – a plan that will cost R1billion to implement.
Coupled to this was a proposal to limit the number of title options and to instruct all schools to purchase their allocations through one purchasing agent controlled by the department. The downside of this proposal is that it would take away the rights of School Governing Bodies (SGBs) to purchase what they want from whom they please. This constraint on legislated rights will meet with resistance but the upside of this proposal is that huge savings of about R200m are possible – funds that can be used to augment the teaching resources of the poorest schools.
The other element of the plan was to increase the number of interactive whiteboards to schools. These boards allow exercises and text to be projected on a board and allow learners to come up and write over the projected image: the new-age replacement of the old blackboard and chalk method. Worldwide this seems to be the preferred method of delivering lessons to the modern learners who are more familiar and comfortable with IT images than with hard copy texts.
Books are expensive and highly perishable in the grubby hands of learners so that the huge initial outlay of stocks of books will not be a once-off expense but will incur repeated replacement costs.
There will come a time in the near future when a book in the hand of every learner will be replaced with a computer disk that he/she can read on a home computer or notebook. The initial set-up cost will be high but this will be countered by low replacement costs and a far closer relationship with teachers as lessons and homework guides become available on school web sites as broadband internet becomes widespread.
Perhaps it is fair warning for publishing houses to see the writing on the wall and engage in generating new-age learning materials that will replace printed texts but still enable them to stay in business. Equally necessary is for manufacturers of computer hardware to develop low-cost high durable instruments that will enable the new generations of readers to access academic texts easily and affordably.
It might be possible to circumvent the huge infrastructure backlog and inadequate teaching and learning facilities by increasing the usage of new IT programmes and hardware so that the reliance on classroom activity is reduced and emphasis is placed on private learning with the aid of these IT products and internet connectivity.
We are merely at the doorstep of this new teaching world but it is encouraging that our KZN education department has at least opened the door and peeped into this new world.