Tablet Source: Google Images

In his state of the nation address in February, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that government would provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.

Speaking in a presentation on Friday (8 March), minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said that her department is on track to provide each learner and teacher with an ICT device with access to digitised Learning and Teaching Support Materials (LTSMs).

She added that the rollout would begin at select schools in 2020, with schools receiving tablets according to their quintile.

South African schools are divided into five quintiles, with Quintile 1 being the poorest quintile and Quintile 5 the least poor.

“The plan will be implemented in three phases commencing with phase 1 that will target multi-grade, multiphase, farm and selected rural schools (2020 – 2021),” Motshekga said.

“The second phase will target quintile 1 to 3 schools (2022 – 2023), and phase 3 will target quintile 4 and 5 schools (2024 – 2025).”

She added that all special needs schools will be accommodated in all phases according to the type of disability.

Potential issues

While the plan has been largely praised, concerns have been raised as to how effective this new digital system will be and whether these tablets will be a target for criminals.

In January this year, a multi-million rand state-of-the-art Gauteng school was in the headlines after it was robbed within a week of being opened.

However, this was not the first time a smart school in South Africa has been targeted by criminals.

In 2015, the Gauteng Department of Education withdrew 88,000 tablets from seven township schools due to a rise in the number of burglaries.

As documented by education expert Nic Spaull, evidence shows that ensuring all high-schools have functional computer labs – as opposed to each child having a smart device – is a much more efficient solution.

“The area of ‘one-device-per-child’ has been studied extensively in various developing countries and has consistently shown that “providing technology to individual learners is not the most cost-effective method of improving learning outcomes,” said Spaull.