brief trip down memory lane.
South African schools
began using computers about twenty years ago, at much the same time as
computers began to appear on secretary’s and manager’s desks downtown.
These early machines (the BBC ‘B’, the Commodore, the Sinclair, the Apple
II and the IBM PC come to mind) were unsophisticated by today’s standards.
The limited word-processing, spreadsheet and data base packages on offer
were crude and somewhat unfriendly. ‘Power users’ learned BASIC and the
other high level programming languages in required to get computers to
do special tasks and fulfil specific needs. Computing was essentially
text based and getting around one’s machine required one to learn dozens
of cryptic commands (dir a:\w\p, cd\ and type c:\myletta1.doc). The features
that we take for granted today, such as colour and easily available graphics,
were hinted about but undeveloped, while CD Rom based encyclopaedias,
electronic mail and the web were unheard of.
main memory of these days was the sense of excitement… anticipation… a
belief that we at last had a tool which would revolutionise teaching and
learning, a tool that would enable teachers and children to do new things
and to do existing things better and more efficiently.
use computers in schools?
Hawkridge (1990) identified
and described four main rationales for the use of computers in schools.
the social rationale
the vocational rationale
the pedagogic rationale
the catalytic rationale.
The social rationale
The social rationale
suggests that all children should be aware of and unafraid of how computers
work. Because computers play an increasingly important part in modern
life and because schools are supposed to prepare children for adult
life, it follows that schools should provide some measure of computer
The vocational rationale
This rationale suggests
that children should learn to operate computers so as to develop vocational
skills. Learning how to use applications programmes (word processors,
spreadsheets) or to programme, provides skills that will be needed later
in life. Computer literacy and computer science should therefore be
offered at school.
The pedagogic rationale
is based on the belief that computers are able to teach. Computer aided
learning and computer aided instruction offer certain advantages over
The catalytic rationale
The belief here
is that computers are able to change education for the better. Managerial,
administrative and teaching efficiency can be improved. The use of
computers enables teachers to place more emphasis on important problem
solving approaches rather than tedious rote learning and calculation.
Computers give both children and teachers more independence. Collaborative
learning, rather than competitive learning, can be stressed. Furthermore,
the technology is placed in the hands of the pupils, where it is is
used as a learning tool rather than as a teaching tool.
While one might question
the validity of these rationales, the idea of improving teaching and learning
has gripped the imagination of educators world wide. The idea of enriching
the curriculum, improving delivery, extending traditional methods of presenting
information and offering new opportunities through the techniques that
computers make possible is very exciting. The catalytic rationale clearly
has the most potential and supporters of this rationale see computers
providing children with the opportunity to move away from rigid curricula,
rote learning and teacher centred lessons by giving more control to children
to do their own learning. They also suggest that teachers will adopt
‘more relevant’ curricula by using computers and thus bring educational
opportunities to a large number of students. The call of catalytic rationalists
is a Papertian call for the child to control the computer rather than
the computer control the child,
do we use computers in schools?
Taylor (1980) suggested
that there are three basic ways of using computers in schools. These
the computer as tutor
the computer as tool
the computer as tutee.
The computer as tutor.
Here, tutoring systems present subject material, to which the learner
responds. This type of material is programmed by specialists and includes
drill and practice exercises and tutorials. This kind of programme
varies widely, from the simply repetitive to sophisticated tutorials
which keep check of progress and suggest areas for remediation. It
also includes sophisticated simulations, such as those used to train
pilots ands astronauts. In this mode, the computer is relatively inflexible
as it controls or ‘programmes’ the child. It matches Hawkridge’s pedagogic
The computer as tool.
Tools include software like word processing packages, spreadsheets,
data bases, presentation software, desk top publishing, CD Rom based
encyclopaedias, HTML editors, and the world wide web, to name a few.
These are generally curriculum or content free, in that they can be
applied to a wide variety of educational and other activities.
3. The computer
Tutee systems are regarded by some as the most powerful in that they
allow the pupil to control the computer. The use of programming languages
like LOGO, Visual Basic and the like, would be examples of this kind
of use. The tool and tutee models fit into Hawkridge’s catalytic rationale.
is happening in our schools today?
It interests me that
while computers have been instrumental in changing the way that businesses
operate quite radically, they seem to have had little effect on the way
that teachers teach or the way that children learn in school. This experience
is not limited to South Africa. Noble (1996:18), commenting on the move
in the United States to link every school to the information highway,
has stated that “Most observers agree that, despite promising experiments,
the billions already spent on technology have not had a significant impact
on school effectiveness.” A report of the U.S. Congress Office of Technology
Assessment regarding teacher preparation for integrating technology into
the classroom (1995 - from Gonzales & Roblyer, 1996) found that:
Despite having access to technology in schools, many teachers reported
that they did not use computers and other technologies regularly for
A majority of teachers felt inadequately prepared to use technology
resources, particularly computer based technologies.
Despite the importance of technology in teacher education, it was not
central to the teacher preparation experience in most U.S. colleges
Districts spend far less on teacher development than on hardware and
Much of the teacher development activity focused on the mechanics, not
on integrating technology into the curriculum.
Teachers lacked an understanding of curricular uses of technology and
were unaware of the resources technology can offer them as professionals
in carrying out many aspects of their jobs.
My own experience
from ongoing visits to (mainly) primary schools in East London reflects
the findings of the Congress Office of Technology. More schools are acquiring
computers. Technological resources are increasing as the number of computers
per school grows. Upgrades are more common, with many schools boasting
the latest operating systems and software. However, teachers are teaching
in much the same way as they have done for decades and children are still
working largely with paper, pencil and textbooks. Very few schools are
able to articulate a clear vision for computers and computing, or have
a written plan with respect to the use of the equipment that they have.
In many schools, all classes attend computer lessons, but in most cases
a child’s access to the computer is limited to about an hour a week.
Still very few children produce written work electronically, use CD ROM
based information or the World Wide Web purposefully as a research tool,
or present oral work with the aid of presentation software. I have yet
to see school project work in HTML format (one of the most powerful canvasses
for presenting project work available), even in schools which boast a
should we be doing?
believe that children should be using computers in schools daily as tools
2. analysis and problem solving
4. creativity and
Computers as research tools.
The World Wide Web
The World Wide
Web is a massive information resource, offering a wide variety of
information to a host of users. A growing amount of this information
is useful for children at primary school level. Search engines like
Yahoo, Alta Vista and Ananzi provide a route to this information.
In some cases, teachers and researchers are providing access to such
resources on their own web sites. The information in this case are
a simple click away.
CD Rom based information
There is a wide
variety of information on CD Rom. This includes encyclopaedias like
Encarta, atlases like Encarta World Atlas and other information like
Microsoft Oceans, Microsoft Dangerous Creatures, and Microsoft Ancient
Lands. Other vendors like Dorling Kindersley also provide information
on CD Rom. The advantage of using this kind of software is that text,
graphics and sound clips can be copied directly from them, making
it unnecessary for children to rewrite and photostat material. This
allows them to concentrate on other important aspects of design and
layout. Children need to be made aware of the problems of copying
directly without referencing, and of the need to develop summarising
skills. However, this problem is as real using traditional methods
as it is when using computers.
asynchronous software like electronic mail and messenger make is easier
than ever to share information and get involved in collaborative research.
Several formal projects exist, which allow children to get involved
in real research. Some of these will be described by other presenters
at this conference. I prefer setting up my own projects of this kind.
These could include shared projects of various kinds, including water
pollution studies (cheap water pollution kits are readily available)
whereby schools across the world can compare water pollution data.
Climate studies are also easy to do. Simply collect daily weather
readings and share them with a school inland in the northern hemisphere.
Plotting the relevant information on a graph using a spreadsheet provides
many interesting talking points and a great deal of useful learning.
Descriptions of the projects, together with discussion and findings,
can be published in a variety of ways (including the www) for all
participants to share.
Computers as problem solving tools.
A variety of software provides the opportunity for problem solving activities,
including spreadsheets for mathematical problem solving and investigations,
data base software for data manipulation and analysis, and specific
applications like Sim City (where children have to design a city,
taking into account the many problems presented to town planners).
These present a useful environment for children to work collaboratively
in a problem solving mode.
Computers as communicative tools.
This has been
mentioned to above. Electronic mail, synchronous communications packages
and the internet provide a great potential for communication and the
sharing of ideas and information.
Computers as creative tools
There are a growing
number of programmes that fit into this category. Microsoft Movie
Maker allows children to make their own movies, with action, sound
and a story line. There is also a variety of simulation software,
such as Sim City (see point 2 above) and more specific software which
allows one to do basic home and other design. At the other end of
the spectrum, professional graphics packages (including video editing
software), are easy to use, providing an ideal environment for creative
Computers as presentation tools
are powerful tools which allow one to create, edit and format text
in a variety of ways. They also allow one to present a clean and
tidy final copy. An added advantage is that the information can be
stored digitally more or less forever, allowing one to revisit the
information and change it, should one need to. This has a big advantage
over traditional (pen and paper) methods of presenting work.
like Microsoft Power Point, Corel Presentations and Lotus Freelance
Graphics are widely used in many settings - except schools. They
offer a variety of advantages over old methods of presenting information,
including the ability to use pictures, tables, organisational charts,
video clips and sound. While it may be possible for a child to present
an exciting oral by using a slide projector, video player and tape
recorder (quite a task!) presentation software allows one to incorporate
all the features into one presentation at the click of a mouse button.
The Webpage - a new creative canvas for presenting project work.
Project work in
schools is usually presented in a project book of sorts, or on a piece
of card which gets stuck onto the classroom wall. The webpage offers
many advantages over this method. It allows a high degree of manipulation
with respect to images and text, including sound and video. It allows
one to provide links to related information - across the world in
many cases. It is easily updated. This facilitates a dynamic as opposed
to a static project. It can also be seen by a far greater number of
people. School project work published on a web server is available
world wide. (Paul, 2001)
are the problem areas?
would seem to be four main reasons for the problem as it relates to schools
in East London.
A shortage of computers in numbers great enough to provide meaningful
access for children and staff, because of the high cost of hardware
Poor placement of existing resources in laboratories where they
are difficult to access.
A lack of knowledge about computers and their potential as learning
tools on the part of teachers.
4. A lack
of a carefully developed plan for the use of technology across the curriculum.
The most important
of these factors would seem to be the last two, given that there would
be little change in schools even if computer and software prices dropped
and they became affordable on a wide front. Most teachers simply do not
have an effective working knowledge of computers and, of those who do,
only a few really understand the educational potential that computers
provide. It is this area that needs addressing if schools are to embrace
computers and begin using them effectively on a daily basis because “only
when teachers become comfortable with the technology will students reap
the benefits.” (Armstrong et.al. 1996:81)
in the area of educational computing in South Africa has not proved very
effective mainly because of limited budgets and inadequate time for training.
Programmes, offered by both education departments and outside agencies,
have usually involved intensive two to three day crash courses covering
basic operating systems and word processing, followed by shorter courses
on other software such as spreadsheets, at a later date. The assumption
has been that the teachers involved will take the knowledge gained back
to their schools and share it with their colleagues. In reality, learning
to use a computer effectively is much more complicated than has been assumed
by course designers. Reporting on short courses offered to teachers in
London, Cox and Rhodes (1990:B14) found that “these short courses did
not have time to show the most important part of using computers in education,
which is how to integrate computers into classroom practice.” They found
further that only the Inner London Educational Authority (ILEA) certificated
long course (150 hours over a year) trained teachers effectively to integrate
computers into teaching. Other investigators also mention the problem
of effective training and planning. Hoffman (1996:92) has stated that
the technology integration literature agrees that “teachers need an estimated
five to six years of staff development” before they become successful
integrators of technology in their classrooms. Noble (1996:18) mentions
thoughtful experts as “calling for cautious planning and extensive
teacher training, not necessarily additional or more advanced technology”.
Dwyer (1996) has stated that “Technology adds value to schools when
it is an integral part of a comprehensive plan for instructional improvement
and when teachers are adequately prepared to use it as one more tool
in their arsenal” (emphasis mine).
can we do about these problems?
The most important
prerequisite for success is to have the whole school (governing body,
principal and staff) committed to a policy of efficient and successful
computer use. Until this is achieved, computing will remain a fragmented,
ad hoc activity falling prey to Garson’s (1999) accusation that schools
in South Africa use their computer centres as little else but ‘showcases’
to attract new pupils. While this might be an overstatement, it is difficult
to argue that schools use computers effectively. With commitment, a workable
and effective policy with respect to the use of computers is possible.
The following points might be considered.
Think about the outcomes you want and consider whether and how computers
can help you achieve such outcomes.
to be placed on computers as learning/pupil tools rather than computers
as teaching/teacher tools.
to factoring this into your curriculum design. Concentrate on activities
in which computers allow us to do things better than before (eg - effective
presentation of work) as well as things that were impossible before
(eg - data analysis and manipulation).
Get an outside
educational expert to facilitate policy and curriculum design if you
As in industry, schools should remember that they should
be ‘spending’ as much on training as they do on hardware and software.
Provide effective staff development for all members of staff.
during these sessions to develop workable modules which both fit the
curriculum and make use of the special potential that computers provide.
Again, be prepared to consult an educational expert well versed in the
use of computers as educational tools to guide you.
Support willing teachers as they learn. If possible
provide financial help which will enable teachers to have a computer
at home with which to learn.
Have faith and patience. Change will not occur overnight.
However, as teachers work with computers, they develop an understanding
of their power and the way in which they can be applied as classroom
Be imaginative. This is in many ways a user’s most powerful
Allow your pupils to guide you. Many of them have computers
at home and are extremely adept when it comes to using them.
Read! There are several educational journals which deal
with educational computing. Many affordable general journals have special
issues which deal with technology matters (Educational Leadership, Phi
Delta Kappan, The NASSP Bulletin). Specific journals include Leading
and Learning with Technology. These publications provide useful insights
into many aspects of classroom computer use, and sometimes describe
specific workable projects which teachers and pupils can adapt for their
Armstrong, D, Davis, R & Young, G.
(1996) Technology Integration at Middle and High School Levels: A Model
for Staff Development. NASSP Bulletin, October, 81-88.
Cox, M. & Rhodes, V. (1990).
System Failure. Times Educational Supplement, 3847, p B14
Dwyer, D. (1996). A Response to Douglas Noble: We’re in this
Together. Educational Leadership, November, 24-26.
Garson, P. (1999). Drawing schools
into the web of the future. The Teacher, January, 5.
Gonzales, C. & Roblyer, M.D.
(1996) Rhetoric and Reality: Technology’s Role in Restructuring Education.
Learning and Leading with Technology, November, 11-15.
Hawkridge, D. (1990) Who needs
computers in schools, and why? Computers and Education, 15 (1-3),
Hoffman, B. (1996) Managing the
Information Revolution: Planning the Integration of School Technology.
NASSP Bulletin, October, 89-98.
Noble, D. (1996). Mad Rushes into
the Future: The Overselling of Educational Technology. Educational
Leadership, November, 18-23.
(2001). Webpages - A new creative canvas
for school project work.
R.P. (Ed.). (1980). The computer in the classroom: Tutor,
tool, tutee. New York: Teachers College Press.