Let’s tap into gains from computing revolution

06 December 2016

By MEC Panyaza Lesufi

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10,” says Bill Gates.

We often talk about the ways that the computing revolution affects the lives of individuals, businesses and societies. Many, if not most, of these impacts are positive. That is why we launched an Online Learner Application website for Grade 1 and 8 pupils for the 2017 academic year.

It is a pity one glaring ill has been the reluctance, resistance and delay some parents and guardians are towards change. To date, 51 percent of parents representing 60 000 pupils still have to confirm their offers of placement. This delay is clogging up the system, making it difficult for the department to place all pupils who have applied.

The Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has come under heavy criticism and attack for offering the online registration system.

There are those who are concerned that it forces schools to change their language policy, usurping the power of governing bodies. They argue the online system forcibly allocates parents and kids to nearby schools in which the teaching language may be different from their child’s home language.

Some argue the online-only system discriminates against lower-income earners who cannot afford to access the internet.

Is the resistance and delay due to fear of the unknown, fear of erosion of power and influence, difficulty in breaking old habits, or is it due to earlier negative experience with change?

Parents need to understand that those who have adopted the digital tools of modern life see many of the benefits that have occurred over the past decade. Unfortunately, those who delay to confirm offers of placement risk losing the offers to other parents on the waiting list.

There is no doubt that because of technology the world has become smaller. Be it in facilitating job opportunities or enabling extended family connectedness through social networks, telecommunications have empowered healthy commercial and social relationships that otherwise couldn’t be maintained across physical distances.

Because of technology, gatekeepers are bypassed. Many industries have been and are being transformed by disruptive innovation: Think of the financial, travel, music and retail businesses.

Through technology, finding everything is easier. Search engines such as Google and Bing make it easy for anyone to find out anything that’s public at any given time.

Alas, mobility puts computers constantly in our hands. Access to computers was once limited by cost and then by physical form factors such as the personal computer on a desktop.

Now, the awesome communications and computing capabilities of a smartphone are constantly at our sides.

Let us share the benefits of technology with those who stand to gain most – the pupils and parents.

Over the next 15 years, progress in science, technology and innovation will be key to delivering on all socio-economic development goals, from poverty eradication to agriculture and food security, to energy, to water and sanitation, and climate change and education.

Lest we forget that technological innovation is embedded in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, together with advancing science and technology, as Goal 17.

I agree that science, technology and innovation must not be confined to the use of new technologies or software, but rather, innovation is a mind-set and an attitude. It means questioning assumptions, rethinking established systems and procedures, and introducing new strategies. New technologies are important, but as a means to an end.

That is why I agree with Gates when he said the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. He is right. Poverty has been halved because of innovation. Unfortunately, the online registration system is closed. Parents who still have to confirm offers of placement should do so as a matter of urgency, failing which they will lose those offers. Our mission at the GDE is to allow schools to spend more time educating, and less time and budget on paperwork.

Panyaza Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for Education