for tomorrow



EIGHTEEN rural high schools in the Bhisho area are gearing up for a high-tech Maths and Science boost, with the February 16 launch of the innovative Old Mutual Education Flagship Programme’s Maths and Science Development Project (OMEFP).

Aimed at today’s digitally-wired “screen generation”, the thoroughly-modern, curriculum-aligned, offline programme, developed by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Unit (GMMDU) and sponsored by the Old Mutual Foundation, focuses on up-scaling teachers’ skills and harnessing the potential of promising learners – with an over-arching aim to leave behind sustainable, professional learning communities.

The two-year project will be run in close collaboration with the provincial Department of Basic Education.

“We are using a 21st century, techno-blended model in an offline format to support previously-disadvantaged schools that face lots of socio-economic challenges,” said GMMDU head Prof Werner Olivier, who also holds a FirstRand Foundation Chair in Maths Education.

At the project’s heart is an innovative teaching and learning model available via a comprehensive classroom support package called TouchTutor™, which uses video-based Maths and Science content, animated PowerPoint lessons, learner workbooks and a range of additional curriculum-aligned digital support material, to get its message across.

Developed and fine-tuned by GMMDU through the FirstRand Chair programme over the past five years, TouchTutor™ is available on laptops for teachers – which can be used as teaching aids in the classroom – and Android tablets for learners, to be used as “personal tutors” after school hours. Desktop models will also be available at each school in the form of a resource centre to ensure more pupils have access to the support programme. The science series currently includes more than 80 pre-recorded laboratory experiment videos.

OMEFP is a “pilot laboratory” focusing on Grade 10 to 12 FET teacher and learner support in the schools, which are situated in a 20km radius around Bhisho.

Twenty-five to 30 promising learners from each school will receive tablets loaded with the TouchTutor™  package to support their studies.

The project will also include Tablet-assisted After-school Peer Support (TAPS) Maths sessions to complement and help learners reflect on teaching that “does or does not happen in schools”.

Anthony Ryan, OMEFP Programme Manager for the Eastern Cape, said: “We are excited about the groundbreaking integrated technology-based support, which we think will go a long way towards addressing the chronic shortage of qualified, competent maths teachers in South Africa.”

The rural model complements a tried and tested urban project which GMMDU and the FRF Chair have run in 10 schools in Port Elizabeth over the past four years.

Olivier said the latest improvements on the TouchTutor™  package were “tablet-based interactive assessment and the logging of user activity”, which will enable learners to test what they know via lesson-aligned multiple choice tests with immediate feedback – and also help the researchers to profile the interaction of learners with the device.

A PhD project will run concurrently, focusing on the use of tablets and their impact in terms of the expectations of modern learners.

“The ultimate aim of learner scaffolding support [which fills in the gaps in learners’ knowledge] is towards self-regulated learning in the 21st century, where learners have the ability to independently interact with peers or individually engage with learning material and be assessed without teachers being formally involved. It’s an integrated approach to this whole challenging environment we face in most South African schools.”

2015 marks the third year of the Old Mutual Foundation’s involvement in projects to bolster high school Maths and Science teaching in the Eastern Cape – and the first year of its partnership with GMMDU.

“What we like about the NMMU project is the holistic nature of the intervention, where teachers’ and learners’ needs are addressed,” said Ryan.