The Role of ICTs in Higher Education in South Africa: One Strategy for Addressing Teaching and Learning Challenges

Article excerpt


One of the most common problems of using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in education is to base choices on technological possibilities rather than educational needs. In developing countries where higher education is fraught with serious challenges at multiple levels, there is increasing pressure to ensure that technological possibilities are viewed in the context of educational needs. This paper argues that a central role of educational technology is to provide additional strategies that can be used to address the serious environmental and educational challenges faced by educators and students in higher education. The educational needs manifest in South African universities include addressing general lack of academic preparedness, multilingual needs in English medium settings, large class sizes and inadequate curriculum design. Using case studies from one higher educational institution, this paper shows how specific and carefully considered interventions using ICTs can be used to address these teaching and learning concerns. These examples serve to demonstrate some ways in which teaching and learning may be enhanced when uses of educational technology are driven by educational needs. The paper concludes that design of educational technology interventions should be driven by educational needs within the context of a broader teaching and learning strategy which requires buy-in of both educators and learners.

Keywords: Educational challenges, higher education, educational technology, student diversity


It has been suggested that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can and do play a number of roles in education. These include providing a catalyst for rethinking teaching practice (Flecknoe, 2002; McCormick & Scrimshaw, 2001); developing the kind of graduates and citizens required in an information society (Department of Education, 2001); improving educational outcomes (especially pass rates) and enhancing and improving the quality of teaching and learning (Wagner, 2001; Garrison & Anderson, 2003).

While all of these suggest the potential impact of ICTs in education in general and South Africa in particular, it is still difficult to demonstrate the potential of technologies in addressing specific teaching and learning problems faced by South African higher education institutions. The thesis of this paper is that the potential of ICTs is sandwiched between increasing pressure on higher education institutions from government to meet the social transformation and skills needs of South Africa, and the varying student academic preparedness, large class sizes and multilingualism currently experienced in these teaching and learning contexts. Our thinking aligns with others (such as Kirkup & Kirkwood, 2005; Wagner, 2001) who argue that it is the contextualised teaching and learning needs that ought to drive the ICT intervention, rather than the technology itself. In South Africa, contextualisation of teaching and learning requires a tightrope walk between higher education imperatives and social-cultural context of the educational landscape. This paper illustrates by means of examples drawn from one higher education institution how educational needs can drive design of learning environments and technological use.

The question driving this paper is: How may educational technology interventions address the teaching and learning challenges faced by South African higher education institutions? We discuss the general and specific educational challenges. These challenges then provide a context for an ICT intervention framework which is described and examples of the use of this framework in curriculum projects are discussed.


General challenges

Currently, higher education in South Africa is under increasing pressure to meet the social transformation and skills needs of the new South Africa (Kistan, 2002). …