Introducing Educational Computer Programmes through Evaluation: A Case in South African Disadvantaged Schools

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

I report on evaluation strategies that could be used to introduce an educational computer programme (ECP) in disadvantaged schools. The strategies include social dialogue, using the teachers' value systems such as Ubuntu together with participant evaluation methodologies, by which teachers learn about evaluation, computer skills, and the concepts the ECP presents, as well consider the curriculum issues around ECP use in teaching. The study involved 26 teachers from 23 South African disadvantaged schools.

Keywords: Evaluation of educational computer programmes; disadvantaged schools in Africa; Ubuntu

INTRODUCTION

Context

Bantu in South Africa attended schools in which a curriculum was specifically designated for them in low-income areas that couldn't afford computers. These schools produced most of the current poorly skilled teachers who teach in them. These are the disadvantaged schools where the South African Department of Education (DoE) has consistently tried various projects to improve teaching and learning, sometimes with provision of computers. My work in disadvantaged schools indicated that Bantu education had persisted against newer curricula such as Curriculum 2005, at least up to the time this research was conducted from 2001 to 2004.

Computers-based innovations are now almost culturally embedded in developed countries that drive globalisation. In contrast, teachers in Africa find computers in tertiary institutions (e.g., Blignaut & Venter, 2002: 1; Hewett, Erulkar, & Mensch, 2003: 5, 12); but even then, rarely use educational computer programmes (ECPs) (although they might use computers) during their teacher training (personal observations at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal from 2000 - 2006).

Despite increased interest in computer use in South Africa (SA) (e.g., White Paper on ICT use in Education, DoE, 2003), my participation in education projects indicated that few teachers were equipped with basic computer skills and literature revealed little research on curriculum and cultural implications of ECP introductions and use in SA schools. For example, the University of Natal designed an ECP it named Zadarh (Amory, 2001), but the ability of teachers to use it in their lessons was still to be researched.

An Educational Computer Program (ECP) named Zadarh

Zadarh is a constructivist adventure, fun and drama game (Amory, 2001), designed to address some of the unrelenting Biology curriculum problems in SA (e.g., from Chacko, 1996 to DoE, Muwanga-Zake, 2000; to Sanders, 2002). Amory explains that explorations of Zadarh involve cognitive (interpretive) and/or social constructions (when students group-play), and model dialectic between pedagogical and game elements. Fun could increase playing time and therefore time for scientific inquiry, around problematic concepts, hoping that students can apply these in real life adventures. Zadarh deals with photosynthesis, respiration, genetics, and evolution at school-leaving level. The challenge is whether teachers are able to identify these Zadarh objectives and use it effectively in their lessons.

Components which teachers have to understand before evaluating and implementing an ECP

I propose that the knowledge and skills needed to use an ECP in lessons can be summed up in Figure 1 below. Figure 1 shows concerns various authors raise about developing teachers and ICT use in teaching (e.g., Whittier & Lara, 2006: 3; Minaidi & Hlapanis, 2005: 241- 243; Gredler, 2001: 537). These include distinguishing between harnessing computers for curriculum objectives and the computer skills needed, in their subject of specialization and culture, economic standards, cognitive strategies, and social processes executed. Thus, Figure 1 represents teachers' competencies to evaluate and use an ECP. Such an evaluation could achieve the transformation, which Muffoletto (1996: 145) recommends is necessary to use ECP in lessons. …

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