Speech delivered by Communications Deputy Minister, Pinky Kekana MP at the Mobile Learning Week at the University of Mpumalanga

Prof. Thoko Mayekiso- The Vice Chancellor of the University of Mpumalanga

Dr Jacqueline Batchelor- Senior Lecturer: Department of Science and Technology Education

Mr. Carlton Mukhwevho- Superintendent General of the UNSECO South African National Commission

Mr. Teboho Thejane- Acting Executive Director of NEDLAC

Mr. Chetan Gordhan- Technology Solution Specialist in Data and Ai at Microsoft

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

I’m delighted to be with you today to discuss something that helps re-imagine our future. In that same breath I must remind us that, Digital technology and Artificial Intelligence is not the future anymore; it’s the present; it has taken off , our role as government is to drive awareness and the opportunities around Artificial Intelligence.

If we move from this premise it follows then that we should ask how do we leverage mobile learning and mobile technologies to support and enhance education for all. To this end I am pleased that tech based companies form part of governments efforts to answer this question, because, the answer lies somewhere in a strong collaboration between the public sector and private sector.

For us as a country , mobile learning week comes at a time when our President has set a clear path for South Africa’s education system. During his State of the Nation Address President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a plan to bring Early Childhood Development (ECD) under the ambit of the Department of Education, this will ensure that we have two years of compulsory ECD for all children before going to Grade 1.

Coupled with a plan to equip learners with mobile learning tools such as tablets in all public schools, we believe that this will substantially improve reading comprehension in the first years of school. This is essential in equipping children to succeed in education, in work and in life – and it is possibly the single most important factor in overcoming poverty, unemployment and inequality.

But we must admit that mobile learning tools on their own will not be good enough. Experts in the sector reveal that our education system has approximately one hundred thousand early learning practitioners only, which is not enough. To teach ECD is a specialised skill, not all teachers can teach it.

As such, we fully appreciate the fact, that, supplying mobile learning tools in schools will not solve underlying issues negatively impacting the South African education sector. A holistic approach is required where technology is an enabler to learning and access to knowledge.

Learning from previous experiences, we need to ensure that issues related to procurement, training, project governance and supplier management need to be carefully monitored and proactively managed to ensure objectives are reached.

Seminars such as these helps us put all the stakeholders under one roof in order to find solutions and work out the dynamics which will ensure that we maximize the full value of technology , especially artificial intelligence in the education sector.

One thing is certain the fourth industrial revolution, like digital transformation, is on the agenda for every organization and industry in the country and also on the continent. Because of this education is intrinsically linked to skills development. All of these lead to crucial considerations about future jobs which are all being impacted by the advances of digital technology. As a result mobile learning week brings into a sharp focus what we should be unlearning and what should be relearnt, because mobile technology is the new normal.

Government will ensure that the curriculum in schools changes. In due course we will see the introduction of several new technology subjects and specialisations, such as technical mathematics and technical sciences, maritime and mining sciences, as well as aviation studies, to list a few.

To support the demands of the future, we need to ensure that we support the personal development of our teachers. Just the other day the Minister and I unveiled a cyberlab in Ntabankulu, which had facilities that can translate mathematical questions of calculus into isixhosa and isizulu.

As I say this I’m reminded of a truism by Nelson Mandela, when he said, If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. Imagine what happens when you use technology to teach people mathematical equations in their mother tongue.

As we increase awareness around mobile learning and develop policies. We must also reconstruct the mobile learning eco-system to create economies of scale, so that all learners across the length and breadth of South Africa benefit from this technology. We need all hands to be on deck so that we increase the ICT literacy of our society.

There is no debate that in order to make this a reality data costs must decrease without delay. The costs of data in this country are unjustifiable by any standard. We must do more to ensure that we connect more schools onto the internet grid, it is the responsibility of government and the private sector. This is crucial for us to bridge the digital divide.

If we engage in a shared value approach all of us can engage in numerous activities that help us grow our economy, this is one of them. We need to make e-books, tablets , e-learning apps accessible to all in a sustainable manner. It is my hope that the rise of artificial intelligence can add value to this very important eco-system.

Let me conclude by saying as all of these radical changes happen around us we must not forget that technology does not teach. Teachers teach and people teach. The knowledge that drives mobile learning is only as good as the knowledge of the best teachers in the system.

I thank you.

Source: Department of Communication