Technologically Illiterate is Functionally Illiterate

technologically-illiterate

It really concerns (terrifies) me that particularly in a module about Instructional Techniques and Media, my fellow students (teachers themselves) are not only technologically illiterate, but resistant to technology. There have been endless complaints about the use of technology in the modules we are completing as part of the Postgraduate Diploma in Tertiary Education (PDTE) at the University of South Africa (Unisa). I cannot understand how anyone could possibly prefer an old textbook and an outdated study guide, when there are so many more options available out there. Technology has transformed the education industry.

It is not a luxury to use technology in education; it is a necessity.

Many students cite cost as a concern; however, I don’t really understand why they cannot see that technology is the actually the cheapest alternative. Let’s ignore the fact that, in South Africa, books are taxed at 14%, and seen as luxury items, and that many students cannot really afford textbooks. Let’s ignore the fact that libraries have limited resources, and the resources that they do have are not sufficient to meet the needs of all students. Let’s just focus on delivery of content via the postal service, instead of online.

Many a student has bleated about wanting to stay with the old way of doing things. Traditionally, Unisa used the South African Post Office (SAPO) extensively to deliver study material, submit and return assignments; basically all communication was conducted via the post. However, nowadays the postal service in South Africa is unreliable at best, so delivery of materials via the post is virtually impossible. In fact, Unisa has officially informed students that they must not post their assignments at all. The official statement, Updated assignment submission processes for 2015, warns that, “Due to ongoing industrial action at the South African Post Office, please do not post any assignments to Unisa via the South African Post Office at this time. No extensions or concessions will be granted should your assignments not reach Unisa by the specified deadlines” (Temane, 2015). Instead, our assignments must be submitted online via myUnisa, the online student portal. Actually, many students also have problems accessing the Internet, or indeed electricity. Unisa acknowledges this issue, and further states, “While we advise students, wherever possible, to submit assignments electronically via myUnisa, we understand that some students experience challenges with regard to internet access and frequent power outages as a result of load shedding by Eskom[1]” (Temane, 2015). In response to these problems, Unisa has partnered with SKYNET and UTi so that Unisa students can courier their assignments for free. However, in order to get the assignments returned, students have to use SAPO, or pay for a courier.

Student resistance to new technology is not a recent phenomenon. In 2008, students protested at Unisa’s Durban campus about Unisa’s efforts to catch up with the changing technological backdrop of the 1990’s, and deliver study material in the form of CD’s. According to Mlungisi Hlongwane, the then provincial secretary of the Young Communist League (YCL), “Most of the students come from disadvantaged areas and do not have access to computers” (Unisa’s Durban Campus to Remain Closed, 2008). However, Unisa is attempting to assist students with accessing the necessary resources to complete their studies. As part of the Student Technology Programme, students at Unisa can get exclusive deals on laptops, tablets, and 3g Internet access. In addition to this, Unisa has dedicated telecentres with computers, printers, photocopiers, scanners, faxes, telephones, and internet access particularly aimed at students in rural areas. Furthermore, there are regional centres in seven areas, with learning centres providing additional support to students.

I really fail to understand how students can claim that the Internet is too expensive, so we shouldn’t use it. It really is not as expensive as buying textbooks on an individual basis, or ensuring that libraries have sufficient resources and facilities for students. Surely instead of remaining within such limited boundaries, we should seek to improve infrastructure? Surely it is cheaper to spend money on Internet and basic technology, than to waste money on printed textbooks, exorbitant courier fees (since SAPO is basically defunct), or to try and convince the government to drop taxes on textbooks? It is such a problem in Sub Saharan Africa that we do not have adequate infrastructure and technologically trained teachers to even remotely begin the process of building a bridge across the digital divide. There needs to be a concerted effort between the government, business, and education sectors to ensure that every person has access to cheap and reliable internet. Why are we not focusing on improving infrastructure across the board? Internet access in South Africa is dismal, and the correct response to issues of Internet access is not to change education delivery, but to catch a wake up and try to join the rest of civilisation in the Age of Knowledge.

Before I began this Diploma in Tertiary Education, it would never have occurred to me that people would need to be convinced that using technology in education is not only a good idea, but also kind of inevitable. I naively assumed that everyone wanted to embrace technology, but perhaps couldn’t, due to prohibitive costs or inadequate infrastructure. It honestly did not occur to me that people would not only be perfectly content with limited technology, but in fact actively advocate against its use. I cannot help but think of the Luddites of the past, and consider that if today’s educators do not adapt to using technology they will face the same fate. The Luddite protests involved the smashing of a variety of new technologies, but we all know where they ended up. Today’s students are resisting the use of the Internet. However, the cost of printing study material, buying textbooks, paying couriers, even trying to use the postal service, far exceeds the cost of the Internet. I do not dispute that the Internet in South Africa is expensive. However, I believe that our complaints should be addressing the real problem. We should be demanding that something be done to ensure that the chokehold of companies like Telkom[2] and mobile companies like MTN, Cell C, and Vodacom (the only choices for mobile data) be released, and that steps are taken to provide basic Internet to all citizens.

My fellow students are yammering about the use of technology, and all I hear is the echo of those Luddites. “He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living hand to mouth” (Goethe in Gaarder, 1995) is one of my favourite quotes. Perhaps these whiners need to learn from the past. Luddites have long been superseded. Currently, people in the service industry are also facing replacement by robots, as can be demonstrated by Target’s plans to use robot workers. Why should teachers be any different? I’m reminded of another favourite quote: “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read“. Technologically illiterate is functionally illiterate. It’s akin to being unable to read and write. I still want to be working in thirty years time, and if I cannot demonstrate my ability to integrate technology into my teaching I will not have a hope of remaining in the education industry.

References

Duff, S. (07 July 2014). The latest statistics on South African Internet penetration. Retrieved from https://www.webafrica.co.za/blog/general/latest-statistics-south-african-internet-penetration/. (Accessed 01 October 2015).

Nkosi, B. (03 October 2014). Students hurt by pricey textbooks. Mail and Guardian. Retrieved from: http://mg.co.za/article/2014-10-03-students-hurt-by-pricey-textbooks (Accessed 01 October 2015).

Eskom (2015). Eskom Powering your world. Retrieved from http://www.eskom.co.za/Pages/Landing.aspx. (Accessed 01 October 2015).

Goethe, J.W. in Gaarder, J. (1995). Sophie’s world: A novel about the history of philosophy. (P. Møller, translator) London: Phoenix.

Siegal, J. (21 September 2015). Target plans to test robot workers at its upcoming concept sore. BGR. Retrieved from http://bgr.com/2015/09/21/target-robot-workers-concept-store/. (Accessed 01 October 2015).

Telkom (2015). Telkom About Us. Retrieved from http://www.telkom.co.za/sites/aboutus/aboutus/. (Accessed 01 October 2015).

Temane, M. (26 January 2015). Updated assignment submission process for 2015. Unisa. Retrieved from: http://www.unisa.ac.za/Default.asp?Cmd=ViewContent&ContentID=97519. (Accessed 01 October 2015).

Does not read. (2015). Quote investigator. Retrieved from http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/12/11/cannot-read/. (Accessed 01 October 2015).

Unisa’s Durban campus to remain closed. (25 August 2008). Mail and Guardian. Retrieved from: http://mg.co.za/article/2008-08-25-unisas-durban-campus-to-remain-closed. (Accessed 01 October 2015).

Unisa online e-solutions for students. (2015). MyUnisa. Retrieved from https://my.unisa.ac.za/e-solutions. (Accessed 01 October 2015).

Unisa online open distance learning (2015). MyUnisa. Retrieved from http://www.unisa.ac.za/Default.asp?Cmd=ViewContent&ContentID=98310. (Accessed 01 October 2015).

Unisa online telecentre community outreach. (2015) MyUnisa. Retrieved from: http://www.unisa.ac.za/Default.asp?Cmd=ViewContent&ContentID=23650. (Accessed 01 October 2015).

[1] Eskom, the South African electricity public utility, is the sole provider of occasional electricity in South Africa

[2] Telkom, the partly private, partly state owned sole provider of telecommunications in South Africa, has a monopoly over the wired telecommunication infrastructure.

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