21 November 2012
The world’s largest privately held software company, SAS, has developed an online educational resource to support maths and science teaching and learning in South Africa, the company announced on Tuesday.
The World Economic Forum’s annual report on financial development, released at the beginning of November, placed South Africa 62nd out of 62 countries assessed for the quality of their maths and science education.
As a result, the Basic Education Department is looking for solutions to address this problem that has the potential to hold back the economic development of the country.
‘Interactive, standards-based resources’
“SAS Curriculum Pathways provides interactive, standards-based resources in English, arts, maths, science, social studies and Spanish for Grades 6 to 12,” SAS said in a statement.
The resource comes in two versions – one for teachers and the other for students. It provides students with access to web-based learning environments using proven instructional strategies and techniques.
“SAS Curriculum Pathways is also modular by topic, so that it doesn’t have to map to a particular curriculum to provide insights into any area,” said SAS vice-president for the Middle East and Africa, Riad Gydien.
“Because of this, it also automatically differentiates between users so that faster students can progress while slower ones get the repetition that they need.”
They learn by using various resources, such as visual models, images, virtual labs, diagrams, graphic organisers, audio recordings of literary excerpts, poetry, dialogues, historical documents and narrated and captioned videos.
The simulations and learning activities incorporate real data so that students can experience and understand real-world applications.
It also lets students test a hypothesis and validate conclusions, construct their understanding using interactive websites, apply learning in other contexts and bring external learning into the classroom, according to SAS.
SAS has spent US$75-million developing the product drawing from the talent of its own technical experts and consulting educators.
The company has made the decision to make the product available for free in South Africa as part of its Corporate Social Investment (CSI) activities.
Forming partnerships to overcome challenges
“In South Africa, there are certain challenges to implementation that we are addressing,” says Gydien.
“Teachers need to be trained in the use of the resource, and are in some cases resistant to change, and of course there are connectivity and hardware problems in certain areas.”
SAS is currently training the teachers through train-the-trainer sessions, so that the solution can be rolled out in each province.
The company is also forming partnerships with NGOs to provide the hardware and connectivity that will enable the use of this online tool.
Institutions like the University of the North West, Rhodes University and Stellenbosch have registered for their free licence to use Curriculum Pathways in their previously disadvantaged individual (PDI) teacher development programmes or in their bridging courses for students who don’t fulfill all the requirements in maths and science.
“In South Africa, where there are significant problems in the education system, especially with maths and science, SAS Curriculum pathways offers a solution that supports and augments the education system to address those gaps,” says Gydien.
“We are currently looking at ways to expand the reach of this programme, as we are committed to improving the education system today, to develop the IT and financial leaders of tomorrow.”