“Samsung is committed to delivering the classroom of the future – taking learning beyond the blackboard and supporting the adoption of new technologies into our teaching environments.”

Exclusive interview with Paulo Ferreira, Head of Enterprise Mobility, Samsung South Africa – gold sponsor at African Education Week.

1) What would you say are the main challenges to creating a more e-friendly learning environment in South African/African schools?
A few key areas that are challenging from an e-learning perspective include:
a. Changing perceptions – By nature, people are resistant to change and of course technology for some can seem rather daunting. However, what is not realised is the ease of use such technology solutions offer – targeted at making life more convenient and providing easier access to the education processes that are already in play. Changing perceptions in this regard can be tricky however, we believe we have a solid solution that has proven its results and this I am sure will stand testament to its success within the education environment.
b. Broadband access – South Africa still has a somewhat immature broadband capacity which can be a hindrance to interactive education from a technology point of view. However, the school’s technology partner can work around this to find the best solution – where this form of education is still largely viable and therefore should be invested in, even with our market constraints.
c. Digital content – Publishers also need to play their role in digitizing their text books so that these are readily available with the correct digital rights management (DRM) in place.
d. Electricity – in rural areas power is a challenge, etc.

2) Can you give us an indication of the extent of Samsung Education Solutions’ interests across Africa?
Where Africa is a continent seeking a number of solutions, to increase education and provide opportunity for the youth, there is a very high demand of technology companies to offer some of these education solutions and as a major player in the technology space we are seeing a large demand for our products and technologies in assisting with this reach into Africa and South Africa respectively.

Samsung started off by offering the African continent our Solar Powered Internet Schools (SPIS). A world-first; the exclusively solar-powered, mobile and completely independent classroom is geared at increasing accessibility to education and connectivity across Africa. It is designed particularly for use in remote rural areas with limited or no access to electricity. Each Solar Powered Internet School is built in a 40 foot (12 metre) long shipping container, making them easily transportable via truck to remote areas. The schools are built for energy-scarce environments, harsh weather conditions, and for transportation over long distances. Fold-away solar panels provide enough energy to power the classroom’s equipment for up to nine hours a day, and for one and a half days without any sunlight at all. The solar-panels themselves are made from rubber instead of glass to ensure they are hardy and durable enough to survive long journeys across the continent. Furthermore, the classroom can comfortably accommodate 21 learners, and includes several layers of insulation and a ventilation system, to ensure a temperate environment is maintained. Each classroom is fitted with a 50 inch electronic E-board and various Samsung Notebooks and Netbooks, including the world-first solar powered netbooks and Galaxy Tablets for student and teacher interface. The School is also equipped with an energy-efficient refrigerator, a file server, router, Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS), video camera and world first Wi-Fi camera, all of which are designed to communicate via 3G. This allows a central location (such as the Department of Education) to monitor classes and deliver curriculum-based content directly to both the learners’ and educators’ notebooks.

The success of this Samsung solution is evident through the one that has been stationed at Phomolong Secondary School in Tembisa for approximately 9 months. Over this time, the matric pass rate increased from 89% the previous year to 97% at the end of 2012 – an increase of 8%.

Following on from this offering, Samsung provides what we term our Smart School Solution–These solutions for Africa are adopted in different forms, where some schools use only the e-learning boards with others deploying the full end-to-end solutions consisting of tablets, interactive white boards (IWB) boards, content management system (CMS), learner management system (LMS) and other software which delivers pedagogical value. The solution deployment is mostly dependant on available funding as well as the immediate requirements of the school, however it can be adapted and increased as required – with minimal effort or infrastructure cost, other than hardware.

3) How do you see things evolving in the short term?
I see a much stronger move towards a technologically innovative classroom. As more and more schools start using this form of education, and as the increased learner results start to legitimise the offering, we expect to see a larger uptake of Smart School solutions in Africa, where we believe that a solution that is technologically driven is critical in moving forward with the way in which students prefer to learn and the way in which content today is delivered.

4) How will technology change the way learners are taught, do you think?
Today learners are becoming very tech-savvy and engage with one another through technology as a primary means of communication. As such, ensuring education takes place within this environment means that learners will naturally engage more actively within the education space – learning more and increasing their knowledge around technology at the same time.

Further to this, for the teacher, technology changes the education landscape drastically, for the better. Teachers are now able to ascertain which learners are struggling and which are exceeding classroom standards and educate them at their own pace, through interactive software.

Furthermore, the teaching environment becomes a lot more practical and interactive – where the educator can demonstrate the learners work on her e-board.

The below areas indicate how the Samsung Smart School solution enables quality education in Africa:

The interactive management solution delivers content to students and allows for the sharing of screens inside the classroom, providing teachers with the ability to monitor student progress and conduct group activities, as well as run tests or instant polls.

On the learning management system side, provision is made for the supply of educational materials that include e-textbooks, learning apps and timetables, as well as delivering school notices that can be accessed by students at any time.

While the student information system tracks student attendance, includes grade history, and keeps record of prizes or demerit points. Furthermore, students are able to access their school information at any time – whether at home or at school – and are able to interact with their peers and teachers via online portals and interactive communication tools. Through this they are better able to share their views and queries on school work as well as engage with peers and teachers in a real time manner.

5) What is your vision for education?
I envision a future of education that is underpinned by technology – in all schools across Africa. It would be great to see a continent that places technology at the core of education, that encompasses its opportunities and uses these to create even more technologically driven solutions available to all youth, no matter what their financial standing.

Through this vision, I see an education sector that actively monitors real-time progress of all learners, that sees teachers become active owners of education and encourages their own growth and learning as a result, as well as an education sector that is underpinned by streamlined curriculum, less reliance on government delivery of key material and resources for learning, and a solid solution that enables quality education.

6) What surprises you about this sector?
At first I guess you can say we were surprised that technology is being adopted so late down the line in comparison to global markets, and that as a result there is resistance in the market to adopt technology as a means of education.

However, now that we are far into the process of educating the market and are implementing these solutions in a number of schools we are witnessing a surprising interest in what technology has to offer the education sector – it seems the resistance is being negated by the fact that real, tangible results can be seen and that the market is starting to realise the critical importance of not only incorporating technology for the sake of having technologically updated processes but also because of the quality education technology offers this market.

7) What will be your message at African Education Week?
Samsung is committed to delivering the classroom of the future – taking learning beyond the blackboard and supporting the adoption of new technologies into our teaching environments. Through the Smart School solution, teachers are provided with the flexibility they need to conduct interactive lessons and engage with students quicker and more effectively. Ultimately, we see this as an ideal way to elevate education and foster a creative learning environment in a managed digital setting. Certainly our hope is to contribute to increases in student grades and classroom interaction through our technology capabilities.

8) Why did you decide to become a gold sponsor at this event?
Education is a key sector of our business portfolio and given the fact that we have a strong viable solution to offer in this sector – one that elevates the education sector through empowering teachers and learners – we believe that this conference and what we are trying to achieve from an education perspective offers strong synergies. Of course, Samsung are also aiming to become leaders in this sector from a technology perspective and as such, this conference offers us the opportunity to demonstrate this. We also see it as a platform to show our partnership with Maramedia, one of our partners in delivering digitized content for students on tablets.

9) Anything you would like to add?
Technology in education and real e-learning solutions cannot be achieved solely by one vendor alone. The industry as a whole needs to collaborate – from the departments of education, the hardware manufacturers, the application developers, the content publishers, to the teachers – we’re all stakeholders in this process of making a difference. The time is now for us to partner effectively and deliver on the potential these solutions offer.

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