“Africa is the second largest continent in the world, yet it is the least computerised.”

Exclusive interview with Gideon van Niekerk, MaraMedia CEO.  MaraMedia is a gold sponsor at the upcoming African Education Week.

1)  What would you say the main challenges are to creating a more e-friendly learning environment in South African/African schools?
“Education in our country is suffering as the lack of suitable learning material seems to be that elephant in the room that everyone tries not to notice.” Africa is the second largest continent in the world, yet it is the least computerised.

South African / African Schools face a number of obstacles in their quest for quality education in a digital format. Certain prerequisites, such as reliable power supply to operate the computers, a well functioning telephone network to transmit data, financial ability to import the technology, and computer literate personnel, are necessary for successful use of IT remain inadequate in many African countries.

The last century has seen tremendous revolutions in all industries, except education. Learners need to be prepared for the demands that a future with new problems, opportunities and challenges will hold.

Knowledge is everywhere, available at the click of a button with Google as many educators’ first port of call. Content experts and great teachers set aside mandated learner manuals every day in favour of their own materials and those they have culled from the best resources available. Textbooks as we know them are an anachronism. However, the choosing, culling, and creation of appropriate course material is an arduous task – one that MaraMedia has taken on gladly.

2)  How will technology change the way learners are taught, do you think?
Learners are destined to evolve from passive recipients of knowledge to active participants in a life-long learning process. By taking charge of his/her own learning through a digital platform, any child can be the master of his/her learning. Exploring the global classroom is made possible through the marriage of great educational material with an intuitive technology interface in the form of mobile tablets. A migration to a more digital workspace must be effected at a pace that teachers and learners are comfortable with.  Using mobile learning devices like tablets enables learners to store assets, homework and other documents and facilitates collaborative learning through enhanced communication by forum. Using tablet computers, learners have easy access to knowledge. They use their devices as supportive educational tools. By using the MaraMedia IDMs, they now have access to embedded videos, photo galleries, diagrams, articles, essays and relevant academic information written for the South African market with reference to actual news events that can vastly improve their performance in the classroom.

Until now, most people relegated “education” to a finite time in their lives: entering school at around five years old and attending school institutions all the way to university. Education is getting increasingly interspersed with our daily activities. This necessitates an innovative new merging of e- and m-learning, and will most probably be one of the ways in which Information Communication. Not only do learners have access to their entire school curriculum on their mobile learning devices, but they now have access to industry experts too. Learners can read reviews and blogs by field experts. They can follow conferences and “webinars” and even have a chance to interact with professionals from their homes or classrooms.

3)  What is your vision for education?
High quality digital and mobile education in Africa may appear presumptive: in areas of drought or malnutrition it is hard to persuade some people that education is a venture that necessitates monetary investment. But education is about information, and information is needed to help cure illness and bring food, bolster production and build stable societies. Information is needed to allow Africa to find its own ways forward. Our vision is that digital education can put South Africa at the forefront of the African Renaissance in education. In order to create true 21st century learning environments, today’s schools will need to evolve beyond traditional methods of instruction. Digital learning allows for exactly that to happen. Using mobile tablet device technology to enhance the learning experience and to break down the school walls, paves the way for a gigantic shift of the traditional learning paradigm. In opposition to the rather rigid, culturally ‘neutral’ learning material MaraMedia’s educational solution has the flexibility to adapt to the pupil’s cultural environment and to his/her personal learning style.

Technology is to develop even further in the future. Mobile information and communication technologies are important enablers of the new social structure. One only needs to look at the growth of the social media industry (and I think here particularly of Facebook) to realise that today’s youth more often than not deal with real-time as well as virtual personas on a continuous basis.

It is therefore imperative that learners are reached through the same portals when we enter the sphere of education. Interactive activities support large-scale learning and allow learners to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Most educators note that each learner requires different pedagogies or strategies for learning. Through using mobile learning devices with proper relevant and comprehensive content learners are able to learn in their own way. They can now personalise and enjoy learning.

The digital age has created a new relationship between teachers and learners. Research conducted by the London School of Economics found that children are typically the Internet experts in the family, and described this situation as a “lasting reversal of the generation gap”. This also leads to a “flip classroom” scenario whereby learners can research topics related to the curriculum themselves. The always-available nature of mobile learning empowers learners to take the initiative and direct their own learning activities, while teachers can guide this process, instill proper research methodologies and help learners to gauge the relevance and accuracy of e-content. The ability of teachers to understand and respond to digital learning opportunities is vital. Maragon Private Schools’ teachers are interested and able to provide Maragon learners with excellent learning content, learning management and support. To support Maragon Private Schools’ teachers, MaraMedia has arranged for a series of training sessions and workshops to assist teachers in what would otherwise be a very daunting task.

The MaraMedia IDMs fits many diverse learning styles: reading text and graphics, video, animation, working through decision trees, listening to audio tracks, contributing to discussions, researching on the internet, choosing the correct answer, interacting with the screen through swiping, tapping, panning, zooming or rating skills on a diagnostic… are all processes for offering learning on mobile learning devices. This enables differentiation between the different types of learners, engaging auditory-, visual- and tactile learners alike.  MaraMedia demonstrates the need for and the availability of technology capable of supporting the evolution towards the e-learning world of tomorrow while taking into account the richness of the past by following a blended approach to learning.

4)  What surprises you about this sector?
The last true educational revolution was with the invention of the blackboard by James Pillans in the 1800’s – mankind invests billions into countless sectors, but the educational sector that serves as the driving force for all of these has hardly seen any innovation in more than two hundred years.

The idea of tackling the same educational problems with the same ineffective solutions and expecting a different (better) outcome is the very definition of insanity.

5)  What will be your message at African Education Week?
Africa’s richest resource is not its gold, silver, diamonds or platinum, but its human resources – its children. As one of the few continents with an overall population growth, it is imperative that Africa stands up and be noticed in the educational sphere – we owe it to our children and to their future. The distinguishing feature of our society at the beginning of the 21st Century is the rapid rate of technological and social change.  Smartphones and tablet computers have become commonplace in most households. These devices are fundamentally altering how we approach our shared knowledge sources by keeping us continually connected to near-infinite volumes of raw data, knowledge resources and communication.

6)  Why did you decide to become a gold sponsor at this event?
MaraMedia is passionate about education, about our great nation and the powerful impact that education has on our youth. We emulate the meaning of ex-president Nelson Mandela’s statement: “Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to shape our future”

7)  Anything you would like to add?
Without the help of imaginative, appreciative learners and teachers, textbooks are reduced to a jumble of words. There is no guarantee that a learner will interact with the subject content, moulding it into internalised knowledge. MaraMedia digital books provide the necessary resource to assist teachers in enlivening the content being taught.

Considering that the textbook is to the teacher what the hammer is to a carpenter or a knife to a chef, it is quite evident that the implementation of the latest possible technology as a fundamental classroom tool is essential.

The digital books allow for educators to ensure the maintenance of appropriate standards. Photo galleries, interactive mind-maps, high resolution colour images, embedded video footage, animations and sound clips take teaching and learning to a whole new level.
Content is enriched, augmented and enlivened by the integration of different media, bringing the world into the classroom.

Using a tablet device opens a legion of different teaching and learning opportunities. A scientific calculator, science lab, textbooks, workbooks and study notes for all subjects are all carried in a single device, smaller and lighter than a diary!

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