The first major intervention undertaken by the PSSP programme was the commissioning and installation of computer laboratories specifically directed at improving the reading, comprehension and maths capabilities of Grade 8 and 9 learners.
ICT technology is simply a tool and not a solution and therefore PSSP could not in the ordinary course support the generic investment in technology without a clear understanding of how the technology would be used in teaching and learning, together with an undertaking from the schools that the assets would be put to good use. The investment in technology can only ever be justified if educators embrace it and integrate it in teaching and learning, and this in and of itself presents a challenge.
The motivation to install the computer laboratories was made by Sunward Park High School based on their experience of using their old computers as a reading laboratory to improve the reading and comprehension skills of their Grade 8 and 9 learners. Their programmatic use of the Cami reading software improved their learners average reading speed by some 40% which had a consequential impact on their performance in other learning areas.
Due to the large class sizes, 40 workstation computer labs were installed in each of the seven schools, together with a teacher’s work station and interactive whiteboard. Existing classrooms were secured, new furniture and fittings installed, and a state of the art computer laboratory commissioned. The labs have been set up to function as ‘internet cafes’, if and when PSSP agrees to provide internet connectivity to the schools. In the interim the labs are being used in an ‘off-line environment’ for ‘one to one’ activities as they are essentially focused on remediating the problem of Grade 8 and 9 learners not being high school ready.
Fixed computer labs present a number of scheduling challenges in ensuring that individual learners get to spend as much face time as possible in front of a computer working at their own rate. The large number of Grade 8 and 9 learners that require this extra support compounds the problem. The Cami maths and reading programme is a useful tool as it allows each learner to progress at their own learning-rate and provides a comprehensive report which allows the educators to track the performance of each learner. The schools are required to report back to the PSSP programme on the utilization of their labs and the impact that they are having on individual learners. These results are benchmarked against each other to provide some insight as to which schools are using the assets optimally and which schools are under-performing.
PSSP provided extensive training to some 10 educators per school in the use and applications of the Cami software and the management and optimisation of the labs. Over and above this the programme provides technical support to keep the labs operational and functional, and has also placed 2 Sci-Bono learnerships in each of the labs to offer technical and functional support to the educators while teaching in the labs. These learnerships keep the labs operational after school hours, on Saturdays and in the school holidays to give struggling learners the opportunity to enjoy more face time on the computers. After some 12 months of full operations, a number of challenges still remain. The PSSP programme has resolved to intensify the training and support opportunities to the ICT champions in each supported school to ensure that the ICT assets have maximum impact.