Zandile Tanoatsoala, a grade 4 teacher atLotus Gardens Primary School, is alreadyusing a laptop in her classes. Deputy minister Enver Surty and ELRC’sDhana Govender. Government is hoping all teachers will uselaptops. (Images: Bongani Nkosi)MEDIA CONTACTS• Hope MokgatlheMedia Liaison OfficerBasic Education Department+27 12 312 5538 or +27 71 680 6849RELATED ARTICLES• Education focus of Mandela Day 2010• Poor schools score textbooks• SA colleges get $6.7m boost• Ubuntu software for schoolsBongani NkosiSouth Africa’s public schools are moving into a new era of advanced technology, thanks to the new Teacher Laptop Initiative that’s rolling out across the country, allowing teachers to introduce laptops into their classrooms.A partnership between the Department of Basic Education and the private sector, the project is supervised by the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC).Top-of-the-range Pentium-4 machines, each one internet-ready and with national curriculum lessons and other relevant software installed, will be distributed to schools from 19 JulyGovernment believes the introduction of ICT into all its primary and secondary schools will improve the quality of pupils’ education. Teacher unions are unanimously supporting the initiative, and are hoping it will enhance their members’ teaching skills.“This is a powerful instrument that will help us transform our public education system,” said Dhaya Govender, general secretary of ELRC.The project was launched on 15 July at the Lotus Gardens Primary School in Pretoria West, where teachers are already using the laptops. ELRC has 18 months to ensure that it’s fully rolled out.Technology in the classroomThere are over 360 000 teachers plying their trade in South Africa’s public schools, and the plan is to give all of them a laptop. “We will ensure that every teacher owns and is able to use a computer,” said Enver Surty, deputy minister of Basic Education.About 125 000 teachers have already received computer training, Surty said, adding that the department is also progressing with the registration of learners into a national database. Some 80% are already in the system.The 12 suppliers to the project, all prominent computer dealers and ISPs, are offering training sessions in the schools. Local companies involved include mobile providers Cell C, Vodacom and MTN, hardware suppliers Lenovo and Sahara Systems, and telecommunications company Telkom, among others.“Our technicians and engineers provide training for teachers, showing them how to use the [installed] applications,” said Dayalan Pillay, a business manager at ICT training company Gijima Ast, also a supplier.Teachers have participated actively in the training sessions, government noted.The Skool websitepA website due to be launched shortly, www.skool.co.za, will become a nerve centre of the initiative and will contain all modules of the school curriculum.“Teachers can set tests using the website. All resources are readily available for the teacher,” Pillay said.Improving communicationGovernment is spending about US$317-million (R2.8-billion) to subsidise the laptops, as well as projectors for classrooms. Teachers will pay a monthly minimum fee for the computers, which will then become their property.Unions see the initiative as a viable platform to improve communication in the teaching sector.“There have been challenges in communicating vital information to the teachers,” said Thobile Ntola, president of the South African Democratic Teachers Union. “The laptops will play a role in bridging this gap.”“We must all rejoice when teachers can use e-mail to communicate with colleagues, exchange ideas, debate and discuss, and be exposed to the world of knowledge using powerful search engines like Google,” said Ezrah Ramasehla, president of the National Association of Professional Teachers of South Africa.