Think about the teacher

Children in a classroom at computers

The DBE planned robotics curriculum

On 26 Feb 2021, ITWeb reported that the Department of Basic Education will pilot its coding and robotics curriculum in schools this year.

I don’t have a child at school, but I still have concerns about this.

We need to encourage coding skills. We need to improve the level of STEM skills in South Africa. And children need to learn about the realities of life in a digital world.

I don’t know how much faith you have in the ability of the DBE to deliver. But I don’t want to a political debate. So let’s not talk about resources and schools without working toilets. Let’s not worry about the design of the curriculum. (Remember the 2013 controversy when the Department decided to teach Delphi at schools?)

Let’s just think about the teachers.

The stress challenge

According to the report, “incumbent teachers will do the necessary. A national training team is expected to be trained in March 2021 and this team will train teachers in April.” This training must cover the curriculum, “from the foundation phase and grade 7”.

I have a friend who is an incredibly dedicated teacher. She is battling with the added demands of Covid-19. I know about the challenges at universities during this period. And we all know how the pandemic has impacted our work load and our stress.

Now imagine the stress of a teacher without these skills, who has been chosen for this role. How much can she learn in this time, and how will she cope?

The skills challenge

I’m sure you read the story of the amazing Ghana teacher who taught computer skills without a computer. An inspiring, amazing story. But it went viral because it was unique and amazing, not because it was common-place.

I’ve seen the results when HTML was taught at a well-resourced public school. It did not inspire me with confidence. And HTML is, in my experience, a lot of fun to teach and to learn. The basics of HTML are easy. But not for the teacher, who did not understand it and could not teach it.

We’ve heard the horror stories about maths teachers. A professor in the department of Mathematics Education at Unisa wrote a paper that opens with this line:

“The teaching of mathematics in South African schools has been pronounced to be among the worst in the world.”

What are the chances that the teaching of robotics and coding will be any better?

The consequences

And here’s the crunch. We all remember how the right teacher made such a difference at school. The wrong teacher makes just as much of a difference.

In 2019 I met a retired Maths professor. We had a fascinating chat about whether some people have a natural aptitude for Maths, and by extension, programming. He believes that anyone can learn Maths. But children are discouraged by teachers and parents, and people who say “I can’t do Maths”.

What will happen if children become as discouraged about coding as they are about maths?

I look forward to your views on this.

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