When the Meraka INNOVATE Conference got underway in Pretoria on Wednesday 18 April 2007, some 150 educators from all over South Africa had the opportunity to share knowledge, experience, lessons learnt and good practice from each other for the following three days. The conference takes place on 18-20 April 2007.
The event was organised by the Meraka Institute with support from Mindset Network and Schoolnet South Africa. It was planned as a forum for educators to share experiences and participate in the transfer of knowledge beyond the conference. The Meraka Institute is a national research centre managed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The core thematic areas are information and communications technology (ICT) skills training; innovative use of technology in the classroom; classroom administration; outreach programmes and collaborative learning.
“Socio-economic and technological changes and increased international competitiveness over the past decade have highlighted the importance of education to all countries,” says conference organiser, Ron Beyers of the Meraka Institute's research group on ICT in Education, Youth and Gender. “In today's world, a completely new set of skills is required and our youth are expected to compete in a world increasingly driven by information, technology and knowledge.”
Beyers explains that educators need to find ways to identify and implement new and alternative methods to encourage the learning and skills development of learners in and beyond the class. “The conference has provided an excellent opportunity to surface a range of innovative thinking currently in practice at our schools.”
To this end, the programme runs over three days to allow for delegates to attend presentations of interest in different tracks (see details of the programme and abstracts of presentations at http://www.meraka.org.za/innovate/index.php?intTpl=133&intID=1). The keynote speaker on the first day was Trudi van Wyk of the national Department of Education. Other highlights include:
- A presentation of the YESA (the Young Engineers of South Africa) programme, by Ron Beyers of the Meraka Institute
- Teaching with flair - a whole language approach to the teaching of literature, by Abdullah Sujee, Deputy Principal of Roshnee Islamic School, which explores how new technologies for reading and writing have extended the curriculum for English
- Lessons for e-learning in South Africa, by Koki Selepe and Lebs Mphahlele of the Department of Science and Technology
- Creating National Curriculum Statement-aligned digital content for learners and teachers, by Shafika Isaacs of Mindset Network
- Maths on MXit, by Laurie Butgereit of the Meraka Institute
- ICT in action at the event through a skype link-up with Canada on advanced broadband education learning.
The event will conclude with a closing address by Professor Johannes Cronje of the University of Pretoria.
Some delegates are expected from as far as Finland, with Beyers anticipating that some learners may accompany educators to the event.
“The intended outcome of the Meraka INNOVATE conference is to facilitate the process of educators participating in the rigours of compiling educational papers that have been peer-reviewed,” explains Beyers “These papers will then be made available to all schools, both local and in the region, in a variety of formats.”
He is adamant that the Meraka INNOVATE conference will not be a once-off. “Our planning is already underway to ensure that themes and initiatives addressed at the event are followed through,” he confirms. “This will provide the impetus for the next Meraka INNOVATE event.”
The Meraka Institute's research group on ICT in Education, Youth and Gender has three research areas:
- Mobile learning environments, which looks at novel mobile tools and platforms to support learning and teaching in South African schools in ways that are both pedagogically appropriate and true to our African context and experience.
- Multimodal learning platforms, which investigates the creation of intelligent physical learning objects that will enable African children to learn and develop new skills through play.
- Increasing the science, engineering and technology pipeline through the Young Engineers of South Africa (YESA) programme, which aims to increase the number of potential scientists, engineers and technologists by creating the necessary interest and involvement of learners. At preschool level this is TekkiTots (hands-on exposure to science and technology), while TekkiKids is aimed at older primary school learners (hands-on, experiential learning) and the Fab Kids project (Grade 10-11) exposes learners to a high-tech rapid prototyping environment.
More information on the Meraka INNOVATE Conference is at http://www.meraka.org.za/innovate/