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By Tebogo Mogashoa | Oct 30, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

THE other day a friend told me a funny story.

His seven-year-old son had homework, a quiz, that among other things asked which animal had two horns on its nose. Slightly confused my friend and his wife resorted to the Internet to tell them the simple answer: the rhinoceros.

This should pass as a non-story, especially not one to share in the media. But when I reflect on my friend's story I cannot help but be reminded of the sad reality that we are faced with in this country; a situation in which information that should be on our fingertips is obscured from so many.

Whereas a good number of South Africans are oblivious to this, there are millions of South Africans to whom flipping open a laptop, connecting to 3G and asking Google about all sorts of things cannot be fathomed.

The matric exams are on us. Second only to national elections, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that there is nothing South Africans watch collectively with so much expectation coupled with trepidation.

Similarly, the matric exam results attract as much controversy as do election results and for weeks or even months after their release, they are the subject of debate, analysis and sometimes political warfare.

What is unfortunate is that the picture of matric results has remained the same. At the top of the success pile is always the private schools, followed by former model C schools and then the township and rural schools at the bottom.

There is no better explanation for this anomaly than resources or the lack thereof.

As a result of this, to hope for a miracle that this year's or subsequent years' matric results could reverse the usual trend, or at least bring about some sort of balance, is very unrealistic.

So it is encouraging to know that the government - at least the Gauteng provincial government - continues to be committed to an e-(electronic) learning programme known as Gauteng Online.

It is one of the their biggest projects and highly significant for information communications and telecommunications - as well as information technology industries.

It is aimed at providing every government school in Gauteng with a specialised computer laboratory - and connect them to a central network, enabling computer and Internet access for thousands of learners and educators across the province.

The project - which is already in full swing and should have connected about 1600 schools by the end of November - will boost South Africa's Internet usage to about 7million users.

Currently, Gauteng Online is receiving 27million Internet page requests daily across network - about 48000 an hour or nearly 300000 page requests an average school day.

This level of take-up is gratifying if one considers that many schools are still coming to grips with their new labs and finding ways of integrating them into daily classes.

This can only bode well for our education. Once fully installed and operational, Gauteng Online should become an important educational tool where no parent - affluent or not - should worry whether their child will be able to know about the animal with two horns on its nose.

South African children - at least children in Gauteng government schools - should be able to access the Internet, communicate with their peers locally and internationally and access information currently out of reach to them.

Learning aids that many children from developed countries access through a touch of a button, should with Gauteng Online be accessible to millions of learners this year and the years to come.

That this should result in a better informed, numerate and literate class of learners is unquestionable.

Our children will be able to do much more work through the Internet than they could do with other learning forms.

Already children in countries like Switzerland and France do their homework and projects on their computers. Learners have their own personal e-mail addresses (and sometimes blogs) and they submit their work electronically without having to pile up the teachers' in-tray with paper.

It is easy and imperative for South Africa to join this information highway and be part of the modern world. And when we do, the dropout rates at universities will decrease and the job market will be flooded by quality. This can only be good for our economy.

Electronic learning is not a luxury nor is it an option. It is a must have to take us to the next level.

lThe writer is executive chairman of SMMT Online, the company tasked with rolling out Gauteng Online


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