Exploring High-Tech Strategies for education

Moving beyond the tools, innovating for effective education in the South African context 

The disruption of the education program across the world has meant that schools quickly had to roll out teaching and learning outside of face to face lessons. Are these sustainable solutions for the future or knee-jerk responses to an immediate need? 

The webinar hosted by Jakes Gerwel Fellowship on 24 April explored different approaches to tech-enabled learning across the South African schooling landscape. In attendance were a wide range of stakeholders in the education space who were sharing their approaches, exploring potential future solutions and leading the conversation towards readiness for tech-enabled education in the future. 



The tendency in the exploration of what distance learning looks like is to focus the debate on the question of online learning and availability of the resources to present online learning solutions. Whilst this is an important consideration, we need to also explore the different players and different offerings currently available. 

There are a range of interventions currently available which offer a variety of value propositions. A cluster of these are platforms, such Google Classroom, Edmodo and Moodle provide the learning management system.  Others, like Zoom, Skype and Teams provide live video to facilitate communication between teacher and student, whilst another are content providers, which seek to make free or cheap content available for learners to use online.  

Siyavula Education, led by Mark Horner, seeks to fill the gap in the shortage of textbooks in the country by creating learning materials and making them available to be read online, for print and available for consumption in various formats across the country. This intervention and others, responds to the need for increased access to learning content.  

In addition to this, technology must move beyond content. The focus must shift to recognize the fundamental process of learning and the natural learning architecture of humans. Moreover, we must ask whether the technology responds to context and purpose, as emphasized by Prof. Sarah Gravett from the University of Johannesburg. 

Teachers and other people who work in education need a strong knowledge base in relation to what learning is, and the nature of learning and human cognitive architecture. This knowledge then allows them to focus time and resources on designing learning solutions that work.  

“Too many tech strategies focus on the technology instead of whether the technology is suitable to facilitate deep learning”, stressed Prof. Gravett. We should not just be focusing on information, but grappling with core concepts and ideas in a specific field of study.  

We need to ask the fundamental question “Technology for what purpose?” In most of our conversations, the technology is foregrounded, instead of the learning.  In general, when you speak of innovation in education, the question should always be “For what purpose?” Any technology must be evaluated with the yardstick of contextual relevance and have a strong educational pedagogical purpose. Above the question of whether the technology works, we need to also ask whether the outcomes from that learning are desirable. 


In the initial pivot towards online education, different schools start at different points with different contexts. One of the Panelists, Chinezi Chijioke, Founder  & CEO,   offered a view of what this looks like at Nova Pioneer schools and shared some lessons. 

A guided approach begins with the understanding of capacity. Institutions need to start by doing fewer things and getting better at them. This allows time to prototype solutions and to deliver required learning in a manageable manner. The second consideration is what resources and skillsets are available at school level. Nova Pioneer has a dedicated learning design team which focuses on designing and optimizing curriculum to fit different contexts whilst achieving learning objectives. 

The final benefit at schools such as Nova Pioneer is that students are already using technology tools as part of their normal schooling routine. This helps with the hurdle of familiarizing learners with technology tools and self-driven learning. 

Many schools around the country take various approaches to online education. It is important to understand that there hasn’t been an established culture of distant, or self-driven learning, facilitated by technology. We need to explore how to ingrain this skill in learners moving into the future.






All discussions around any potential solutions require that we respond to another fundamental question of  what needs to change in order to facilitate the changes we need to see in the practice of learning and teaching. The first one perhaps is the understanding of what technology is and what we mean by technology. The common conceptual mistake  around this is to immediately think of technology as computers,  artificial intelligence and other hi-tech tools. These are specific types of technologies and their availability and consumption will depend on context, cost, familiarity and other considerations.  

The second shift that needs to happen is the role of teacher and learner. In a context where teacher is seen as the person who holds and shares knowledge, and learners are passive consumers of knowledge, moving to online platforms does not guarantee anything else beyond that learners receive the information that they ought to now online. We need to decide whether this is adequate as an outcome, or whether we need to look for opportunities to move to a more learner-centered approach to improve outcomes and skillsets.  

Finally, learning does not happen in isolation. Parents and other environmental factors play a significant role in shaping a student’s ability to learn and succeed. We need to consider the role parents play in facilitating an enabling environment for their children to learn, rather than having to take on the responsibility of “teacher at home”.  

The collective response across the educational world to this disruption has been to mitigate the crisis and to limit impact on learning outcomes. Going into the future, maybe it should be more about creating opportunities for successful teaching and learning to happen, inside and outside of the classroom. What that looks like is an innovation and re-imagination challenge for all of us.



Chinezi Chijioke is the founding CEO of Nova Pioneer, a pan-African schooling franchise that is highly regarded for its innovative curriculum. He was the previous head of McKinsey’s educational business in Africa and oversaw the publication of several ground-breaking reports into international educational transformation.

Prof. Sarah Gravett is a Professor of Education and Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). She holds a PhD in Education from the Rand Afrikaans University (now part of the University of Johannesburg). She was a high school teacher for eleven years, during which time she received several awards for teaching excellence. Her other awards include: The South African Association for Research and Development in Higher Education Teaching Fellowship and the medal of honour from the Education Association of South Africa honouring her for outstanding service to Education in South Africa

Wendy Horn has been principal of Protea Heights Academy in 2014. They have a strong focus on Mathematics and the Sciences with the application of e-learning and technology in our classrooms. She started the school with the first cohort in 2015. She has been Chief Marker and Internal Moderator for the Physical Science Grade 12 exam (Chemistry) for WCED. She has written study guides and co-authored Grade 10 -12 Physical Sciences textbooks for Oxford University Press Southern Africa.

Mark Horner is the CEO of Siyavula Education, a social enterprise focused on the accessibility of high-quality education. Siyavula’s primary commercial offering is an adaptive practice service for mathematics, physics and chemistry in high school. Siyavula has developed a catalogue of openly-licensed textbooks in collaboration with educators, sponsors and the Department of Basic Education that has been endorsed and printed for all government schools.

Siseko Kumalo holds a Master of Arts (Cum Laude) in Political Philosophy from the University of Pretoria. He has published with Education as Change, Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning (CriSTaL) and in the Journal of Literary Studies. Siseko is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Decolonising Disciplines, a journal dedicated to decolonising disciplinary knowledge across faculties in higher education. His research focuses on epistemic justice, pedagogies of mutual (in)fallibility, feminist and queer theory, violence, Education for Sustainable Development and higher education transformation.


Jakes Gerwel Fellowship is a full university scholarship that provides extensive mentoring and leadership development for top learners with a passion for teaching and education. At the heart of what we do is in nurturing expert teacher who embrace innovation and can lead the kind of change that our educational sector so desperately requires. In short, we want to make the strongest possible case and provide the greatest possible support for our best students to become our best future teachers.


Jakes Gerwel Fellowship is an aspirational fellowship which identifies high potential students who, through financial support, high quality teacher education and professional induction, become expert teachers, educational leaders and social entrepreneurs who will lead system change to achieve quality education for all learners.