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Brave new world: Digital technologies have the potential to vastly improve education. Picture: Supplied
Brave new world: Digital technologies have the potential to vastly improve education. Picture: Supplied

The IVA Global School, started in 2020 by John Luis, is a 3D online school, based in Joburg, in which teachers and pupils meet in a virtual classroom. It’s like any school, but using avatars.

"We have 261 kids," says Luis. "We have classrooms where children are sitting in different countries and attending online and that’s very exciting for us: one is in Australia, three are in Mauritius, three are in Botswana, for example.

"The problem with online schooling, at the moment, is that a lot of it is based on content creation, and it’s pre-recorded. So great resource material is put together, often with animation, but it’s about subjects, and it’s about mastering the subjects, which is important, yes, but … education today cannot be about mastering subjects. The real world is a dynamic space and you need to develop skills beyond just your expertise in mathematics, or science or history.

"We talk a lot to the soft skills, we talk a lot about critical thinking and the ability to negotiate, and the ability to problem-solve."

Technology has altered the world radically, changing industries such as finance, human resources, medicine and engineering.

"But for some reason in education, we have stayed with our classroom, our desks, our teacher in front of the desk. Looking at where we’re going with artificial intelligence and technology, those schools that utilise technology in their four walls and classrooms are OK. But if you’re not utilising technology, you’re going to fall rapidly behind."

Lenore Rix, Curro’s curriculum specialist for IT, robotics and computer-aided translation, says the Curro schools offer robotics as a subject up to grade 9. It’s not yet a matric subject.

"There are different robotics kits and emulators, which duplicate all the hardware and software features of a real device," says Rix. "You can teach various programming languages, starting from block-based coding to text-based coding. But if you’re in your first year at university, studying engineering, you would have done that in our school in grade 9 already."

Angela Schaerer, technology business relationships manager at Curro, says: "A lot of the Curro schools have implemented Steam Labs. So, effectively, a laboratory where you’ve got all sort of equipment, like robotics. The idea is that any teacher in any subject can incorporate all of these different technologies as part of any topic.

"The focus here is on having a more interdisciplinary approach. It makes it more real-world appropriate, where you’re not just focused on one subject at a time, but you look across the board at what the kids need to learn and what the tools are at their disposal. We’re looking at how we can make this more meaningful and get them involved in practical activities."

Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

Rix adds: "We base these on real-life events so they can solve problems in a real-world scenario."

E-sports, or competitive playing of computer games, was driven by the pupils at IVA Global School. Of the 173 pupils at IVA in 2021, 75 were gamers and because the school has a strong pupils’ voice, an e-sports director was appointed. In December it hosted a national gaming competition linked to the hugely popular Minecraft.

"We were doing quite a lot in the gaming world," says Luis. "It is incredible for cognitive development and developing those thinking skills. It’s not just you playing games, you have to think differently. So we find it quite powerful and, as a result, we’ve introduced an e-sports lesson once a week for our grade 4s to grade 9s."

Curro also implemented a pilot last year, using Minecraft to offer e-sports at the schools. "It started off as extramural, but we see an opportunity to incorporate things like e-sports or game-based learning into teaching and learning," says Schaerer. "In this digital, online, virtual platform, we saw kids who, in a traditional space like a rugby field or a netball field, didn’t feel comfortable, but were showing leadership or ability in this virtual space. They came into their own. There are just huge advantages."

Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

Rix says: "Digital technologies have the potential to vastly improve education and during Covid we are experiencing this first-hand. At Curro, we believe it’s important to prepare our learners for the future and with technology changing at a rapid pace, we don’t know exactly what the future of jobs will look like.

"But what we do know is that it involves coding and the ability to solve problems, thinking critically and finding solutions to improve our lives for the better, using robots and automation.

"So, through robotics and coding, we teach skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, analytical skills and co-ordinating with others. It is important to stay relevant in the curriculum because the industry is ever-changing."

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