When Technology Meets Tradition In Higher Education



Writer: Zamathole Sithole

Technological innovations have become the norm and it seems you either ahead or behind the change. It’s no secret that we probably fall behind this curve in the areas it matters the most, like education. It is always either infrastructure that is left to blame or our dear government. However, what I love about technology is the question it poses to everyone: What are you going to do with me?

Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been around for about 6 years. They have been circulating around academia, mostly among the Western countries such as the USA. This is evident as about 2% was recorded as the average registered from Africa, Nigeria having the most students. This includes other countries outside Africa. This is scary considering Coursera is one of the most popular platforms with over 8 million users.

These courses offer mostly free (some charge for certificates) to anyone who has a strong enough internet connection and they are facilitated by lecturers from the best varsities. They are quite a great innovation with massive potential. One of the possible benefits that have been identified by literature is the ability to reach under-developed countries.

No, this is not an advert for MOOCs, but rather an invitation for young people to approach education differently. We are constantly advised to fill the skills shortage as young people, sadly few can really afford to go out and study. Not to mention the time it takes, availability, funding, accommodation…. and the list goes on. We’re very vocal about the problems that we face in education and the world keeps reminding us how bad our science and technology is in South Africa.

These courses immediately rang us as a solution to me. Anyone who has worked in a technology space will tell you that any piece of technology is only as good as how it is used. There are numerous ways in which this could be applied such as in high school before varsity if you’re struggling to choose a career and of course to up skill. These online courses have potential to help in countless ways and the best thing is they are open to anyone.

The biggest barrier I believe is our mindset mostly. Infrastructure is an issue which can always be overcome as efforts are being made to increase access to the internet. We need education that would rather teach us how to handle information. I have come across matric students through volunteering who have no idea how to navigate their way around the web. There have been attempts to move South Africa into the digital age but most of these have been largely superficial. As much as the use of social media has increased, other uses of the web have been largely limited. It is disheartening considering that they have access, literally in the palm of their hands through their phones!


The digital divide remains so long as we are not interested to take hold of what is free and available. Many articles have been written promoting mass online courses and indicating their potential benefits, which this country could use. The problem perhaps lies in the manner in which education is approached. However I do believe there are knowledge hungry South Africans who could take hold of this innovation and change the state of the education.

Innovations have come and gone and we can no longer afford to be left behind. This is what most of these courses advocate – a new paradigm for learning. Learners need to have the ability to learn for themselves and create their own opportunities.

About the Author:

I am a young woman from a small town in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. Growing up in the township and working as part of volunteering campaigns has opened me to the issues faced by young people in terms of information to get them ahead into higher education. I’m currently doing my honours in information systems at the University of the Witwatersrand. MOOCs are the point of my current study. I am passionate about technology and education for young disadvantaged children. I believe technology is a tool that can be used by many to solve a variety of problems.

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