Teaching through technology

23 April 2020 | Story Joanne Hardman. Photo Pexels. Read time 6 min.
Many schoolchildren do not have devices or connectivity; yet another factor that widens the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged.
Many schoolchildren do not have devices or connectivity; yet another factor that widens the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged.

These are difficult days. We are a country in lockdown and schools and universities are being called on to teach remotely so that students can finish the 2020 academic year. Online teaching, however, in the most unequal country in the world, is highly problematic, writes the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Associate Professor Joanne Hardman.

In an article published on April 9, Professor Jonathan Jansen makes an ethical argument for why teaching online is a problem in the South African context and proposes scrapping the academic year. I do not rehearse his cogent arguments here except to underline his point that 80% of schools are disadvantaged. Most schoolchildren do not have devices or connectivity, making this online move yet another step in widening the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged. 

My article is not about the ethics of online teaching and learning, but rather, deals with the pedagogical implications of teaching “through” versus “with” technology.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are tools that can be used very well, provided they are underpinned by what is referred to as a constructivist pedagogy. The research is clear: it is how the tool is used by a competent teacher that determines the outcomes. A constructivist pedagogy assumes that children are active learners who, together with the teacher, can construct knowledge. An iPad, for example, is a tool much like a pen is a tool. In the early 20th century when pens replaced chalkboards and styluses, there was a huge outcry about how this novel tool would adversely affect children.

Did the pen change children cognitively? Undoubtedly, yes. We no longer must remember things orally but can write them down, leaving cognitive space for other things. The pen alone does nothing to alter a child cognitively. Technological devices, also, cannot on their own alter a child cognitively. There is a body of evidence to show that ICTs have a positive effect on, for example, mathematical gains in primary schools, but this depends entirely on how the ICTs are used pedagogically, where pedagogy refers to the dialogical interaction opened between teacher and taught. It is in the social space opened by communicative interaction that understanding and conceptual development can happen. A pen carries with it no concepts; neither does any ICT.

If schooling is about anything, it must be about the development of cognitive functioning. This requires face to face pedagogy. I am unaware of any research suggesting that teaching through technology (as opposed to with technology) can promote cognitive development. So, pedagogically, this online move is not likely to lead to learning in any meaningful way, which starkly brings into question why this move has been made. Moreover, the practicalities of online teaching are hard to navigate, even for those who have significant privilege.

I am well educated, I have three devices in my house, and I am fairly competent at using them. I’m privileged enough to have a space to work with my daughter who, in grade 4, has begun online schooling. Grade 4 is an interesting age; at 10 children have not yet developed the ability to fully self-regulate or think in abstract ways. They require concrete examples of the concepts they will acquire over time. 

My child is at a good former Model C school and the teachers are doing their best to interact with the children online. Unfortunately, cognitively, children below the age of 13 or 14 are unable to grasp abstract concepts in the absence of concrete examples. Worksheets, placed on Google Classroom, are not concrete examples. 

Although I am educated, I am not a qualified teacher and the struggle to make concrete the concepts she is being given is a very real one. What of those parents who do not have familiarity with devices or who are not well educated? How will they traverse this uncertain terrain? 

Of course, the question then becomes, what to do if we cannot teach online?  We need to be thinking long term, it’s conceivable that children will not return to classrooms if Covid-19 is not brought under check. With this in mind, we need to streamline our curriculum to teach core concepts. If the lockdown is lifted and schooling does commence, I do not necessarily think the year is lost — provided we pare down the curriculum and use the longer holidays as teaching time. 

I’d like to salute the teachers who are sitting in their homes, with their own children and 30 to 40 virtual children, operating through a platform they were never taught to fully use in university. The next time you clap for essential services, I hope you will be clapping for these unsung heroes who educate our children.

Joanne Hardman is associate professor in the school of education at the University of Cape Town.

This article was originally published by Mail & Guardian.

For licensing information please visit the source website.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 updates

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March and implement a national lockdown from 26 March.

UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information.

Campus updates

  •  Information
  •  Normal
  •  Caution
  •  Alert

Daily updates

Friday, 5 February 14:20, 5 February 2021
Monday, 4 January 16:50, 4 January 2021
Friday, 18 December 11:30, 18 December 2020
Thursday, 19 November 09:30, 19 November 2020
Friday, 13 November 12:40, 13 November 2020
Friday, 16 October 10:05, 16 October 2020
Wednesday, 14 October 12:50, 14 October 2020
Tuesday, 22 September 14:10, 22 September 2020
Friday, 11 September 10:05, 11 September 2020
Monday, 31 August 12:20, 31 August 2020
Wednesday, 12 August 10:20, 12 August 2020
Friday, 7 August 11:24, 7 August 2020
Thursday, 6 August 18:26, 6 August 2020
Monday, 27 July 14:00, 27 July 2020
Wednesday, 15 July 09:30, 15 July 2020
Monday, 13 July 14:25, 13 July 2020
Monday, 6 July 16:20, 6 July 2020
Thursday, 25 June 10:15, 25 June 2020
Tuesday, 23 June 12:30, 23 June 2020
Thursday, 18 June 17:35, 18 June 2020
Wednesday, 17 June 10:45, 17 June 2020
Tuesday, 2 June 12:20, 2 June 2020
Friday, 29 May 09:25, 29 May 2020
Monday, 25 May 14:00, 25 May 2020
Thursday, 21 May 12:00, 21 May 2020
Wednesday, 6 May 10:00, 6 May 2020
Tuesday, 5 May 17:05, 5 May 2020
Thursday, 30 April 17:10, 30 April 2020
Tuesday, 28 April 10:30, 28 April 2020
Friday, 24 April 09:35, 24 April 2020
Thursday, 23 April 17:00, 23 April 2020
Wednesday, 22 April 14:25, 22 April 2020
Monday, 20 April 17:45, 20 April 2020
Friday, 17 April 12:30, 17 April 2020
Thursday, 16 April 09:45, 16 April 2020
Tuesday, 14 April 11:30, 14 April 2020
Thursday, 9 April 09:00, 9 April 2020
Wednesday, 8 April 15:40, 8 April 2020
Wednesday, 1 April 15:50, 1 April 2020
Friday, 27 March 11:40, 27 March 2020
Thursday, 26 March 18:30, 26 March 2020
Tuesday, 24 March 15:40, 24 March 2020
Monday, 23 March 15:40, 23 March 2020
Friday, 20 March 16:00, 20 March 2020
Thursday, 19 March 09:15, 19 March 2020
Wednesday, 18 March 16:00, 18 March 2020
Tuesday, 17 March 12:50, 17 March 2020
Monday, 16 March 17:15, 16 March 2020

Campus communications

New SRC and other updates 16:44, 4 November 2020
Virtual graduation ceremonies 13:30, 21 October 2020
Online staff assembly and other updates 15:09, 30 September 2020
Fee adjustments and other updates 15:21, 16 September 2020
Call for proposals: TLC2020 10:15, 26 August 2020
SAULM survey and other updates 15:30, 5 August 2020
COVID-19 cases and other updates 15:26, 5 August 2020
New UCT Council and other updates 15:12, 15 July 2020
Upcoming UCT virtual events 09:30, 15 July 2020
Pre-paid data for UCT students 14:25, 22 April 2020
Update for postgraduate students 12:55, 20 April 2020
UCT Human Resources and COVID-19 16:05, 19 March 2020
UCT confirms second COVID-19 case 09:15, 19 March 2020
Update on UCT COVID-19 response 13:50, 11 March 2020
Update on COVID-19 17:37, 6 March 2020


Video messages from the Department of Medicine

Getting credible, evidence-based, accessible information and recommendations relating to COVID-19

The Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, are producing educational video material for use on digital platforms and in multiple languages. The information contained in these videos is authenticated and endorsed by the team of experts based in the Department of Medicine. Many of the recommendations are based on current best evidence and are aligned to provincial, national and international guidelines. For more information on UCT’s Department of Medicine, please visit the website.

To watch more videos like these, visit the Department of Medicine’s YouTube channel.

Useful information from UCT

External resources

News and opinions

Statements and media releases

Media releases

Read more  

Statements from Government


In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”


We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.