By Hannah Brenton and Mona Ewees

The Breteau Foundation’s Digital Education Programme translates a global model to local contexts.  Our country teams around the world, are able to tailor the programme’s delivery to ensure that it becomes bespoke for each and every school. In South Africa, Mona Ewees our Country Manager has been working with Heathfield Primary School to ensure that the programme works most effectively in their school context, particularly focussing on how best to differentiate learning for children across the school.

Heathfield Primary School is one of the Breteau Foundation’s flagship schools in South Africa, having joined the programme as one of our first schools in 2015 after being recommended as a deserving school with  a strong leadership team and limited resources. The school received 45 Breteau education tablets in 2015, and a further 45 in 2016.

Heathfield Primary School is a clear example of how education programmes for schools must be tailored not just to country, or even region but right down to the school and individual classroom level to ensure that each individual child has the best learning experience possible. Mona has been working with the Senior Leadership and teaching staff of Heathfield to support in the optimum integration of education technology throughout the school for this end.

A particular focus for the school was how to best differentiate learning for students working at different academic levels through the use of the Digital Education Technology Kit. As with any school, within one grade class at Heathfield, teachers are targeting a range of academic levels and must differentiate learning to support all children to make progress. Prior to the introduction of the Breteau Foundation tablets, students at Heathfield Primary School were divided into ability groupings for maths based on a start of year assessment test, and reassessed by the professional judgement of their teachers. Although recommended by the education department in South Africa, as a method of inclusion, differentiation is not always evident in schools in the country and Heathfield’s focus on this area is important.

With the introduction of the initial 45 digital education tablets in 2015, the logistics for the school to make the programme work were challenging. In the first year, the tablets were used as a whole class rotation on a regular timetable. Having the 45 tablets move from one classroom to another (as is often done in our partner-schools around the world), was causing difficulty for Heathfield teachers to work in their predetermined ability groupings. In particular, teachers highlighted issues around tracking the progress of children in their groups, as students were using different tablets each session and charging tablets became problematic. The Digital Education Programme therefore needed to be adapted over the life of the two year programme to ensure that these challenges were overcome, and that the tablets could be used effectively in the classroom for differentiated input.

To assist with these initial challenges, in February 2016 the Breteau Foundation issued an additional 45 tablets to meet the needs of the teachers’ three-level split-learning groups. During the course of the programme, different formats for sharing the tablets have been used through a process of trialling and teacher feedback. One trial encompassed each teacher sharing a box of 20 tablets with their partner grade teacher which allowed each class to use the tablets for half of the school week. The current trial has adapted the programme logistics once more. Currently, the school leadership is trialling the use of 10 tablets in each classroom to support teachers with constant differentiation for different groups of children per lesson. The idea is that teachers can teach a differentiated concept to the class, and send each group to their activities, with one group applying their learning using the digital education kit.

Working with Heathfield has allowed the Breteau Foundation to cement our belief that, for our Digital Education Programme to be truly child-centred, it must be tailored right down to the classroom level. A key learning point for us, has been the absolute necessity for education programming to remain flexible to the needs of the school and that listening and responding to teacher feedback on programme design is integral to our education programmes’ success.  Engaging with school leaders/. and teachers is fundamental, and allows those that know the children best to use their professional judgement to co-design the programme for the student’s best learning experience. Here at the Breteau Foundation, we are looking forward to continuing to work with teachers across the globe to ensure that children are able to get the most out of the opportunities that Education Technology provides.