Xbox Ones and tiny tablets: this is South Africa’s ‘classroom of the future’

microsoft classroom of the future south africa

When I was at school, the most advanced technology we had were space cases, chair bags and desks that didn’t creak, but Microsoft and the Cape Town Science Centre’s (CTSC) vision of education is quite different indeed.

The Observatory-based institution today launched its classroom of the future exhibit to the public, backed by the Redmond tech giants, the likes of Intel, and a number of other technology partners. As one might expect, the exhibit doesn’t include traditional text books or ink-based writing equipment, but rather things with screens, buttons and toggles.

The exhibit, Microsoft explains, is a combination of what works in classrooms today and what might work in classrooms of the future.

The future of South Africa’s education, or more short attention spans?

On the more logical side of the showpiece, a tablet-adorned circular table surrounds an interactive whiteboard system that the teacher can pilot.

south africa microsoft classroom of the future 2

The tablets are an Intel reference design for education, sporting 11.6-inch screens, Intel Celeron processors, rotating cameras, and a number of adorable and informative interactive programs. I especially enjoyed the Mars Curiosity Rover visualiser, which allows users to zoom in and learn about various parts of the extra-terrestrial probe.

‘The pace of change in society isn’t always recognised in education’ especially in South Africa

On the experimental side, Xbox One gaming consoles allow kids to play games like Minecraft: Education Edition, Rock Band 4 or Kinect Sports.

Sure, there’s no shooters on this list, but gaming in the classroom focusses on building creativity, improving coordination and well, becoming the next Slash?

Another rig, modelled in the form of a Golden Arrow bus, seats up to six kids, and allows each to digitally paint or perform simple numeric or linguistic tasks with a stylus on a personal interactive touch screen.

Education: keeping pace with modern technology

It all looks very different from the classrooms of today. But that’s largely thanks to the speed at which technology is reforming the various sectors of South African life, notes Microsoft South Africa’s MD Zoaib Hossan.

south africa microsoft classroom of the future 3

“It’s absolutely no secret that technology is changing the way we play, the way we live, the way we work, and certainly the way we learn.”

The exhibit is a stark representation of that.

Of course, we tried to chat to a few of the kids from Crystal House who were engaging with the products, but few things can draw children away from screens, buttons and gaming consoles.

Jaye Richards Hill, programme manager at Microsoft Education for South Africa, explained that education needs to keep up with the “incredibly rapid” pace of technology’s development.

“The pace of change in society isn’t always recognised in education,” she notes.

She mentions that communications technology allows kids to indulge in the world of information more early and quickly than ever before.

“Our young children have access to communication devices that make the global space their playground.”

microsoft classroom of the future golden arrow

Citing the recent terrorism incident in Westminster, London, Richards Hill also explained that through the guidance of teachers and technology, these children can be educated to “not only be problem solvers, but problem finders”.

The Classroom of the Future exhibit is available for public viewing and for interested teachers at the Cape Town Science Centre.

Andy Walker, former editor


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