Supporting Distance Learning


Supporting distance learning in South Africa


Using the power of IRIS Connect, maths teachers in Johannesburg have successfully increased their confidence in implementing pedagogical approaches and networking, increased their awareness of how students learn, developing a more learner-centered approach to their teaching, and improved learner behaviour and engagement in class.


There are many challenges to supporting the development of teacher training in other countries, not least:

– Developing an understanding of the existing culture with regards to CPD.
– The pressures that already exist for teachers.
– Their willingness to accept support from an unknown team of British ‘experts’.

So, six secondary schools in the Ekurhuleni South District of Johannesburg have been piloting a new model for teacher training and development.

Run by the British Council and South African Department of Basic Education and financed by BEIS Newton Fund, their aim was to support mathematics teachers with their CPD in township schools in the outskirts of Johannesburg using IRIS Connect.

For reasons of sustainability beyond the end of the project, they also lookeded to develop a culture of networking by linking teachers of differing experience, as well as members of the local advisory teams, across schools and geographical locations.


How IRIS Connect Helped

The project involved placing a Discovery Kit in each of the six participating schools for use by newly qualified and experienced mathematics teachers and encouraging them to use video reflection as a vehicle to develop pedagogical and conceptual understanding.

Daniel Simons from Trewirgie Junior School who assisted in the project, says:

“The project has been an extraordinary distance learning experience. I was invited to be involved because of the way that I use the system in the UK and the total belief that I have in it to support effective self-reflection and collaboration.  The South African colleagues I worked with for four months on this ongoing distance learning project, were hugely enthusiastic about IRIS Connect, mastered the procedures quickly and were consistently happy to reflect on their practice. The nods of acknowledgment when I showed pie charts demonstrating improvement in questioning and teacher talk helped to convince teachers and senior leaders that this wasn’t a gimmick and represented an exciting CPD opportunity for all concerned.”

By the time Daniel returned to the UK, all of the teachers were proficient in using the system and eager to share reflections with him, focusing on areas such as behaviour management, differentiation and concept development.

“Whilst I was in my hotel in Johannesburg, I was thrilled to be able to login to my profile and support two colleagues from my own school in Redruth who had shared reflections with me whilst I was away. By the time I returned to the UK, all of the teachers were proficient in using the system and eager to share reflections with me, focusing on areas such as behaviour management, differentiation, and concept development,” explains Daniel. “The online support provided by IRIS Connect was invaluable. The way the technicians took control of our laptops remotely wowed the South Africans and left them feeling confident that they could operate the system in our absence.”

Since returning, Daniel says there has been a steady influx of emails informing him that a teacher has shared a reflection.

“It is remarkable to sit with a cup of tea in my kitchen in Cornwall and be able to observe a colleague delivering a Grade 10 lesson on functions in a classroom on the other side of the world. However, the fact that I can help from a distance of 9000km hints at another exciting opportunity for the South African teachers regarding CPD. At present, the huge distances between schools prohibit effective centralised CPD, so the advisory staff are beginning to explore ways of using the platform to capture and disseminate effective and exemplar practice throughout the country. Now that I am home, it is even more satisfying to receive WhatsApp messages from my friends in South Africa thanking me for the advice, support and impact our collaboration is having on their teaching and, crucially, the progress of their learners; and no impact is more significant than that.”


Results, Return on Investment and Future Plans

The project was evaluated by an independent evaluator specialising in designing and conducting impact and evaluation studies in STEM education.

The evaluation demonstrates that the pilot project was successful in advancing aspects of teaching pedagogy, concept development and providing mentoring support to the teachers involved. Key findings include:

  • Increased teacher confidence in implementing pedagogical approaches and networking
  • Improvements in learner behaviour and engagement in class
  • Improvement in teachers’ awareness of how students learn and developing a more learner-centered approach to their teaching, including:
    • Improved lesson planning
    • Developed explanation of maths’ concepts in class
    • Developed differentiation in the classroom
    • Increased active learning during the lesson

The report concludes that the potential benefits of using this model of video-based mentoring extend well beyond improving the skills of practicing teachers. One trainee teacher commented that resources like IRIS Connect would encourage him to have a career as a teacher and another said he felt the platform could revolutionise teaching in SA because it would help young teachers to connect with each other and share ideas when they are learning the job.

The Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Enver Surty, explained the value of the technology for training staff over huge distances:

“In the South African context, where subject specialists in Maths and Science are in short supply, the IRIS Connect system allows for teacher support offered by district subject specialists. Given the shortage of subject specialists and the vast distances between the schools they support, the IRIS Connect platform can increase the scope, reach and impact of myriad forms of district support.”

A senior representative of the South African DBE commented repeatedly that the system is, “…as close to a silver bullet for teacher CPD that has been produced in all my time in teaching.”

The full project evaluation report is available here >

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Teachers can take control and arrange their own professional learning experiences and resources. As well as share easily with each other to make collaboration simple, organised and effective.

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