The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

January –  June 2018

Why do township primary schools resist technology adoption?

  • Tasneem Motala
  • MAY 2018
  • Tags Insights, Strategic Management
13 minutes to read


Article written by Tasneem Motala

To ensure that the South African public schooling system remains relevant and competitive in the current information society, the government has formulated policies focused on information and communications technology (ICT) integration in education. The 2004 White Paper on e-Education set a goal that every teacher and learner would be ICT-capable by 2013, and efforts are continuously being made to achieve this goal.

Technologies are, however, not always adopted uniformly by educators. Various studies have been carried out to determine the exact reasons for the resistance of teachers to technology. From the existing literature, the most common reasons for resistance are:

  • The fear of students being more competent with technology
  • Teachers’ low levels of confidence in technology usage
  • Inappropriate device training
  • Inappropriate pedagogical training
  • Unrealistic existing workload.

Most studies have been performed in a developed world context where schools are well-resourced, teacher-to-student ratios are within acceptable limits, and teachers have access to technical support when required. However, approximately 38% of the South African population reside in townships where children attend schools that range from well-resourced to severely dysfunctional. The purpose of this study was thus to determine whether teachers in the unique context of a township school have any additional reasons for resisting technology apart from the barriers already identified in the literature.

Approximately 38% of the South African population reside in townships, where children attend schools that range from well-resourced to severely dysfunctional.

Research approach

A qualitative case methodology was selected as the most appropriate research paradigm. A private company was deliberately selected as the subject of the study owing to the experience and success that it has had in technology implementation projects at over 200 (urban, township and rural) schools in South Africa. Following a purposive sampling process, a project manager, facilitation manager and facilitators from the organisation were selected for interviewing. To include the views and opinions of the teachers, the facilitators were requested to select a school from the company’s portfolio which they believed would yield rich information arising from the initial resistance experienced towards the initiative, followed by the subsequent success of the programme. This relatively narrow scope resulted in a primary school, located in a township in Gauteng, being identified as the ideal candidate from which to source interviewees. The technology champion (also a teacher) at the school and senior teachers who were involved in the programme since inception were thus selected to be interviewed. Primary data were collected via semi-structured, in-depth interviews with the nine individuals identified in the sampling process. Thematic analysis was used to deduce the findings.


Greater clarity on the barriers

The reasons for resistance to technology integration as identified in previous studies were common to teachers in township schools in South Africa. However, a few additional barriers to technology integration that were not present in the literature were identified following analysis of the data.

No basic infrastructure

Although all schools faced challenges on a daily basis, schools in a township environment faced particular challenges. Resistance to a technology initiative could be expected if a school did not have access to basic infrastructure and amenities such as ablution facilities, desks and electricity. As noted by an interviewee:

‘There may be a community that doesn’t have running water … and all they want is running water. If you go in with technology for the children, it comes across as your idea of their priorities is skewed.’

The resistance in this case might have come not only from the teachers, but also from the community before the project was even implemented. Because the school was part of the community, there was no separation.

The CSI dumping ground

A rural school in which the company was to deploy devices had already been exposed to two technology initiatives, as described by a facilitator:

‘The school had a room with a row of old white computers. In front of this, they had a row of black computers. The problem was that companies had dumped their old equipment at the school, with absolutely no maintenance or support. The school used the computers until they broke, and now had to carry the cost of disposing [of] them. Frankly, it was cheaper for them to let the computers just sit there.’

If a school had had a bad experience with previous technology initiatives, the likelihood of resistance to a new programme increased, especially if the school failed to understand how the proposed programme differed from past initiatives. Resistance from teachers could emerge as a result of a view that the new technology would be a burden on the school itself, much like the previous projects which had been introduced.

Losing control

Primary school teachers tried to maintain an authoritative position and often favoured parent-child relationships with learners in order to stifle unruly behaviour in the classroom. A teacher voiced some frustration with regard to discipline in classes in which the devices were used:

‘Because there are a limited number of devices, every child wants to touch or fiddle with it. They sometimes don’t want to listen because they are so excited and then they talk too much. When this happens, I lose control of the class. I definitely have to exercise extra discipline when using the devices.’

This was a significant finding in an emerging economy context, where class sizes are large and teachers face a daily struggle in trying to provide individualised attention to students.

No personal access to devices

In 2017, World Wide Worx estimated internet penetration in South Africa at 40%. In the present study it was found that some older teachers in township schools still had basic mobile phones which were limited to audio calling and SMS functionality. The teachers who were interviewed did not have access to smart devices during their personal time, and were therefore not granted an opportunity to build their confidence in using such devices.

Principals were often reluctant to allow teachers to take devices home, as the principal was usually held personally responsible and accountable for the devices. Personal access was essential to encourage utilisation in the classroom, as explained by a facilitator:

‘It’s great that the learners have access to [the devices] at school, but when does the teacher actually have time to prepare for lessons? It’s something we’re factoring into our programmes going forward … maybe try to get individual devices for teachers so that they have personal access.’

Two learners per device was proposed by a teacher as the ideal ratio of learners to devices.

Ways to achieve greater success with technology integration

Functioning but under-resourced schools are the prime candidates for technology introduction. Schools that do not have basic infrastructure should not be immediately prioritised for technology projects. The allocated funds should instead be used to address the lack of basic necessities. It is important to identify these cases at the outset to prevent resistance to the programme later on.

The school’s history with technology programmes must also be considered. If past technology programmes were viewed as a burden, the reasons for this view must first be probed to avoid similar attitudes to the proposed programme. It is also the responsibility of corporate South Africa to manage technology donations over the project life cycle, so that schools are not saddled with the responsibility of having to dispose of redundant hardware. The number of devices handed over to the school should be determined based on the number of learners per class. Two learners per device was proposed by a teacher as the ideal ratio of learners to devices. This ratio will allow teachers to maintain classroom discipline while students will learn how to share and how to work together to solve a problem. It is also possible that the assurance of personal access to a device will result in greater buy-in from teachers as they will feel that the programme benefits them not only in their professional environment, but also personally.

‘Resistance to a technology initiative could be expected if a school did not have access to basic infrastructure and amenities such as ablution facilities, desks and electricity.’

There is no doubt that technological devices are tools that can help to level the educational playing field between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Owing to a variety of extrinsic and intrinsic reasons, teachers sometimes resist technology initiatives. Consideration must be paid to unique circumstances, experiences and contexts to reduce the impact of the barriers to technology integration.

Tasneem Motala is a Senior Lecturer in Operations Management at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. Her research interests include Process Improvement, the Impact of Operational Interventions on Organisational Behaviour, and Service Excellence.


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