How the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy is using technology to prepare students for the jobs of the future

OWLAG Computer Lab

As the South African government and businesses are focused on the fourth industrial revolution, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) is using innovative teaching and learning methods to prepare its students for the jobs of the future.

Yougeshini Periasawmy, Computer Applications Technology Teacher at OWLAG explains that “by the end of Grade 12, the use of technologies in the classroom should be second nature to students. Regardless of the field of job that a student is preparing for, they will be required to use some form of technology.” In Periasawmy’s classroom, students experience hands-on learning various tools, through updated laboratories, computer hardware and software that can be used in a wide range of fields.

“One of the greatest feelings in my classroom comes with witnessing fascination – a Grade 8 student booting up a computer for the first time, holding a mouse for the first time, sending an email for the first time or accessing the internet for the first time,” says Yougeshini. “It gives me great pleasure to know that I was able to facilitate the teaching of skills that are required in this generation. When a Grade 8 student uses the Google Earth application for the first time, one cannot help but smile at how impressionable these young minds are – a simple tool like Google Earth, giving students the opportunity to travel the world by the click of a mouse.”

In February 2019, President Ramaphosa announced his plan to provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device over the next six years. In addition, Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, announced the introduction of coding and robotics as subjects in schools. Yougeshini says “with these announcements, it is clear that our government sees that preparation for the fourth industrial revolution is vital and that the knowledge, skills and values that we currently impart using our education system is not sufficient for our students to become model citizens of our country. By embracing change, we are open to ways in which the education system can prepare our students for the world outside of the classroom – a world where critical thinking and problem solving form the basis of many decisions.”

OWLAG goes beyond focusing on the students though, supporting teacher training and personal/professional development opportunities, as students benefit the most when they learn from teachers who are substantially trained in this fields.

“We’re committed to ensuring that our teachers are exposed to the latest updates in technology and advancements in teaching methods that can be used to prepare our students for the careers that they will start in a few years’ time. I believe that empowering our teachers is absolutely vital in skilling our students as best as possible,” says Gugu Ndebele, Executive Director at OWLAG.

The teaching and learning methods at OWLAG equip students with the relevant skills required to adapt to the future workforce. Students are exposed to technologies and concepts that challenge their thinking in order to develop critical thinking skills and adaptability that will assist in their transition into the world outside of the classroom.

“We are preparing students for jobs that probably do not exist right now. A few years ago, Bitcoin was unheard of, YouTube stardom was never thought about and a robot with thoughts and emotions never existed. At OWLAG, innovative and exciting learning experiences can be found in every class – not just those that are technology based. This is how we prepare students for an ever-changing world – through exposure and ‘forever-learning’ concepts,” concludes Yougeshini.