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Unlocking vital GIS knowledge and skills for high school teachers and learners

By Joe Sibiya, Education Officer and Rion Lerm, Technician, SAEON Ndlovu Node
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Learners use a GPS device for the first time to mark transects (Picture: Patrick Ndhlovu)


SAEON senior technician Rion Lerm (R) assists learners to put their Geography skills to the test in a map-reading exercise (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

On 31 August the SAEON Ndlovu Node conducted a Geography GIS Workshop for Grade 10 learners and teachers from five local Phalaborwa schools (Lebeko, Sebalamakgolo, Nkateko, Ntshuxeko and Majeje).

Each school was represented by two Grade 10 learners and one Grade 10 geography teacher. The purpose of the pilot workshop was to introduce teachers and learners to basic GIS (Geographic Information System) knowledge and skills, with a possibility of expansion to Grades 11 and 12*.

SAEON senior technician Rion Lerm, assisted by research assistant Patrick Ndhlovu, led the workshop proceedings. An “icebreaker” followed, during which teachers and learners watched a short video (from ESRI Ireland) on what GIS entails.

Rion then narrated the history and uses of GIS before exposing the teachers and learners to basic GIS knowledge and skills. GIS concepts such as vectors and rasters were discussed and identified on a map.

Gaining hands-on experience

After the lecture the enthusiastic learners headed out into the field to put their newly acquired GIS knowledge and skills into practice. Patrick showed learners the features of a Global Positioning System (GPS) and demonstrated how it is used to mark vector features such as point, lines and polygons.

Excitedly and for the first time ever, the learners started using GPS devices to collect data as directed by their mentors. Later that afternoon, the learners' geographic skills were put to the test in a basic map-reading exercise aimed at understanding knowledge gaps for future workshops.

Certain concepts, like map scale and distance calculations on the map, were completely misunderstood, while other basic GIS topics, such as vector data identification, were easily found on the map by most learners. Towards the end of the workshop learners were briefly shown how the data they collected can be used in a Geographic Information System when Rion produced a map with the data they collected.

South Africa needs GIS technicians and analysts

With GIS being integrated in government and private organisations across South Africa such as municipalities and mines, it is an important tool that takes complex tabular information and makes it visually simple. Statistics South Africa (STATSSA) and the National Geo-spatial Information (NGI) are some typical examples of organisations that make extensive use of GIS in their day-to-day operations.


A map produced using data collected by learners using a GPS

A map produced using data collected by learners using a GPS.South Africa needs more GIS technicians and analysts. This need is specifically evident in South Africa's service delivery segments. In the sciences, GIS is integral in displaying study area location amongst geographic features or more advanced uses like species distribution modelling and land cover classification.

Tilly Baloyi, Deputy Director of the Department of Basic Education, Lulekani Circuit commended SAEON for arranging the workshop as most geography teachers in the area under her supervision find teaching GIS a challenge. She requested SAEON to run similar workshops for Grade 11 and 12 learners.


Results of a map-reading exercise undertaken by ten Grade 10 learners. The x axis explains the different questions put to them.

*The Department of Basic Education has noted with concern that 'Grade 12 learners have not been attempting examination questions relating to GIS in Geography paper 2 written for their final examinations' (African IT magazine: POSITION IT, October 2015). SAEON's Grade 10 GIS workshop appears to be offering a foundation toward addressing the issues in the Grade 12 geography examinations paper 2.

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