Jason Probert University of Natal
Kathy Munro University of Witwatersrand
The promise of CAL for improving educational productivity in the context of severe resource constraints, has led to a number of initiatives at various South African universities. Ineconomics, the use of the TLTP Economics Consortium's WinEcon courseware is increasingly being seen as a viable option.
This paper explores the nature of the problems in higher education economics in South Africa and evaluates some of the CAL projects implemented, focussing especially on the problems which have been faced. In particular, it examines the appropriateness of WinEcon as a solution to the challenges faced and suggests how the courseware could be repurposed for use by students and staff at South African universities.
Although there has been a 5% growth in the number of African students and a 5% decline in the number of white students registered at universities between 1992 and 1995, these student numbers are unevenly distributed through all universities. The largest registrations of African students remain at "historically black" universities (HBUs) and the former "ethnic" universities of the Western-Cape and Durban-Westville. Of all the HWUs ("historically white" universities) only the University of Natal has a white student population of less than 60%.
The increasing numbers of school leavers, the skewed age distribtion of the population and policy initiatives to improve access to higher education like the National Student Loan Scheme are likely further to increase the demand for access. Unfortunately, the neglect of mathematics and basic science education at secondary school has meant that the refelctive intelligence required of mathematics and the natural and economic sciences is often absent in disadvantaged students. As Mehl (1991) argues,
"All our research with disdvantaged students demonstrates that it is precisely these cognitive operations which they do not display. It is clearly not an automatic part of their cognitive repertoire. This is hardly surprising given the tradition of rote learning to which they have been exposed. So this is no value judgement on their capabilities"
This is the challenge facing South African universities - to increase access to students from very disadvantaged educational backgrounds while at the same time maintaining, and preferably raising academic standards.
Political and economic factors have meant that these challenges must be addressed in a context of severe resource constraints where the greater marginal benefits of investment in health, housing and primary education have steadily reduced the government's subsidy to higher education.
At the University of Natal's Durban campus - where white students now comprise only 20.5% of the first-year class, only 47% of nearly 1000 students passed the semester course in introductory economics in 1995. Of the 238 African students, only 92 passed.
Since introductory economics is a compulsory credit for all management and business courses as well as degrees like architecture and construction management, failure in introductory economics usually implies an additional year of study. Failure rates of this magnitude thus cost millions of rands a year to the student, supporting families, universities and the state. 
This is of particular concern if one appreciates the advice of the World Bank (1988) which notes that
"Africa requires both highly trained people and top-quality research in order to be able to formulate the policies, plan the programmes and implement the projects that are essential to economic growth and development....Of equal importance to Africa's future is its capacity to plan and direct the process of development. To achieve this capacity, Africa's institutions of higher learning must produce manpower trianed in the disciplines of the social sciences and management, conduct timely research, and provide advisory services in such fields as economic planning, finance (including debt management) and public administration."
In a context in which the challenge of addressing the legacy of apartheid is urgent - both through providing increasing access to students who have historically been disadvantaged, and producing economists and managers for the government's Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) - the challenges have become critical.
The widespread adoption of affirmative action policies in both the private and public sectors places further pressures on universities to produce graduates who can perform effectively in an increasingly internationally competitive market place.
It is not unsurprising that in this context the educational productivity gains believed to be possible though CAL are being closely examined by academic departments. The promise of individualised, active learning environments which have been shown to both reduce the time needed for students to learn and raise examination scores 6 as well as the increasing demand on universities to produce graduates with approapriate technological skills, is one which makes the use of computers in higher education economics very attractive. 
There are a number of projects involving computers in economics education in South Africa:
The Frikaans-medium Pretoria University has used Question Mark to implement frotnightly computer-based tests for their undergraduates with the objective of using it to assess subject mastery.
According to Harmse et al (1993), since introducing the strategy they have been able to improve standards by condensing the syllabus from 3 to 2.5 years and introducing more practical work. They claim that the most significant advantage is their capacity to develop courseware which not only tests students' cognitive knowledge of the text, but also the level of normative insight into the dynamic interaction between markets in the South African economy.
At the University of the Witwatersrand in 1995 a pilot CAL initiative7 was run with 60 educationally disadvantaged students. The six-week course using Lotus 1-2-3 aimed to identify the practical problems involved in using computers in courses, and the level of computer expertise among students. The course instructor concluded that a CAL package would be "a positive addition to the teaching of first-year economics courses....". It would give tutors, staff and undergraduate students an introduction to much-needed computer skills as well as supporting economics teaching in the context of disadvantaged backgrounds and stretched teaching resources.
Next year, the University of the Witwatersrand plans to network the courseware, Economics in Action8 for first-year students and distribute the disks to those with their own computers. At the University of Natal, Graphecon9, has been used for some years as a supplement to lectures and tutorials. Despite the limited interactivity and age of the package, it has proved to be popluar with students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds struggling with the course. 
Due to the inability of PCs on the student network  to run Windows, more creative approaches to the use of computers have also had to be used. Some success has been achieved by posting detailed feedback on formative assessments on the net work and more recently, notes, course outlines and other curriculum resources have been distributed electronically.
An investigation into students' pre and post test behaviour (Probert et al, 1995) found that on average, 55% of students used Graphecon before writing a test and 28% used it again afterwards. 56% made use of the electronically distributed test feedback - compared with only 33% who re-read their textbook.
The recent upgrading of the student network has, however, finally allowed Windows-based packages to be used. At the start of this semester a programme of computer practicals, supervised by third-year students, using the beta release of WinEcon12 was implemented. The computer practicals are proving to be popular with students, with attendance often greater than at convetional tutorials, however, the level at whcih most of the material has been directed is proving to be a limiting factor.
Nonetheless, the success of integrating technology into the curriculum has led to plans to use spreadsheets and the World Wide Web in undergraduate economics teaching and to develop a core course in Computers in Economics for the honours year which aims to develop student expertise in autoring software, geographical information systems, presentation packages and general equilibrium models as well as econometrics software.
However, the pressure of expanded access to university places, the demand for the improved relevance of course content to the African environment and pressures to increase academic productivity in the face of rationalisation has led to a less pleasant working environment for South African Academics. They face higher student:staff ratios 13, a greater time commitment to undergraduate teaching at the expense of (more rewarding) postgraduate teaching, reduced time for research and decreasing salaries relative to comparable private and public sector employment. In this context, the epistemological concerns about the effects of computers in higher education found in many industrialised countries are to some extent outweighed by lecturer's needs to maximise their personal utility functions.
Many staff are concerned, however, that educationally-disadvantaged students will find computers difficult to use. Fortunately, this fear has proved unfounded. Student opinion surveys at all institutions have accepted CAL enthusiastically.
At Natal University, the popularity of CAL is reflected in the high number of users. A Witwatersrand University Academic Development Centre survey revealed strong support from students who completed their pilot course. Although certain logistical problems were experienced, students found the on-line tutorials easy to understand and agreed they provided an interactive alternative to course notes. Their experience with using spreadsheets suggests that some time must be spent teaching basic computer skills before actual economics can be introduced. Howeever, according to the course coordinator the use of a CAL package such as WinEcon with a far shallower learning curve would be more economical in terms of contact hours. This is borne out by the experience at Natal, where students who have never touched a computer before were navigating through WinEcon within half an hour.
As Mehl (1991) has pointed out, "It continues to be striking how easily students from the most disadvantaged back grounds in the Cape Peninsula (such as Crossroads and Khayelitsha) adapt to the use of high technology. Any fears of a cultural backlash are completely unfounded."
Nonetheless, prospects are encouraging with signs that the impact information technology is having on education in other parts of the world is filtering through : A CAL in Developing Countries conference was held in South Africa last year, a Computers in Training and Tertiary Education conference is being held in April next year and local interest groups are beginning to emerge at various universities. 
The most serious problem for the development of CAL at South African Universities is the lacked of skilled courseware designers. The advent of authoring packages like Authorware and ToolBook has made the cost-effective development of local courseware possible, but few computer science departments teach their students these and other authoring packages. 16 The increasing number of visits from overseas colleagues will hopefully act as a stimulus.
The adaptation of a package of the scale of WinEcon not only requires a substantial investment of time, money and personpower - it also needs investment in hardware for both students and staff. There is no shortage of departments who have expressed a keen interest in development. What is currently lacking are the skills and the funds with which to proceed.
Source: Feldman R (1994)
Source: Institute of Race Relations (1995)
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