Activity theory as a framework for understanding teachers' perceptions of computer usage at a primary school level in South Africa. South African Journal of Education, 25(4): 258-265

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South African Journal of Higher Education

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University of Cape Town

Educational underachievement in gateway subjects such as mathematics and science is a continuing challenge in South African schools. In a bid to develop technologically competent mathematicians and scientists while addressing the shortage of teacher capacity in the country, the government has turned to computer technology to support and strengthen teaching and learning in disadvantaged classrooms. The assumption underlying the use of computers in these schools is that computers will enable students to cover the curriculum more efficiently and effectively, leading to improved performance. However, the extent to which a computer can impact positively on students' achievement depends on how a computer is used as a learning/teaching tool. I seek to illustrate the potential use of Activity Theory as a framework for understanding how teachers use technology to mediate the teaching and learning of mathematics in primary schools. To this end, I argue for an understanding of the notion of an 'object' as a methodological concept capable of tracking shifts within and between activity systems. Drawing on interview data collected from four case studies carried out in the Western Cape, South Africa, an account of teachers' perceptions regarding how pedagogy shifts across the different contexts of the traditional lesson and the computer laboratory is developed. I conclude by arguing that the strength of Activity Theory lies in its ability to enable one to understand learning as the complex result of tool-mediated interactions, rather than as something opaque, which happens in a student's mind.