How South Africa Leverages Mobile Learning To Increase Opportunities For All

In South Africa, education inequality remains one of the indelible legacies of apartheid-era segregationist policies. For resource-poor communities, and rural settings when education systems are not meeting societal demand, rapidly-evolving technology is opening doors. South Africa has been embracing technologies to expand educational curricula, to increase efficiency and quality alike. ICT is not only changing education, it is shaping it within a new mould.

Mobile devices are cost-effective and require less infrastructure than computers, thus unlocking the greatest potential for delivering ICT-based learning to marginalised learners. The uptake of mobile phone use has gone beyond expectations, with a whopping 89% of South Africans now owning a mobile. South Africa also leads Africa in app downloads, usually an indication of higher smartphone adoption, with 34% of phone users making downloads from app stores. However, mobile devices have often been viewed as the antithesis of education and the use of mobile phones is mostly banned in schools.

Rethink Education CEO Doug Hoernle told us about their recent shift of focus regarding the user experience they’re building “You can’t build things for feature phones anymore. The ratio of smartphone is increasing and people are demanding of new experiences.

The Power of On-the-Go Learning

Mobile devices enable just-in-time, informal, chunk-sized learning that is adapted to a South African context of long commutes and cramped family settings in townships. Learners need to be able to do short, effective bursts of practice when they can, to leverage those moments and turn them into learning opportunities.

A cellphone is intimate” 
(FunDza Literacy Trust Executive Director, Mignon Hardie)

Through their Reading Community platform, FunDza has managed to generate thorough engagement from their community. We must stop to look at technology with the lens of luxury and start being aware of its role in shaping a community. Adding value goes through making learning personal and trackable. Usage and performance are two interesting sets of metrics for the teaching body and the students alike.

Technology strengthens the community: a sense of collaboration

Edtech is helping to solve the problem of has brought solutions to low youth unemployment within the community. WISE Accelerator’s South African prodigee GreenShoots Education has trained technical teaching assistants (TTAs) who enable the non-profits programmes to stay sustainable over time and to be a pedagogical and technical point of contact and continuity for the teaching body. Rooting the project in the community where the school is located is an effective way of guaranteeing sustainability. TTAs become part of the immediate school community, with a clearly defined career path, and help enhance the maths lesson through technology.

Ronique’s Story:

The FunDza Literacy Trust focuses on popularising reading through community, rather than through formal literacy education. They have created a network of mentors and mentees who aim to grow their community and foster a better understanding between both parties. The Literacy Organisation also encourages the development of communication skills by asking their readers to reflect and comment on the stories they publish on mobile, as well as encouraging them to enter writing competitions. Their Write4Life Workshops allow aspirational young writers to hone their skill sets, and the interactivity generates a sense of ownership over the content creation that goes beyond consumption and leads to collaboration.

The key role of mobile operators in the educational equation

The pain point remains data, which is extremely expensive in South Africa. Zero-rating (free data provided by the service being accessed, so it doesn’t count against the user’s usage) from various operators has often been a solution to entrepreneurs that we have met, to allow them to put their product in the hands of many more than just those who could actually afford the data. For example, Vodacom has created an e-school, zero-rated, but also supports external programmes. In conjunction with the Vodacom Mobile Education Programme, Siyavula provides access to their tool to grades 10 to 12 mathematics and physical sciences learners in nearly 80 government high schools throughout South Africa, in order to address the issue of data and airtime costs associated with online programs.

The province of the Western Cape alone, already strong with 1 million learners, receives 20,000 plus additional student every year. With not enough additional schools being built or teachers being hired, there’s a dire necessity for innovative ways of bridging that gap. Akin to the landline penetration, close to zero (6% in SA versus 60% in the US), there’s more innovation when one breaks away from infrastructure and relies on the fast possibilities of mobile. Large-scale device rollouts are a costly solution that hasn’t proven to have had tremendous results, whilst leveraging the power of mobile within formal and informal contexts could show significant improvement. Curriculum-aligned mobile apps may prove a faster solution for on-the-go, supplemental learning, while waiting for the brick-and-mortar setting to catch up through landslide provincial policies.