Mobile innovation to boost SA education

Learning and teaching in public schools will be boosted by an innovative tool that will support classroom activities.

 

Deputy Minister of Basic Education Enver Surty and Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi today unveiled the Ukufunda Virtual School in partnership with Mxit Reach and UNICEF.

 

Ukufunda, which means “learn” in isiZulu, is a mobile innovation in the South African education system that will promote equitable access to quality learning and teaching, enable teacher professional development and support curriculum delivery.

“I express my sincere appreciation to be present at this launch as we are realising our dream of strengthening support to our teachers,” said Mr Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education. “It is therefore pleasing to note the enormous contribution that is made by Mxit and UNICEF in supporting the various initiatives which our Department has identified for purposes of improving the quality of teaching and learning in our schools, particularly those that are disadvantaged by the lack of appropriate resources.

 

“The Ukufunda Virtual School will directly address inequalities in the school system, raise education standards and put the power of basic education back into the hands of every learner, teacher and parent.”

 

Founded in 2005, Mxit currently works on over 8000 devices, from feature phones to smart phones and tablets, meaning most South Africans can access Mxit on their mobile phone.

“We believe that one of our most important roles is to act as a technology conduit, linking experts such as the Department of Basic Education and UNICEF and their content and services with the people who need it most,” says Andrew Rudge, CEO of Mxit Reach.

 

Many past and current mobile phone-based education programmes in South Africa are focused on supporting learners directly, but fewer are focused on enabling teacher development and support. Two key components of Ukufunda is theCalendar and Annual National Assessment (ANA) tool:

 

·         The Calendar tool allows the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to populate one central calendar with the annual school terms, exam timetables and beyond that will be editable at a provincial, district and school level. What makes this calendar so resourceful is that it removes traditional communication barriers such as access and affordability.

·         The ANAs are assessments of grade three, six and nine learners’ levels of competency in literacy and numeracy. Conventional assessments can be costly, time-consuming and can take several months for results to be returned. The ANA tool for Grade 9 learners on Ukufunda provides instant feedback and builds a database for the DBE to assess levels of competency quickly and effectively.

 

“We are excited to be part of such a meaningful project. Ukufunda doesn’t only provide free access to great educational content, but is rather a holistic approach to learner and teacher wellbeing, focusing on psychosocial support, safety and wellness'” said Herve Ludovic de Lys, Head of Office, UNICEF South Africa. “It’s a giant leap forward in improving lines of communication and linking all stakeholders.”

 

The learner section of Ukufunda currently includes the following services:

 

·         My Calendar – Notification on tasks and events

·         My Educational Resources – Links to textbooks and reference material

·         My Safety and Wellness – Links to counselling and emergency services

·         My Groups – Virtual communities of practice

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The next phase of the Virtual School will include a section for My Homework, assisting learners to complete homework assignments and My Mentor, a yearlong mentorship that matches learners with either working professionals or tertiary students.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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