Yulenda Tabitha Modula is standing in front of a smartboard, conducting a geology lesson with fourteen grade eleven pupils at Sunrise Secondary School. On their tablets, they follow her explanation of how the Earth is formed, making notes and looking up unknown terms on Google. One day, every school in Gauteng might look a bit like this, but here at Sunrise – in the dusty township of Diepsloot, just north west of Johannesburg – the only computers the school has seen before were a couple of laptops and an ageing desktop, all of which were stolen years ago. The failed Gauteng Online project, which was supposed to supply connectivity and computer labs to local schools, never got close to supplying hardware and training for the teachers of Sunrise.
All of which makes the giant black shipping container which this lesson is taking place in all the more remarkable.
This is the first-of-its-kind, R1.5 million Britehouse Got-Game digital hub. Inside is seating and tablets for 14 people, along with a supervisor station, servers and a the smartboard which Modula is manipulating. On the roof, there’s a satellite broadband dish. It has been donated to the school by the Britehouse Group, in partnership with social entrepreneur enterprise Got-Game through a Diepsloot CSI project struck up between the two companies and teachers and learners in the area a few years ago.
Modula herself was a student at the time, and is one of two recent matrics who’ve been trained to manage the hub alongside two full time teachers from the school who have also been put through specialist training.
“I was selected for a leadership training camp back in 2011 by Britehouse when I was in grade 10,” explains Modula, “After finishing matric I didn’t have enough money to go to university. I was told about this project by the school and recommended as a project manager. We were trained at on how to use all the equipment and how to deal with technical issues should they come up.
“At first I held back because I wasn’t confident enough that I could do this, but now I’m very excited and there’s still more for us to learn as we continue with training.”
“For me training these kids to be project managers was just something I felt we had to do to help them grow micro-businesses inside the hub,” says Arthur Anderson, CEO of Got-Game. Anderson sees the hubs his organisation gives to communities like Diepsloot as seeds for something bigger, and something which should be self-sustaining in a short time. “These youngsters can derive value from running this themselves. They grow the hub and move on to train other youths to run the next hub. It becomes like a franchise for all of them”
From the onset, the hub was built with an aim of not only acting as an elearning facility for the school, but also have far-wider community reach.
Having learned a few online skills in the hub, learners can create and upload profiles via the Got-Game jobs platform and start doing small online jobs such as capturing data, creating documents, and other projects for various companies. Teachers at the school talk excitedly about how students can apply for college courses and bursaries online now, and what the ability to research assignments on the internet will mean to the quality of learning and their ability to foster independent thinking in their pupils.
“We want to try connect people to digital work spaces. You shouldn’t leave school, have nowhere to go, nothing to do and find that all you have learnt and done was for nothing,”Anderson tells Sunrise Secondary learners.
But the vision is that it won’t just be the school that benefits from access to information in the hub. After school hours, the digital hub transforms into a mini community centre where young and old can come in and use the facilities to look for employment, develop their tech skills, or do some business activities and conduct meetings.
The four managers have been trained to help local entrepreneurs use the facilities to expand their businesses – and by charging a fee for the use of the space and internet access time it should provide a revenue stream Sunrise too. What happens when spaza shop owners have access to online seminars and Coursera classes is anyone’s guess – but the hope is that new, unpredictable ideas will surface.
“We have our own ideas around what we can offer, but in terms of innovation and creativity, it’s up to the community to determine where they will take it,” Anderson says.
“When we set out to build the digital hub, we didn’t just want to build a container. We wanted to build a living organism. Something that could support the school and help earn an income for learners and the community,” agrees Britehouse CEO Scott Gibson.
And when they’re not busy with lessons and assignments, learners and teachers will be able relax on the container’s roof coffee spot, which offers an amazing view that looks out into the entire city as far as Northgate and the Telkom and Ponte towers in the city centre.
The hub itself is also immune to the woes of loadshedding, thanks to a solar generator donated by Samsung housed next door. The electronics giant also the supplied the tablets being used by the learners, while educational material has been provided by local non-governmental organisation, the Mentec Foundation.
Anderson explains that the digital hub is also important for teachers because they often don’t get as much attention in school-focused IT projects.
“We made sure we include teachers in all aspects of the training so they can engage with students effectively,” he says. “There’s a communication platform where the teachers can socialise, share information and lesson plans with other local and even international educators.”
Perhaps the biggest worry on everyone’s mind is how secure the digital hub is from theft. According to Anderson, this is where the involvement of the community again comes in as parents, teachers and councillors have banded together to offer their support in making sure nothing happens to it.
“The second security measures we have in place are the surveillance cameras, access control and alarm monitoring system and the hydraulic flaps that have locks and can withstand seven tons of force and we have hired someone who will look after the facility and is given a stipend.”
There are also Internet Protocol (IP) cameras, which can transmit live images over the internet, installed in the hub to monitor activities and provide security. They also have a side benefit, says Anderson, in that the hub can now be registered as an exam centre where, so that “kids no longer have to travel far to write exams but can do so in their own communities”.
“This is a place of many possibilities, dictated by communities’ own requirements”, adds Gibson. “There is no limit to its potential or what it can bring to the community. Because it is replicable, it reduces the cost, time, and effort needed to make a difference.”
See more photos of the Britehouse Got-Game digital hub launch in the gallery below.