Last year, Via Afrika, launched a digital libraries initiative in three schools around South Africa. One year on, there has been a complete turn around in the schools’ pass rates.
The Via Afrika Digital Education Centres (VADECs) were brought to students at the Sohlazane Primary School in Mpumalanga, Thabantsho Primary School in Limpopo, and Ithemeleng Primary in the Free State.
According to external research by the Annual National Assessments (ANA), just six months after launch, grade six learners in all three schools upped their combined maths pass rate from 17% to 51%, to secure a promotion to the next grade.
“We wanted to see how the solution would work in rural environments where most schools don’t have access to technology resources,” said Christina Watson, CEO of Via Afrika. “Our aim is to give rural learners the chance to contribute to our economy and level the laying field for them in the world.”
Each centre comes in the form a repurposed shipping container housing 15 Android tablets containing Via Afrika content such as ebooks and apps. The centres are also set up with 3G internet connectivity with 10 GB of data a month.
“We were looking out for how learners and teachers would responded to it and were very surprised at how much they embraced technology and the content. They all adapted so quickly to the experience which was so new to them,” said Watson. “Everyone made us feel like we’re part of their communities.”
Watson says the key to the initiative’s success was to have proper technology, electronic content and consistent travelling to conduct hands on training with the schools’ teachers.
“CSI initiatives in education can often be based on noble intentions, but without a solid understanding of what is needed to make significant and real change,” she said. “Without this understanding, these projects often fail to provide the desired results.”
Via Afrika VADECs have been completely self-funded up until now, but the company has put out an offer for corporates to get involved in new Digital Education Centre (DEC) program run by Via Afrika in partnership with the Department of Basic Education, which will replicate the initiative across more schools.