JOHANNESBURG, South Africa–(BUSINESS WIRE)–September 12, 2014–
In partnership with Mxit Reach and UNICEF, the South African Education Ministry today proudly launched the Ukufunda Virtual School, a program utilizing both smartphones and feature phones to deliver high-quality education to the underserved, rural corners of South Africa.
Ukufunda, which means “learn to grow and grow to learn” in Zulu, will promote equitable access to quality learning and teaching, enable professional development of teachers, and support curriculum delivery – all through the revolutionary use of mobile phones.
With the support of Mxit, the South African-born mobile social networking platform, Ukufunda seeks to address a problem inherent in many other virtual schools today: namely that most mobile-enabled educational technology requires access to the web or smart devices. In South Africa, as in many parts of the world, access to the web and ownership of a smart device is beyond the reach of those who need education the most. Because Mxit can function in areas where only 2G connectivity is available and on over 8,000 devices – on everything from feature phones to smartphones and tablets – the benefits of the virtual school are no longer restricted to smartphone users.
“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,” says Mr. Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education in South Africa.
Founded in 2005, Mxit is a South African mobile social network with millions of active users monthly. Because Mxit is incredibly data-light – thanks to a unique compression algorithm to control data consumption and lower costs – users are able to spend more time chatting, learning, or just socializing in as many as 22 different languages.
“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.
“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. It’s a giant leap forward in improving lines of communication and linking all stakeholders,” comments Ms. Nadi Albino, Chief of Education, UNICEF South Africa.
South Africa has an estimated mobile phone penetration rate of 228%*, which suggests that most teachers, parents, and a substantial number of learners, are likely to have access to mobile services. The learner section of Ukufunda currently includes the following services:
- My Calendar – Notification of 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
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.
“A good school doesn’t just have excellent teachers, it also has a great supportive environment – there are counsellors to deal with psychosocial issues, experts to guide career choices, and leadership courses to develop well-rounded individuals. Ukufunda provides all of these and more,” concludes Mr. Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education.
*GSMA: Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2013
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