How a Group of Young Women is Driving “Tech” in the Free State

It’s a Tuesday morning in Philippolis – one of South Africa’s poorest small towns – and Natasha Padda is about to get going with her adult computer literacy Powerpoint class, while her colleague, Sanne van Wyk, updates thirty tablets with the latest interactive learning apps for English second language learners.

More than 70 percent of Philippolis’ population is unemployed, but in a dusty suburb on the outskirts of town, a group of women have built a fully functioning Digital Learning Centre that is providing digital education to over 250 people every week.

“Built” is an authentic word in this context.

Together with volunteers, this group of women has built the Philippolis Digital Learning Centre with their own hands. They mixed the cement, lay the foundations and painted the walls.

What’s more, with little formal training, this group of women has become the town’s digital education leaders, facilitating sessions to up skill adult learners and empower scholars using an online open learning model – their adult digital literacy programme now extends to Philippolis to the surrounding farms.

As an example, meet Jonita Rakotsoane, born and bred in Philippolis. Jonita instructs the International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL), teaching 20 adults at a time. She also has a class of 28 high school ICDL students who are determined to be able to apply for college, university or jobs online.


Jonita and her class of adults at Philippolis Digital Learning Centre.

Meet Sanne van Wyk. Sanne spends two hours per day facilitating digital learning for over 100 of the community’s children. In addition, she has now created a formal partnership with one of the local primary schools where every week she facilitates digital literacy workshops for all of the Grade 3 and Grade 4 learners as part of their curriculum. Sanne will soon start the project in the town’s second primary school.


Sanne van Wyk with a group of children who are part of the Centre’s Open Learning Academy.

Milla van Wyk oversees activities at the Centre (ensuring always-on Internet connectivity as well) and Lulani Vermeulen is the Project Coordinator, and has been responsible for all of the building work. That includes an Open Learning Area, an Office, a Counseling Room and a Soup Kitchen.


International Computer Driving Licence for the community’s high school students, with Milla van Wyk.

This is an all-women team who are committed to up-skilling the town’s adults, and providing access to online, digital learning to all of the town’s children.

Yes, their hardware has been donated, but from a relatively small space they are determined to use the technology that is available to them to infuse the entire community with access to a new way of thinking and learning.

And they’re basically in the middle of nowhere.

What a team!


The incredible Philippolis team (2014) with some visitors from Hazyview Digital Learning Centre.