Open Learning in Mpumalanga Brings e-Learning to 2,900 Rural Children

In 2015 we entered into a partnership with Rand Water Foundation to increase access to digital education for approximately 2900 public-sector schoolchildren in rural Mpumalanga province, South Africa. This was part of an initiative to: (1) Use education technology to dramatically improve basic literacies in under-resourced and overcrowded schools, and (2) Support STEM* development skills in line with South Africa’s 2030 National Development Plan (NDP).

Our existing Hazyview Digital Learning Campus, equipped with tablet computers, e-learning software and digitally-trained facilitators, became the hub for seven satellite primary schools located in Bushbuckridge, every one of them unable to offer digital or even blended learning in the classroom. To view a brief, explanatory video, click here.

1-Hub-visual-mindmap

The model, named the “Open Learning Academy” and endorsed by Mpumalanga’s Department of Education, had been in a first phase rollout since the end of 2013 and, with the help of Rand Water Foundation, successfully launched a second phase in September 2015.

In phase one, grade four learners from the seven satellite schools attended the Open Learning Academy hub every week for a year as part of their weekly lesson timetable. Learners were transported to the hub and received a weekly two-hour blended learning session focusing on English, mathematics, digital and conservation literacy.

“At the end of a year spent immersed in digital learning, the grade four learners wanted more and so did their teachers who were seeing improvements of up to 37% in English and mathematics,” says Crispen Bvumbghe, Head of the Open Learning Academy programme. “We didn’t have the space at the hub, and so the only option was to extend our digital learning programme into each one of the schools. We shared an idea for a phase two rollout with Rand Water Foundation, and they agreed to support a pilot.”

In phase two, a GWF-qualified digital facilitator, together with a charging trolley full of tablet computers and e-learning software, extends the learning environment created at the Open Learning Academy into the primary school, ensuring on-going learning for grade five learners, and then grade six and seven learners in subsequent years.

Phase two is now ten months old, and this is what has been achieved:

  • Successful continuation of Open Learning Academy phase one for seven participating primary schools. In phase one, grade four learners from participating schools attend the Open Learning Academy at Hazyview Digital Learning Campus weekly
  • Launch of Open Learning Academy phase two: In phase two, a GWF digital facilitator extends the learning environment created at the Open Learning Academy back into the primary school. Both digital education programmes have received very positive feedback (at school, district and provincial levels), allowing GWF to expand its network of cooperating schools. You can see photos from Open Learning phase two by clicking here
  • Provision of access to digital education to 2900 children from Mbombela/Bushbuckridge municipal areas in Mpumalanga. This number will increase to approximately 4000 by the beginning of 2017
  • The establishment of a second hub in Mpumalanga, which, after one month of operations, is already partnering with four local schools in one of South Africa’s most rural villages
  • Having evaluated the results of satellite school learners, GWF can report a 13% increase in the level of mathematics within a period of six months and 14% increase in the level of English
  • The Open Learning Academy has created employment for 11 full-time digital facilitators and three volunteers who are all local people recruited from the greater Bushbuckridge area
  • To date, over 600 learners have visited the Kruger National Park as part of conservation education programme. Learners start their conservation learning on tablets, working on interactive iBooks written by GWF
  • In 2016, GWF implemented a new programme called “Open Learning Plus”. This is a smaller programme that takes the most talented group of learners who are part of the Open Learning Academy, and provides workshops in the following activities: Robotics, coding, Lego education, music theory and advanced mathematics
  • GWF has introduced coding to the Open Learning Academy syllabus. This is the first time that teachers and students from this school district have had the opportunity to interact and learn about coding

The Open Learning Academy is one of two major programmes offered at GWF digital learning campuses. The second programme, the “Bridging Academy”, is a recognised yearlong course that enables rural adults to become proficient in skills that are required in a 21st century workspace.

Celebrating almost-one-year of Open Learning phase two, here’s what our CEO, Kate Groch, had to say: “Our programmes are proving that a new, decentralised education model, built on a digital platform, can change Africa and the developing world by allowing rural people access to the new digital marketplace. In developing the model of rural digital learning campuses, featuring the Bridging Academy and the Open Learning Academy, GWF is demonstrating an ability to identify the major pressure points in South Africa’s education system and, using technology, ‘home-grown’ programmes and public-private partnerships, create systemic change.

We would like to acknowledge the following funders and supporters of the Open Learning Academy programme: Rand Water Foundation, Konica Minolta South Africa, All Heart Fund, Ms. Jenifer Westphal and the Majik Foundation, Londolozi Private Game Reserve, Mr. Ofri Kahlon, Charities Unlimited and RFS Holdings.

For more information about the Open Learning Academy, email: info@goodworkfoundation.org.

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