Rural Hub of Digital Learning

The following article was originally published in the Mail & Guardian “Investing in the Future and Drivers of Change” supplement on October 31, 2014 and can also be found here.

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In 2015, GWF plans to reach 6000 school-children.

In semi-rural Hazyview, a state-of-the-art digital learning centre offers youths and young adults the chance to keep in step with the rest of the world.

The Hazyview Digital Learning Centre in Mpumalanga, set up by the Good Work Foundation, is giving rural education a digital shot in the arm.

“It is an ‘edutech’ lab,” said Kate Groch, chief executive of the foundation. “It is digitally led and high-tech, but the point is to experiment with out-of-the-box and realistic ways to use technology to grow South Africa’s Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] skills in rural areas.”

As an example, given the challenges that rural schools face in creating their own tech labs, the centre has piloted a model where primary schools can outsource parts of their digital, English and maths literacy to the centre’s hub. As many as 1 000 primary school learners from seven schools are already plugged in, and in 2015 the centre will extend its reach to 6 000 learners.

“It shouldn’t matter where you are from, you must be given the opportunity to reach your full potential,” said Groch. “The technology to access the world’s information now sits in your pocket and, as an educator, I can tell you that this has changed the game.

“New teaching methods and technologies are allowing us to leapfrog conventional teaching practices so that we can provide world-class education to rural communities.”

The digital centre has established a “bridging year” for school leavers who can enroll in a one-year course to improve what Groch referred to as the “languages of access”: IT-literacy and English communication for business.

From there, students are able to access internationally recognised online study opportunities, or to continue studying at the centre’s career academies, where vocational certificates, such as food and beverage management, are offered online.

“Why shouldn’t our rural school leavers and adults have the option to access high-quality education?” asked Groch. “People living in rural areas no longer have to overcome all kinds of obstacles to get to colleges and universities in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

“Today all they need is an internet connection, and we’d be mad if we didn’t take advantage of that so we can change the future of an entire generation.”

Written by Johann Barnard.

Good Work Foundation was a finalist in the 2014 Stem Skills Development Award. To read about the award and see our photos from the event, click here.

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