The Future of Rural Education

I would like to share what was, for me, one of the highlights of 2014.

In October I was privileged to travel to California with Maya, where we spent a day at Stanford University discussing one of the world’s most innovative education tools: Stanford Mobile Inquiry-Based Learning Environment (SMILE).

As you know, I resolutely believe that education in rural South Africa can be completely transformed (I am talking about a revolution) if we use technology to leapfrog existing education structures and use the opportunity to set up some of the world’s most nimble, responsive and advanced curricula.

Earlier in the year, Neha Taleja and her colleague, Suzanna Jaymin Sim, travelled to the Hazyview Digital Learning Centre (HDLC) in Mpumalanga to set up one of sub-Saharan Africa’s first SMILE pilot sites. Here’s a picture of Neha in the Open Learning Academy:

SMILE combines a mobile-based question application for students, with a management application for teachers. It allows students to create multiple-choice questions on mobile phones or tablets during class and share these questions with their classmates and teacher. The classroom management software allows students to share, respond, and rate questions on criteria such as creativity or depth of analysis. In essence the student becomes a researcher, creator and evaluator.

To date, and limited to HDLC, we have been using the local, off-line version of SMILE. In 2014 though, with the support of Stanford’s team, we are ready to go live with the online version. This will allow separate education sites to all take part in a single lesson. Commanding a lesson from HDLC, Crispen Bvumbghe – Head of the Open Learning Academy – will be able to welcome children from the surrounding schools into the same digital classroom (I see children connected all over the world, all meeting under our tree).

Good Work Foundation will coordinate the cloud learning, set up the pilot sites in the surrounding schools (including training and placing a Good Work Foundation individual at each site) and ensure access to tablets and digital technology. From there, all we need is for the students to plug into one of Africa’s most advanced education clouds.

We are truly humbled to have Dr. Paul Kim – the Dean of Education at Stanford University – behind the project. Sitting in his office at Stanford’s beautiful education building and discussing the future of education was an experience I will never forget. I was expecting an office that expanded over an entire floor with grand oak furniture and leather chairs. But what I loved is that at this – one of the world’s most celebrated universities – the Dean of Education has a space that focuses on people. It is a community focused office full of interesting documents, books and papers. It is a place of collaboration, and in fact the entire education building reminded me of the Open Learning Academy at HDLC – a big open space where ideas can meet.

Dr. Kim is scheduled to visit HDLC in 2014 and I cannot wait to welcome him under the digital tree of knowledge. We have a lot to discuss. If our ten-year old students are exposed to curriculums like SMILE now, what will they be doing at 18? How will we be engaging them then?

Once again, thank you Dr. Kim and Neha. This is where education has to go and HDLC is ready to continue taking the bold steps that will change the prospects of an entire generation.

With thanks,

Kate Groch