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Special Reports | 2 May 2023

Takalani Netshitenzhe, Vodacom South Africa External Affairs Director

Quality education is a critical factor in South Africa’s national development. Despite our country’s many achievements in enabling children to complete their school careers, there are still schools that lack the most basic of infrastructure. With 61% of our youth unemployed, we are experiencing a deepening socio-economic divide. There is a pressing need to address these challenges while equipping young people with the skills to find their place in a digital future.

Transforming our education system is a huge and complex undertaking, which requires meaningful partnerships. If we are to forge innovative solutions and accelerate beneficial programmes in the education sector, we need to collectively work together as government, organisations and communities. This will ensure a long-lasting impact and move South Africa forward.

Developing a new model for education

Vodacom has long been committed to supporting quality education and using our capabilities as a technology company to enable this process. In 2019, we unveiled a multi-faceted education ecosystem in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and other organisations. This ecosystem, which works hand-in-hand with the government’s 2030 vision for national development, is well-placed to provide best practices for other markets.

As standalone elements, upgrading infrastructure and improving conditions at schools are important; but to ensure sustainable, transformative solutions, the ecosystem involves a holistic approach across all levels of education. This incorporates early childhood development (ECD), teacher training, supporting local communities, decommissioning of pit latrines, providing psycho-social support, the placement of ICT coordinators, ongoing partnerships and the availability of learning materials.

Finding success at secondary school level

Since 2019, Vodacom Foundation has been supporting 13 Schools of Excellence (SoE) with infrastructure upgrades, such as decommissioning pit latrines and replacing them with better ablution facilities. Importantly, these schools have been provided with a fully equipped, connected ICT lab and two trained ICT coordinators, who are volunteer graduates of our Youth Academy, to assist with using digital technology. This increases access to online resources to further education outcomes and equips learners with skills in demand in the digital era.

To further advance this objective, we are rolling out our Virtual Classroom solution to SoEs. Virtual Classroom allows educators to teach remotely and learners to access content out of the classroom. The solution includes a coding and robotic component to encourage inclusive participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

We have also helped to place 22 skilled psycho-social support professionals in seven of the SoEs to offer critical psycho-social interventions. These include the prevention of gender-based violence and bullying, as well as support for social challenges, such as poverty, teenage pregnancy and child-headed households. Effective psycho-social support in schools contributes to learner well-being, confidence and academic performance while also addressing some of the deep-rooted problems in surrounding communities.

It has been remarkable to see how changes at the SoEs have positively affected thousands of learners over the past four years. Pass marks have improved across some schools, even during the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, Strydenburg Secondary School was rated the most improved school in the Northern Cape, increasing its pass rate from 61% to 90% in 2021.

Integrating education objectives

Early childhood development (ECD) learning lays the foundation for education later in life. As part of our commitment to improving access to quality education, 15 ECD centres, located near SoEs, have been upgraded and renovated with ICT equipment and mobile libraries, a sustainable water supply as well as improved sanitation facilities. As a result, more than 700 young children are being given stepping stones to close the education gap.

Educators are a powerful driving force in implementing the aims of our education ecosystem. They, too, need adequate support and access to relevant learning materials if they are to help ensure the success of this model. Vodacom has collaborated with the DBE, and other organisations in training teachers to integrate ICT in classrooms, with 92 teacher training centres refurbished and maintained with unlimited connectivity throughout the country.

Reflecting the interconnectedness of the education ecosystem, these teacher training centres have a dual purpose as technology hubs for communities. By increasing access to the internet and online learning, more people are able to reap the benefits of digital technology, which can provide opportunities for economic growth and social well-being in under-resourced areas of our country.

We are extremely proud of the achievements of the education ecosystem to date, and how it can inform best practices ⁠— not just in South Africa but across the continent. While it serves as a transformative solution, there is still more to be done if we are to bridge existing inequalities and carve a brighter future.

This responsibility falls on all of us across society to work together for greater impact.

Article written by Takalani Netshitenzhe, Vodacom South Africa External Affairs Director

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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