Download the Finweek article by Jon Pienaar, 13 May 2015.
Download the Finweek article by Jon Pienaar, 13 May 2015.
This article originally appeared in the Daily Maverick on 29 January 2015, by Oresti Patricios.
South Africa’s education system is broken. We all need to do what we can to try and fix it. One class at a time. One child at a time. One school at a time.
When the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its 2014 Global Information Technology Report, South Africa’s education system was lambasted. This report indicates how able a country is to apply technology for its betterment – in other words, its ability to harness information and communications technologies for economic growth, productivity and job creation.
The report rated 148 states, and South Africa’s education system was ranked 146th out of the 148. This country’s maths and science were the worst of all surveyed, according to the WEF report. In another report by the same organisation – The WEF Global Competitiveness Report – SA did just as badly. The quality of SA’s education system was ranked at 140 out of the 144 states surveyed.
The reasons for the problems are complex and manifold. They lie somewhere in between SA’s inherited Apartheid schools systems, which sees a Model C school in an affluent area like Sandton, much better resourced and equipped than a school across the highway in the township of Alexandra. Then there’s the issue of corruption, infrastructure problems, textbook shortages, the controversial 30% matric pass requirement, teachers going on strike, and the fact that some schools don’t even have basic facilities like toilets or water.
Political affiliation is irrelevant. How you feel about SA’s current ruling party or government is not of consequence here. What’s vital is that the education system, that a democratic SA inherited, is hopelessly flawed. It may take decades to remedy.
Just how important is education to SA’s economic growth, social development and very future? Empirical research repeatedly bears out that education is the single biggest contributor to economic growth and social development. Further, the World Bank advises that education is the only real and lasting solution to reversing inequality in SA.
It goes without saying that without good education, we won’t have a decent workforce, intelligent leaders, qualified professionals or competent civil servants in the future.
So what’s to be done? I would like to propose a show of force by business. I’m not talking about taking our government to the Constitutional Court (let’s leave that to civic organisations who are already doing an excellent job here). Rather, what about a complementary solution that may affect fundamental and long lasting change? I’m talking about a learning revolution.
The learning revolution I speak of is understanding that government is not going to save the education system. We need to rescue education ourselves.
It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is – you have the power to do something that will change lives and improve the future of the country. The infrastructure for this aid is largely established and there are many organisations that can help you get involved.
The organisation I work with is called PfP, which stands for Partners for Possibility. Essentially this non-profit teams up business leaders with headmasters, and through a program of training and coaching, enables them to work together to overcome the challenges faced by that headmaster’s school. It’s not about finding sponsors with deep pockets, so much as enabling the headmaster to progress in his own right.
My own experience working with a primary school in Alexandra has forever changed me. I feel I have become a better human being through my experience with the remarkable headmaster who runs this school. My intervention at the school has been wisely guided by him – he knows best how the system works and what’s best for his learners.
At the beginning of the year we worked together to set certain goals for the school, first among which was learning outcomes. In 2012, from Grade 1 through to Grade 6, in Maths, isiZulu, English and seSotho, the average results were a failing grade, in the region of 16% to 40%. By 2013, all had improved, some by over 20%.
There were six learners in Grade 6, moving to Grade 7 in 2015, who achieved over 80% in English and Maths. They have received full bursaries to go to St Mary’s and St David’s until Grade 12. This year’s results may be even better. We are holding thumbs.
One of the major challenges was communication: teachers complained that printed notices weren’t getting to the parents. We investigated alternatives, and found that all parents had cellphones – many even had smartphones. So we instituted the SMSWeb system that takes advantage of free services like BBM, Mxit, e-mail and Skype to communicate with parents.
Other goals this headmaster achieved included improved attendance at Saturday classes, obtaining sponsorship from Anglo American for the creation of a computer lab, overhead projectors and TV sets, and sponsorship from other companies for a CCTV system.
What did it cost me? Not much. A little time mostly, which forced me to schedule my life better; but the excitement and motivation I received from being part of this was priceless.
PfP has been awarded a contract by the GDE (Gauteng Department of Education) to support 66 school principals from township schools. Part of the drive is to recruit professionals in IT, HR and Finance to assist with administration in these schools – a task that often lands on the shoulders of the headmaster. The GDE is allocating R30,000 to each of the principals, but there are still citizen partners needed for some of the schools.
Olico is another organisation that makes a huge difference in the field of education. This non-profit runs several education initiatives, including a computer lab in the Diepsloot community centre. Here, children can enrol for after-school programs that target their maths; the computer lab has software that tracks each learner’s progress, and initially the lessons were provided by the Khan Academy – a comprehensive set of YouTube instructional videos on most aspects of primary and high school maths. Olico has subsequently produced a number of videos along the same lines, to fit in better with the South African curriculum.
The video lessons are short and easy to follow, and this year learners showed an amazing 47% average increase in their maths marks. Imagine if we could build something similar in every under-serviced area. Olico has made the blueprint – their materials are all open-source, so no-one has to reinvent the wheel. Admittedly, it will take some money and manpower. Who is up to the challenge? DM
Oresti Patricios (@orestaki) is CEO of Ornico, a Brand Intelligence® firm that focuses on media, reputation and brand research. Follow Ornico on Twitter: @OrnicoMedia
On the edges of one of Johannesburg’s densest urban settlements you’ll find a Diepsloot Community Centre, where locals can learn anything from welding to computer literacy. Unlike other community centres fraught by political infighting, this centre’s a hive of entrepreneurial and education success stories. One of these is the experimental OLICO Youth (Khan Academy) Maths initiative that’s having a big, positive effect on Diepsloot learners. By MANDY DE WAAL.
Fourteen-year-old Rhoda Chitegha, a grade 9 pupil from Diepsloot north of Johannesburg, was struggling to pass maths until she discovered a small Khan Academy maths class at her local community centre.
“I didn’t understand most of the concepts in maths and that is why it was hard for me. There are about 44 children in my maths class in Diepsloot and you don’t always get a lot of time with the teacher, but since I have come here (to the Khan Maths project at the Diepsloot community centre), maths has become fun and I have learnt so many more things than I knew before. It is easy to enjoy maths here. There are videos to watch and people who will help you,” says Chitegha, during a break from her course.
The OLICO Youth Maths project operates from a connected computer room in a community centre on the outskirts of what is one of Johannesburg’s most densely populated urban settlements. The maths initiative started in April 2012 as something of an experiment, as an education layer built onto the Siyakhula Computer School, which teaches computer and internet literacy to Diepsloot residents. For a nominal fee that’s both affordable and enough to create a sustainable small business for a couple of local entrepreneurs, interested people can learn how to use Microsoft Office products like Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Photo: Christine Ngwenya
Photo: Christine Ngwenya says her understanding of maths has improved greatly, thanks to the Khan Maths project at Diepsloot, and that her grades have improved as well.
The computer school is an OLICO Foundation project, a non-profit born out of the belief that by empowering people, poverty can be eradicated. A year ago the foundation kicked off a six-month experiment to see if free online learning solutions could change education outcomes in previously disadvantaged communities.
Forty-eight Grade 8 learners from Diepsloot enrolled in the pioneering maths project and twenty-nine completed the full six-month programme, increasing their averages by 22% when compared with pre-project assessments. Students were given basic internet and computer literacy because many, like Chitegha, had never been on the internet before.
“Basically what we did was to take the Khan Academy Maths curriculum, and then got some teachers from St David’s to contextualise the material as far as possible so that it is locally relevant,” says Andrew Barrett, a serial social entrepreneur with a major in philosophy, who has helped set up more than one successful community teaching initiative.
Barrett was involved with Ikamva Youth, an education and e-literacy endeavour that helps older (Grade 9 to 12) public school learners radically improve their marks so that they might gain access to tertiary education. Currently only some 10% of SA youth gain access higher education, SA Institute of Race Relations figures show. This can, in part, be attributed to the dual, unequal public schooling system that pervades this country. (Read A school journey into Eastern Cape’s darkest heart in Daily Maverick for more insight into
SA’s two disparate public school systems.)
Ikamva is now a well-run, sustainable organisation, which is why Barrett moved on to see what free online tools communities can harness to improve education outcomes. The pilot project with Khan Academy Maths is the first of these ‘experiments’ that will eventually be housed in a separate online learning community project called Olico.
Photo: Andrew Barrett
Photo: Andrew Barrett of OLICO watches children from Diepsloot tackling their maths problems and interacting with Khan Academy courseware online.
As a point of departure, a baseline maths assessment was developed by the St David’s teachers involved in the project. When evaluating learners from Diepsloot it was discovered that they are some 18 to 32% behind their peers at St David’s.
“Many of the children experienced a very pedagogical approach to learning maths, which has meant rote counting and multiplication rather than integrating mental arithmetic,” says Barrett. “This is a major barrier to getting learners to grasp maths concepts,” he adds.
“This isn’t a concern that’s unique to Diepsloot, but is part of a wider problem. When I’m in conversation with schools in townships in Cape Town or Thokoza, it’s the same issue. It is basically a legacy of the Apartheid system and what it did to primary school education,” Barrett explains.
“The problem with many public schools, which tend to be overcrowded, is that teachers must move on with lessons and can’t backtrack for students who can’t keep up or who have learning gaps,” he says. It is early days in the experiment yet, but the Khan Maths project appears to be filling learning gaps for Diepsloot learners with its fun, participative afternoon supplementation.
Something of a global education phenomenon, the Khan Academy is an online, open source teaching system built off a vision to provide anyone, anywhere with a free world-class education. Founded by a former hedge fund analyst called (Sir) Salman Khan, the web learning system that includes over 4,100 teaching videos was borne when Khan was trying to help his cousin with maths.
The MIT and Harvard graduate was tutoring his cousin maths remotely, using Yahoo!’s Doodle notepad for the lessons, but soon relatives heard what was going on and wanted in. “The rest of the family heard there was free tutoring,” Khan tells the Guardian, explaining that soon even more relatives wanted to be included, and the demands on his tutoring time started getting out of hand.
A friend of Khan’s suggested that he start filming the tutorials and placing them on YouTube, which meant they could be accessed anywhere and at any time by his family members, or anyone else that was interested. “I teach the way that I wish I was taught. The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him,” Khan says on the academy’s site.
The YouTube site went live in November 2006, and today has close on a million subscribers, while the most popular videos are on basic addition (1,78 million views); simple equations (1,42 million views); and the beauty of algebra (over 800,000 views). Khan’s 2011 TED talk on using video to reinvent education has some 2,32 million views.
The Khan Academy video catalogue has expanded in recent years and now includes video and courseware on the sciences, including chemistry, physics and biology as well as some videos on finance and history. The approach is to chink learning material into video bits of about 10 minutes which can be viewed online.
What differentiates the approach is the courseware that accompanies the videos. There is a series of exercises the learners do after watching the videos to assess understanding of the concepts taught. Participants input answers to questions, and there’s a back-end interface where teachers or overseers view reports that display how the students are coping.
Barrett shows Daily Maverick the reporting function which has charts to track learner progress, and which enables tutors to quickly realise what concepts or equations or sets of problems maths pupils may be struggling with. This admin-type function is very granular and enables a macro- and micro-type view of progress. In addition to the back-end function, the online programme has hints and tips built in to nudge users along.
The idea is that a Khan Academy could operate anywhere – all that’s needed is a computer and an internet connection. A caring overseer with education experience is a bonus, but not a pre-requisite to progressing through the course.
At the Diepsloot community centre, students from the University of Johannesburg volunteer to assist with the schoolchildren, and are on hand to nudge the children along the Khan Maths course that has been tailored for the SA environment. “What’s remarkable about Khan Maths is that there is very little extrinsic motivation – the motivation is mostly intrinsic, which means that the children here are very self-motivated,” says Barrett.
There is a nominal charge for the tutoring – the cost is R50 per month for the after-school course, but Barrett says this hasn’t proved a barrier to entry. “What’s been important to us is to make this programme both sustainable and affordable, so that it can be replicated across the country,” says Barrett, who adds in this way it creates viable education supplementation, but also creates a computer literacy business for community entrepreneurs.
The programme has piqued the interest of Lynn Bowie, a lecturer at Wits University with interest in primary and secondary level maths. Currently studying for her PhD, Bowie teaches the teachers, and has committed her time to help developing the project. Part of a larger ‘open source community’ of educators, Bowie is helping teachers to create localised worksheets that are linked to the Khan Maths programme.
“What we’re looking at is using the Khan methodology to supplement the local curriculum as a means of developing a pathway for children to more easily close the learning gaps that they might have – gaps that could prove an impediment to their progress,” says Bowie. “Basically we’re looking at the different modules like algebra or arithmetic and then seeing how we can create these pathways so that students aren’t left behind in high schools like the one in Diepsloot,” she says.
For the children at the Diepsloot community centre, the programme has proved a triumph and hopefully could contribute to stimulating greater interest in, and success with that all-important subject, maths.
“My dream is to be a scientist because I am so curious about the world, I want to know everything,” says Christine Ngwenya, who is in Grade 9 and spends her afternoons at the Khan programme at the township’s community centre. “Because I want to be a scientist, maths is very important to me, but in primary school my maths marks were very irregular,” the teen admits.
“I kept dropping and going up in my marks. When I went to high school, my marks weren’t that good at all. I didn’t understand some of the maths that we were being taught, even as the teacher was talking. I heard the teacher but understanding the concepts he was teaching us wasn’t that easy,” the learner tells Daily Maverick, explaining that in class her maths teacher spends a fair amount of time getting learners to participate and try follow the curriculum.
“The teacher tends to draw attention to those who do not want to participate. Even if you want to participate but you don’t have the right answer, the teacher has his hands full trying to get the class to participate,” she says, and then describes her experience at the local Khan Maths classes as “adrenalin-pumping”.
“When I first came here I didn’t know about most of these maths things and concepts. It is great here because if you have a problem there is so much support, so you can ask and people take their time to explain things to you. And then there are the videos that we can watch, so everything gets explained which means I get to understand and the problems I have get sorted out straight away,” Ngwenya says.
“I love science – one day I want to fly in a space rocket so that I can see more than I have ever seen before,” she adds. Ngwenya has a bold dream, but thanks to this supplementary maths programme at the Diepsloot community centre, she has a much better chance of being eligible for tertiary education – and getting close to realising her dream. DM
Written by Mandy De Waal.
Andrew Barrett is convinced that how things are is not how things have to be. He believes that, as South Africans, we have a sad privilege in that it is relatively easy to make a significant difference in the life of someone who needs it. Which is exactly what he is doing.
As co-founder of the OLICO Foundation, which supports community-based organisations and grassroots social enterprises, Barrett works with two self- sustaining computer training centres in Gauteng to deliver low-cost, high-quality computer literacy training to the township communities of Ivory Park and Diepsloot.
The foundation also provides support to IkamvaYouth, — an academic support programme that helps township students to improve their exam results and gain access to tertiary education. The foundation established two IkamvaYouth branches in Gauteng and has played a significant role in IkamvaYouth’s scaling strategy to produce an all-too-rare example of a successful collaboration between two independent non- governmental organisations with common objectives.
Born and bred in Johannesburg, 33-year-old Barrett obtained an MA in philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand and a social entrepreneurship certificate at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He is passionate about creating sustainable solutions that provide high- quality, affordable and accessible education to improve the lives of those who would otherwise remain trapped in the cycle of poverty. He draws strength from like-minded individuals who are similarly invested in making positive contributions and he is always inspired by those who are working hard to improve their circumstances, often against all odds.
It is no wonder then that some of his most gratifying moments include sharing in the joy of a family whose child is the first member to be accepted into university or learning that an ex-student has secured employment or landed a promotion because of new-found skills made affordable and accessible through the foundation’s centres.
He is joined by another Ikamvanite:
Last year, three ikamvanites were featured on the 2011 M&G list: