Robust quality education is the foundation for South Africa’s future – it leads to job creation, a stronger economy and a brighter future for our youth – all critical for our country’s successful participation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This was the driving force behind Vodacom unveiling during the course of last year an education ecosystem to support and accelerate government’s Vision 2030 comprehensive approach to education. Through the Vodacom Foundation, Vodacom has long been committed to supporting education and we firmly believe that our technology is a critical enabler in this process.
In partnership with the Department of Basic Education, we pioneered a multi-faceted education ecosystem that looks at the interdependencies and interrelationships of Early Childhood Development (ECD) and schools, and incorporates teacher training, parents and local communities to significantly transform South Africa’s education system. The ecosystem recognises that the success of the education system depends on the seamless interface and implementation of different pillars, underpinned by the partnership of various players.
Little did we know at the time of introducing this new ecosystem just how important technology would prove in supporting education goals and continuity during 2020. The South African public education system has faced the greatest of challenges during this most exceptional year, with millions of school-age students and their teachers deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. The global health crisis has proven the need for programmes to be aligned to ICT and this has allowed the Foundation to realise meaningful transformation.
We have had an opportunity to review the educational ecosystem, which has made significant strides, and we are mindful of the fact that there are many factors that contribute to effective teaching and learning.
We have made significant strides in the six pillars of our multi-faceted education ecosystem
A school of excellence model, which supports 12 schools across the country, was selected from the 3 000 schools that Vodacom has supported with Information Communication Technologies (ICT) since 2008. Each school of excellence is close to an ECD Centre, a Teacher Centre and a Vodacom ICT Youth Academy. Since December 2018, after making a R500-million pledge over the next five years at the Global Citizen festival to support digital literacy and the eradication of pit latrines, the Vodacom Foundation has spent over R33-million on infrastructure development at ECD centres and schools of excellence alone. The pillars below underpin the schools of excellence model:
Pillar 1 – Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres: Vodacom Foundation committed to upgrading and renovating 15 ECD centres with the objective of engaging with the education sector in the early stages of children’s lives. To date, 11 ECD centres have been upgraded and renovated by decommissioning pit latrines and replacing them with decent sanitation. Vodacom Foundation has provided an ICT trolley solution and a mobile library to the centres, and Vodacom staff volunteers provided basic ICT computer skills to two of the ECDs as part of their volunteer work.
Pillar 2 – Infrastructure: The 12 schools of excellence — schools promoting and supporting academic excellence — have been provided with a fully equipped, connected computer centre, and received upgrades to their infrastructure; broken windows and doors were replaced and collapsing ceilings were fixed. The pit latrines have been eradicated and replaced with better sanitation, and security systems have been upgraded or installed. Vodacom Foundation has provided ICT support and will offer ICT training and change management. A Virtual Volunteering programme was initiated by the Vodacom staff to offer online tutoring to learners from the schools of excellence.
Pillar 3 – Teachers: The third pillar focuses on the critical training of teachers in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education (DBE). To date, 92 Teacher Centres have been provided with furniture, maintenance and support, as well as unlimited connectivity. These centres have enabled over 300 000 teachers to be trained in various ICT programmes. Vodacom has rolled out video conferencing solutions to all Vodacom-supported teacher centres to enable virtual learning and has deployed ICT volunteers to certain teacher centres and schools of excellence to offer ICT support and training.
Pillar 4 – Communities: This pillar focuses on ensuring that communities also benefit from the ecosystem. The teacher centres are also used as technology hubs, providing internet access for communities. In South Africa, more than 1 340 female farmers were trained in ICT at the teacher centres and 1 333 Youth Academy graduates were produced. The centres are introducing a work skills programme, which will focus on re-training unemployed Your Academy alumni, and 63 young people from the Youth Academy have been deployed to schools of excellence, NPOs and teacher centres. Some of the Women in Farming beneficiaries are parents to learners from the Schools of Excellence.
Pillar 5 – Partnerships: Vodacom Foundation has continuously funded 13 Not for Profit organisations (NPOs) for many years. The partnership between UN Women, SAWIF (South African Women in Farming) and Vodacom has seen over 1 340 female farmers being trained. The Foundation has received great support internally, and internal business units have been instrumental in the Foundation forming strategic partners with external organisations such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.
Pillar 6 – Learning Materials: Technology alone will not improve the quality of education: learning materials play a key role in providing continuous support to teachers and learners. In partnership with the DBE, Vodacom e-School has given access to quality digital CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements) aligned content to over 1.2 million learners across South Africa.
We believe strongly in the power of partnerships and collaboration to help address problems and challenges as effectively as possible. In fact, School Governing Bodies, principals and parents have acknowledged that ever since the roll-out of the eco-system that they have noticed positive improvements in critical areas of the education system. Although these positive reviews are a cause of celebration, a lot of work lies ahead. We are confident that with support from our partners, we will accelerate the impact of this programme and thus help to transform the country’s education system.
— Takalani Netshitenzhe is External Affairs Director for Vodacom South Africa