“Smart Villages” Provide Remote Areas of South Africa with Education and Healthcare

Jones-Glotfelty Shipping Container House, Flagstaff AZA new initiative in South Africa will provide health and education to remote rural areas using “smart villages.” These villages consist of shipping containers and high-tech trucks that have been outfitted with solar power, internet connections and computer terminals. The mobile nature of these facilities allows these much needed services to be transported to poor rural communities in need.

Running on solar power, mobile classrooms provide all students with internet access and their own computer. This gives children both the opportunity to learn how to utilize technology and unprecedented access to educational resources not otherwise available in their isolated communities.

According to Lefa Makgato, a former student at one of the digital villages, “where I come from, it’s a very disadvantaged area, where most of the children are not exposed to such technology. So being exposed to such technology helped me a lot in learning the basics about using a computer, which I did not have. I learned how to send e-mails, draft letters on a computer, and that’s how I actually applied for university. So that’s how it changed our lives and that’s how we benefited.”

Mobile medical centers use the same type of technology to provide patients with basic medical care that is largely lacking in these remote locations.  Often without even the most basic of healthcare facilities, people living in rural communities of South Africa must walk long distances to get to the nearest medical clinic. Now, thanks to these “smart” facilities, many South Africans have gained easy access to dental services, eye-care, malaria testing, and other routine blood-work. These services are provided on-site by registered nurses trained in the use of these facilities and their technology. When necessary, they also have access to consultations with a doctor through video conferencing.

“Most people travel for miles to the clinics or looking for assistance, so basically once you bring a unit like this toward the rural people or the people who are in need, it would be very important to have it close-by” stated Nchaupe Mathosa, a member of an NGO partnering to provide mobile healthcare facilities.

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South African Parents Turn to Private Schools as Public School System Struggles

School is FunWith dismal international education scores and low graduation rates, South Africa’s public school system is in trouble. So to give their children a better hope for the future, South African parents are increasingly turning to private schools– especially ones that can achieve a balance of affordability, innovation, and quality education.

The World Economic Forum recently ranked South Africa’s education system 146th out of 148 countries, and dead last in the world in math and science. Despite the large percentage of the government budget spent on education, standards are low and only 30% of students pass the graduation exam.

Schools like Spark Primary School in Johannesburg provide an alternative to public education. Privately owned, Spark charges a 13,000 rand ($1,300) yearly tuition and already has a waiting list for the upcoming year.

Spark’s model is one of blended learning: a mixture of teacher-led classes and computer-based lessons. Answers must always be given in complete sentences and students constantly rehearse their English vocabulary.

Spark’s popularity reflects a growing trend in South Africa. Private school enrollment has increased dramatically over the past decade, and the country already has an estimated 3,500 private schools.

Schools like Spark have found that their key to success lies in balance. Fees must be low enough for poor parents to afford them, but not too low that the school cannot attract good teachers. Some private schools accept donations or state subsidies to keep tuition down. Some attract poorer students by offering scholarships, and teachers by offering a support system rather than a high salary.

The result is a type of school that is accessible to almost all students, and has the freedom of curriculum to embrace technology and innovation.

Melanie Sharland is the executive head of Vuleka, a chain of private primary and nursery schools in Johannesburg. She says that their model achieves results. Math and reading scores are well above the national average, and thanks to scholarships and donations even economically disadvantaged students like orphans can attend.

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South Africa’s Rural Schools Improve Education Standards with Tablet Use

The future of booksSouth Africa has initiated a pilot program to test the benefits of providing tablets to students in rural areas. Rural area schools do not have the same access to quality education as schools in urban areas. Authorities hope technology will bridge this gap by providing access to new educational materials and resources previously unavailable in these areas.

Through the Information and Communication Technology Initiative for Rural Education Development, the Department of Science and Technology provided tablets and training to  144 teachers at secondary schools in the Eastern Cape district.

“What better way to fight poverty than through education? It is even more impressive that these children are improving in maths and science, subjects that are needed for our economy to grow,” said Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Mike Masutha.

The pilot project demonstrated that tablets as a teaching aid have the potential to increase student enthusiasm and dedication towards education. These improvements showed up in passing rates for senior students which drastically increased in just one year. Prior to the introduction of the pilot program, senior students had a 41% passing rate, then with the introduction of tablets those rates increased to 71%. With dramatic results like these, the South African government wants to extend the tablet program to other rural schools throughout the country.

The tablets given to these students contain lessons on subject like math and science, along with additional tutorials from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. They also allow students to review their  old exams and papers, and to record lessons they attend in school to revisit at a later time.

Student Ayanda Ngxambane explained, “since I was given this tablet my enthusiasm for education has grown…this tablet feels like walking around with the teacher in our pocket, because we can access teaching material anytime. We are sure that with these tablets we will improve our Grade 12 results and pave the way towards a better future.”

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South African Rugby Team Builds School Libraries

Ecological consequencesOn August 22nd Gcobani Higher Primary School in Mdantsane, South Africa will unveil a new library, thanks to a new effort from the South African Rugby Union (SARU). Gcobani School is the second school chosen to benefit from SARU’s new literacy campaign, Boks for Books.

The Boks for Books initiative, referring to the South Africa national rugby team name the Springboks, plans to build 23 libraries across South Africa this term, to correspond with the 23 players on a rugby team. With only eight percent of public schools reported to have functioning libraries, Boks for Books attempts to fill the gap and make books and reading more accessible to students.

Schools will be chosen for the project based on economic and literacy indicators in their surrounding areas, and each school will receive a fully stocked mobile or refurbished library from SARU. In the case of Gcobani School, librarians were also hired and trained to run the new library.

SARU CEO Jurie Roux explained the reason for the new initiative, saying “Our Boks for Books campaign will provide opportunities for children who could not have expected them otherwise, and while we’re not trying to make them into Springboks on the field, we will be hoping that they turn them into champions in the classroom.”

SARU plans to implement the Boks for Books campaign over a multi-year period.

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South Africa to Add African Languages to Curriculum

School children attending parade. South AfricaThe South African government has proposed a policy change to make learning an African language compulsory in schools. The government notes that the move is an effort to promote multilingualism and social cohesion among South Africa’s diverse population.

South Africa has 11 official languages. English is considered the lingua franca of the region and is taught in most schools. Afrikaans (originally spoken by Dutch settlers) is also widely understood. The majority of South Africans speak an indigenous African language at home.

The Education Department stated that, in the past, schools have often “failed to promote the African languages of learners,” essentially forcing students to study English and Afrikaans. The Department noted that this has had “huge implications for… social cohesion and nation-building” and the new policy would be an attempt to correct these problems.

For the first time, the government has classified Afrikaans as an African language, thus making it an option to fulfill the requirement. Other language options will include Xitsonga, Tshivenda, a Sotho language, or any Nguni language.

Some have questioned the decision to include Afrikaans, citing concerns that most students would choose it over other indigenous languages.

Critics of the plan also questioned whether qualified teachers would be available to teach the new languages, and whether another subject could fit into the school day.

The proposed plan is to be implemented in stages, beginning in 2014 with primary school grades and ending with full implementation in all grades by 2025.

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South African Children Celebrate World Play Day

PlaygroundMay 28th, 2013 marked the 14th annual World Play Day, with celebrations in early childhood learning centers around the world. In South Africa, the Cotlands organization hosted festivities for hundreds of children at their locations in five provinces around the country.

Cotlands, one of South Africa’s best-known nonprofit organizations, campaigns for early childhood education. The organization runs community-based early learning groups and toy libraries, and incorporates nutrition and social support into their programs.

The goal of World Play Day, hosted by Cotlands, was to provide learning experiences to children as they play and interact with the world around them. This year’s theme, “Making Sense of Play” included activities to stimulate children’s senses and encourage construction and problem solving.

Only 32% of South African children under five have access to early childhood development programs. Cotlands seeks to expand its programs to reach more children, and educate parents on the importance of early childhood education. The organization currently serves over 8000 children across the country.

World Play Day was first established by the nonprofit group The International Toy Library Association. According to the Association, children have a “right” to play, and play itself is “essential to optimal educational, physical, psychological, social and cultural development.” The ITLA encourages cooperation between early childhood educators and toy library organizations around the world. It also coordinates World Play Day, which was celebrated in schools, parks, and learning centers in Africa, Asia, and North and South America this year.

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South Africa: Talent Report Indicates Future Leadership Issues

South Africa SHL is the world’s leading talent assessor, offering specialised testing which measures talent and its future impact on the nation in question. SHL South Africa has recently published a report which indicates that whilst the country’s talent ratio is currently healthy, serious issues may arise if leaders do not invest enough into education and professional development.

SHL has collected data from every school, small, medium and large enterprises nationwide, concluding that a much greater significance must be placed on cultivating educated officials endowed with the task of running the country.

Commenting on local leadership challenges, SHL South Africa, head of science and research, Kim Dowdeswell says, “Despite having a strong supply of leaders for today, South Africa has future leadership issues.”

As it stands, the quality and quantity of South Africa’s future leaders is now ranked alongside other BRIC countries such as China, Brazil and India, yet is still considered much lower than the global average. According to SHL’s analytics, Hong Kong, Germany and the UK have more effective leaders today than any other country in the study; South Africa ranks 20th while Denmark, Brazil and Norway have the lowest supply.

Looking to the future however, produces contrary results. An analysis of global leadership potential in times to come shows Mexico, Turkey and Egypt as having the greatest source of potential future leaders. In stark contrast, South Africa falls out of the top 25 ranked countries, the UK drops 18 places to fall out of the top 20 and Hong Kong falls from poll position to 20th. Mexico and Brazil jump 19 and 21 places respectively, with Mexico topping the list.

Another revealing statistic produced by SHL highlighted the perpetuation of South African gender injustice and how this will affect the future of the country’s leadership. The latest report has unveiled a gulf between male and female positions of governance, with only 28% of leadership roles held by women and just 8% of businesses led by a female CEO.

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Compulsory Education for South African Inmates


Starting on April 1, it will be mandatory for prison inmates who do not have a qualification equivalent to Grade 9 to complete levels one through four of Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET), a program that aims to improve adult literacy throughout South Africa. The measure will make great strides in enhancing rehabilitation in all South African prisons.

Correctional Services Minister S’bu Ndebele announced the mandate during the grand opening of the Usethubeni Youth School Westville Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal. He said, “We are working towards turning our prisons into learning centres, and we want offenders to read, study and work. We want to impact the hearts, heads and hands of offenders so that, upon their release, they are in possession of at least a certificate in one hand and a skill in the other.”

Ndebele also noted that nine correctional centers had achieved a 79.25% matric pass rate last year, which is greater than the national average of 73.1%.

Correctional Services also plans to integrate this education with vocational training. The sector has 19 textile workshops, ten steel workshops, ten wood workshops, six bakeries, one shoe factory, 21 farms and 94 vegetable gardens at its disposal to provide future opportunities for offenders.

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Papua New Guinea Drops Outcome-Based Curriculum

In response to low academic rates, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government decided to scrap the Outcome-Based Education (OBE) system and return to the more traditional Objective-Based curriculum.

The OBE system is designed to facilitate self-learning approaches. Schools are responsible for setting relevant, criterion-based outcomes, where assessment focuses on individual skills and performance. In the traditional system, learning is based relatively on educational ‘inputs’ (i.e. teaching styles, textbooks, number of hours in school), in which students are ranked in comparison to one another.

110419-N-YM863-036Although OBE sounds more appealing, it appears to be difficult to implement effectively. For instance, Western Australia abandoned their OBE curriculum in 2007 after being criticized for designing ‘vague’ objectives that were too difficult to measure. South Africa similarly dropped its use of the OBE system back in mid-2010.

PNG educational experts believe the real problem arises from a lack of specialized resources, such as teacher-written workbooks and lesson plans that support the use of the OBE curriculum. “A lot of teachers are teaching the curriculum as they would in the old system. We have to provide full in-service kits that can provide cost-effective teacher training or in-service packages for all teachers,” said educator Michael John Uglo.

Some argue that the OBE curriculum has simply taken too long to develop. Unfortunately, the process of switching curriculum strategies now may take another two to three years to complete.

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South Africa’s Youth Falls Behind in Education

School is FunEarly this month, the results of the second annual education assessment were announced in South Africa. The government tested nearly 7 million students from 24,000 schools on basic skills. The results showed that the youth of South Africa are far behind.

The deficiencies were most alarming for ninth graders. The average ninth grader scored a 13 percent in math and a 35 percent in language. For the other grade levels, there was only marginal improvement. The average third grader scored a 41 percent on a math test, a huge jump from last year’s 28 percent average. The average first grader scored a 68 percent in math and a 58 percent in language. Although there have been some improvements on a few tests in different grade levels, these gains are overshadowed by the staggering number of low test scores.

Panyaza Lesufi, the basic education department spokesman, expressed mixed emotions concerning the results. “You find that the numbers are not tallying. Because it’s not only in math, it also includes language, it also includes areas where we believe that learners should be excelling in those particular areas. So we have a combination, or a mixture, emotionally, of good and bad emotions when it comes to the components of the results.”

South Africa spends almost 207 million rand (US $23 billion) in education. This cost was supposed to cover the education of almost 12 million students. The education budget is expected to increase by the next fiscal year to 236 billion brand. However, Lesufi fears this increase might not be enough.

The results caused struggling individuals to come forward and demand equal services to all citizens. “It is disappointing to see a drastic outcome in terms of the grade nine, where only 2 percent of the total people have actually achieved more than 50 percent,” said Tabo Kupa, member of the youth league of the ruling African National Congress. “So for us, it’s a call for the minister and the department to really gear up and ensure that there is an improvement at that level. Because our dream and the fight for economic freedom will not be achieved for as long as we improve those outcomes.”

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