Cape Town - Vodacom on Tuesday launched an online education portal as a way of providing educational content matched to the South African school curriculum.
The portal, dubbed Vodacom e-school was launched at the Cosat (Centre for Science and Technology) in Khayelitsha and is, in part, a response to a request from school children for free educational content.
"Vodacom and all the network operators received a very passionate plea from a school in Khayelitsha saying: 'Network operators, we'd really love to get access to Wikipedia after hours, can you please zero rate it?'" Suraya Hamdulay, Vodacom executive head for corporate citizenship, told Fin24.
That request was made by learners at Sinenjongo High School in Joe Slovo Park as far back as 2012 and First National Bank and Google responded saying that the companies offered free access to the online encyclopaedia.
In 2014, MTN announced a programme offering free access to Wikipedia as well as Facebook and Twitter on condition that data was limited to 25MB and subscribers used compression browser, Opera Mini.
But Wikipedia is not perfectly aligned with the South African school curriculum.
After discussions with the department of basic education, Vodacom developed its platform by sourcing content that meets with the curriculum from Mindset Learn.
At the launch event, selected academic achievers were presented with Vodacom Smart Kicka smartphones in order to create brand ambassadors for the portal.
Cosat learners hear how the Vodacom e-school platform could help them. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
The e-learning portal is an attempt to drive increased achievement in education through modern internet tools and a large facet of the programme is teacher training.
"We help train teachers on the integration of ICT in the classroom. We’re moving away from having a blackboard in the classroom and the teacher just standing and instructing," Hamdulay said.
Vodacom has a number of teacher training facilities around SA that operate in conjunction with the department of basic education and the operator has trained 1 000 teachers in the use of ICT at these nodes.
Content is being expanded and there is an effort to build rich media content to make the education attractive to children.
While there will be no cost to access the portal for a Vodacom subscriber, those on rival networks will also have access for free, but will incur data charges, Vodacom said.
Vodacom said that even as the project scales, the data load from learners using the portal should not negatively impact on the network.
"That is not a big concern for us because we believe that if you look at the spread of the kids, it [the network] should be able to cope with the load, despite the fact that it will be free," Western Cape Vodacom managing executive, Alberts Breed told Fin24.
So far the development of the e-school portal has cost around R5m and Vodacom has committed to investing more money to grow its footprint.
"The R5m is for the establishment of the portal and as we go into the next financial year, we will be investing more into the portal," said Hamdulay.
Watch as Suraya Hamdulay explains the challenge of teacher training in terms of digital education:
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