Apex High School, a no-fee, dual-medium school in Eerste River, Cape Town, that partnered with Acorn Education, a non-profit organisation, proactively tackled concerns around ways to keep their pupils connected and motivated to learn from home.
When the extended school closures were announced, the school initially determined that Facebook would work best to continue teaching as it required the lowest data usage and was already the most used platform in their community.
On 31 March, Apex Virtual High School launched via Facebook groups. The school operated on an eight hours a day, four day week learning schedule and used the same format as in-person lessons. To keep pupils engaged in this new virtual classroom, the lessons integrated Facebook features like polls, short videos and photos.
The decision to teach online showed positive results with 100% teacher participation and more than 80% pupil attendance.
To solve the challenge of devices, Apex conducted a survey to determine what devices pupils had available at home. The survey showed that 90% of households had a device that a pupil could use. For those families that did not have access to a device, the team identified suitable low-cost smartphones at a cost of R290 and provided them on loan. The school found a way to push data to each pupil every morning and to dramatically reduce data usage to just three megabytes per lesson, educating pupils for a week with the same amount of data that would typically be used for a one-hour Zoom meeting.
The team had now moved daily lessons from Facebook to an online learning platform to substantially reduce their remaining data cost by taking advantage of the zero-rating of education websites, and ultimately reduce their data cost to zero if all telecommunication companies came on board. Their efforts meant very few learning hours were lost and that their pupils were still on track with the year's curriculum.
In living out their motto to do "whatever it takes", Apex High had shown what one committed team can do to support pupils in the country when a positive mindset, persistence, and willingness to work together were involved.
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