Impact SA

Transforming South Africa’s education system for a better future for all


Ensuring access to quality education is critical if we are to build an inclusive sustainable future for South Africa. Education can increase employment opportunities, eliminate poverty, contribute to national socio-economic development and reduce existing inequalities.

By Takalani Netshitenzhe, Vodacom South Africa External Affairs Director

Education supports innovation to address present-day challenges while preparing the next generation for reaching their potential in the digital age.

Although significant progress has been made since 1994 in accelerating access to quality education, there are still obstacles preventing an enriching school experience for learners in this country. Many schools in underserved areas cannot provide basic infrastructure, such as sanitation and electricity, let alone educational resources. Keeping children in the school system to complete their education continues to be a pressing concern, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Income Dynamic Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) revealed that the school dropout rate tripled from 230 000 to 750 000 in May 2021.

Our youth are also experiencing a crisis in the labour market, with South Africa’s unemployment rate at 63.9% for those aged 15-24, according to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey. This figure is set to only increase if we don’t equip learners with relevant skills and knowledge needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow as adoption of technology gathers pace.

By Takalani Netshitenzhe, Vodacom South Africa External Affairs Director

Developing an education ecosystem for 21st century South Africa

In recognising that there is an urgent need to overcome the barriers to quality education in South Africa, Vodacom has developed a multi-faceted education ecosystem. Working in partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE), and other non-governmental and private sector organisations, the model supports the Government’s 2030 Vision for a strengthened education system, incorporating early childhood development (ECD), secondary schools, teacher training and local communities.

In addition to upgrading education facilities into safe, sustainable spaces for learning, Vodacom’s education ecosystem is focused on using our expertise in ICTs to unlock the transformative power of technology. Connectivity and digital tools and platforms open up life-changing possibilities for educators, learners, parents and communities, enhancing access to quality education while developing digital literacy and skills for socio-economic upliftment now and into the future.

Supporting schools with the right tools

As part of the education ecosystem, 13 Schools of Excellence have been established across South Africa, to offer quality education through the use of technology and expose learners to the skills in demand in the digital era. Vodacom has invested more than R25-million in upgrading infrastructure, eradicating pit latrines and improving sanitation, increasing security, installing a fully equipped ICT lab and training educators at these schools. It is important that we are supporting a safe, inclusive environment conducive to promoting lifelong learning, which is why 20 skilled psycho-social support professionals have been placed throughout these schools to offer psycho-social interventions that include prevention of gender-based violence and bullying.

“It is important that we are supporting a safe, inclusive environment conducive to promoting lifelong learning.”

Since the inception of these Schools of Excellence in 2019, thousands of learners every year from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to quality education to improve their learning outcomes and future employment opportunities. For example, one of the schools, Strydenburg Secondary School was rated the most improved school in the Northern Cape, increasing its pass rate from 61% to 90% in 2021.

Laying a solid learning foundation Strong evidence links inclusive ECD care and education with well-being and learning success throughout life. To this end, Vodacom has committed to upgrading 15 ECD centres located near the Schools of Excellence across the country. Improvements include painting, fixing ablution facilities and increasing security. Each centre has an ICT trolley solution, providing access to tablets loaded with numeracy and literacy software and Vodacom’s zero-rated e-school platform, as well as other technical equipment and connectivity. Since adopting ECDs into the ecosystem four years ago, 1 200 educators and young learners have been able to benefit from an enabling environment for quality early education.

“Strong evidence links inclusive ECD care and education with well-being and learning success throughout life.”

In 2021, eight of these ECD centres took the first steps on a sustainability journey with Vodacom’s ECD Green Programme. Viable food gardens are being planted at each centre to supplement local feeding schemes while promoting sustainable practices, including educational workshops and sustainable farming training for educators and parents. The centres have also been fitted with clean solar energy and a rainwater supply. The programme is ensuring that children are given the best start in life while supporting education and preserving our planet for the future.

Empowering teachers with digital abilities

Core to this pioneering education ecosystem is empowering educators with the right skills to drive learning progress and instil confidence and talent in technology. Vodacom has collaborated with the DBE, Microsoft and other organisations in training teachers to integrate ICT in classrooms, with 92 teacher centres having been refurbished and maintained with unlimited connectivity. These teacher training centres have the dual purpose as technology hubs for communities to access the internet, contributing to ICT transformation and online learning, and as a result, opportunities for economic growth and social wellbeing.

Early this month, the Vodacom Foundation, in partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE), launched the Virtual Classroom solution with a robotic and coding component at Dr WF Nkomo Secondary School in Atteridgeville, Pretoria. This virtual classroom, complimented by a robotics and coding component, takes the Foundation’s education ecosystem to another level of the comprehensive approach to education which prepares learners to deal with societal ills through psychosocial support and to embrace the fourth industrial revolution. When the entire project is complete across the thirteen schools, about 14 000 learners will benefit from this virtual classroom initiative in partnership with the Vodacom Foundation.

The education ecosystem’s impact on young learners and their communities in just a few years since its launch serves as an applicable model of what schools in this country can achieve if we are to prevent inequalities from widening and ensure no one is left behind in the digital economy. To drive and sustain this success, we need to continue drawing on the strength of public and private partnerships in developing solutions to some of the socio-economic problems plaguing our society today and building a brighter future for all in South Africa.

This article first appeared in CSI – Human Face of Business


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