Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Durable, rural #mLearning with the Cofimvaba project

Rural learners, Indigenous people, refugees, nomadic travelers, ... all vulnerable learner groups in general still face a lot of challenges and one of these challenges always comes down to education. Education for all still has a long road to travel, but some of us keep on paving the roads to get everyone on board no matter what the challenges. One of my close friends, Adele Botha, has been engaging in a successful mLearning project that is the starting point for a nationwide roll out of mLearning to reach all rural schools in South Africa, the so called Cofimvaba project. She is part of a wonderful CSIR team that is determined to roll out an optimized, strong education for the whole of South Africa and ... they will do it! The first phase has been successful and has provided 26 schools (3000 tablets) with new educational opportunities, but ... it is the complete approach that really blew my mind.

One of the key elements in this project was a clear aim for sustainability and participation. Getting both the rural teachers as well as the learners on board. But also tackling what the team calls 'basic enablers', a set of necessary preconditions for learning. These enablers included adequate infrastructure (buildings, sanitation, electricity, water and access to information and communication). These basic enablers are not just put there, but they are embedded in a human awareness program, providing learner support through health, nutrition ( including agricultural know-how), transportation and social activities. This means making all the stakeholders aware, ensuring a strong, competent leadership at the center of the community based on the teachers, educators and informed parents. This combination lifts the project to a higher level, education is no longer a stand alone action, it is at the centre, and it embraces and lifts up the whole community.

This holistic approach does come at a serious investment cost as tablets are used throughout and infrastructure is set up, but instilling the idea of progress and opportunities into the heart of communities will give an undeniable return when today's young learners realize what they can do and transform their nation based upon stronger education and community capacity.

The picture shows the first teacher graduates, having gone through a whole set of courses getting them on to speed with the tablets, the installed eBooks, the wifi's, the installed applications ... and all the opportunities offered by the new, connected technology that is part of a complete community approach.

The testing ground of the project was based in Cofimvaba, Eastern Cape in South Africa and below you can see a short video of the project.