MTN SA Foundation’s flagship project within the e-Learning offering has been the provisioning of multimedia centres in schools, institutions of higher learning and communities across the country. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

KUSILE MTUNZI-HAIRWADZI

THE impact of rampant vandalism, theft and break-ins at schools is influencing the hopes and dreams of children across the country. 

Thousands of Computer Application Technology (CAT) pupils will not be able to access the digital tools they need to succeed, unless urgent support and greater access to technology is provided on a large scale.   

Last year, in an address by Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, it was reported that 1 577 schools suffered vandalism and theft during the country’s national lockdown, with computer laboratories the hardest hit.

The situation has not improved and early this year more than 42 computers stolen at just one school in the south of Johannesburg. 

Through the MTN Foundation, we see first-hand the ripple effects this criminal activity is having on our future generations.

It is devastating to see the impact on learners.

These children had just been given access to computers for the first time in their lives, and to have them taken away is heart-breaking. and immediately stifles their learning potential. 

To date, MTN SA Foundation’s flagship project within the e-Learning offering has been the provisioning of multimedia centres in schools, institutions of higher learning and communities across the country.

However, as many as 34 of the schools which were connected between 2014 and 2017 have, sadly, reported burglary, theft, or some form of vandalism during the past three years.  

The 34 schools represent over 26% of the total schools connected over the past three years, being impacted.  

Visiting the schools targeted truly lays bare the broad impact these crimes are having.

Grade 12 learners, for instance, were using the multimedia centres to apply to universities and for bursaries, while free access to data and computers was opening the door to a myriad of opportunities for learners and teachers.

Hundreds of Grade 10 learners had also just started their studies in Computer Applied Technology (CAT), and there is a risk many schools and their learners may not be able to do the practical work needed to pass their exams, or may not be able to continue with their subject at all.

This will leave these learners to enter the job market unprepared for the digital world, which will only widen the digital divide and take away future opportunities from these young adults 

Teachers, along with their ability to keep up with curriculums, will also be hindered as they use the labs to research and formulate lesson plans.

Not only that, but entire communities also lose out, as the multimedia centres established at many schools were being utilised by all members of the community, giving them access to the benefits of the digital economy and connected world. 

There is no doubt the futures and dreams of these children are being placed in jeopardy by these unacceptable actions.

The torching of schools has, of course, further hampered progress as repairs to vandalised school buildings often take a long time with limited budgets available.  

With the education system as fragile as it is at the moment, working to weather the COVID-19 storm, digital solutions for children in remote or disadvantaged areas who may not be able to access physical classrooms, teachers, textbooks or computers, is more critical than ever.  

While MTN is saddened by the devastation wrought at many of these centres and schools, we stand steadfast in our commitment to support vulnerable children and schools. 

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) ushers in exciting opportunities, it is important that barriers for learners are removed.

Learners simply cannot be exposed to computers for the first time when they enter university gates, in doing so, these students are immediately at a significant disadvantaged to their tech savvy peers, once again stacking the odds against those with less financial stability.

It is imperative that the class of 2021 receives support to close the gaps in accessing online tools and learning.  

This year again, together with key partners, MTN SA Foundation will work to help children, along with teachers and educational institutions, overcome the hurdles that have been placed in their path and continue to drive greater access to education across South Africa as children head back to classrooms. 

The 2021 MTN SA Back-to-School programme is focused on increasing learner’s school performance and access to e-learning, building on the Foundation’s pivotal work during the COVID-19 school lockdowns.

The programme will take aim at assisting those in need, and especially children who may not enjoy the benefits of textbooks, teachers, or even properly functioning schools. 

Several interventions and offerings of e-education and virtual schools will leverage the existing MTN technology solutions.

This is critical as the pandemic has shown how crucial it is to drive seamless connectivity and support to help improve learning outcomes, no matter how challenging the situation may seem.

For instance, during the ongoing COVID-19 storm, MTN’s 96% LTE connectivity is enabling e-learning and virtual classes in previously unreachable areas.  

In the Eastern Cape Province alone, 72 000 SIM cards were pre-loaded with mobile data and provided to the Eastern Cape learners, in addition to the zero-rating of educational websites, and provision of equipment for modern multimedia centres, across the country.

However, we must remain aware that 51% of the country still makes use of “feature phones” which do not allow for online learning.

The cost of bringing features phones and tablets to market is a significant hindrance to accessing the internet.

To solve this problem, we will need a concerted and collaborative effort between business, NGOs and the private sector. 

Working with the Siyavula Foundation, the MTN SA Foundation has invested into the Siyavula e-learning platform that offers textbooks, practice software and exam preparation content.

This investment is ensuring that SA’s Grade 10 to 12 learners across South Africa have access to world-class Mathematics software and online textbooks for CAT and IT. 

Education is a right, and a crucial opportunity to grow and develop our future leaders.

It holds the key to a better life for all children and adolescents worldwide, a life with less poverty, better health and an increased ability to take their future into their own hands and become active participants in the economy. 

MTN’s primary focus on education seeks to drive access to information using technology as an enabler.

Therefore, we are placing a heavy focus on creating an MTN e-school that will use virtual platforms to provide access to curriculum aligned information to the target audiences.

Teachers will never be replaced.

We need to personal interactions, the sensitivity that comes with know your learner’s strengths and weaknesses and the power of experience when try to help a learner through a tricky piece of work.

But we can all do more to better use the resources we have at our disposal.  

Through ongoing collaboration and support with likeminded partners in the public sector, aligning to the strategic intent of the National Department of Education, Department of Social Development (DSD) and Department of Basic Education (DBE), in 2021 and beyond, we will continue to assist with brightening the futures of children and communities, despite the obstacles in their way.  

This work will be ramped up even further this year as we continue to bring the benefits of the modern, connected life to more people. 

Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi is General Manager at the MTN SA Foundation. 

(SOURCE: INSIDE POLITICS)

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