On HTXT.co.za, two of our clients, Via Afrika and The Training Room Online were featured in the run down of companies changing South African school.
Via Afrika’s heritage in creating South African textbooks really does make everyone else look like a Johnny-come-lately chancer. The firm has been making the equivalent of CAPS-aligned materials for learners here for the best part of 70 years.
Over recent years, it’s been producing digital versions of its textbooks in order to supply schools that have already adopted tablets but group content manager Michael Goodman says that isn’t enough.
“It’s important that the notion of ‘a textbook behind glass’ is moved away,” Goodman says, adding that the company has been driven by tablet adoption to “reconceptualise” what its place in learning is. The biggest challenge the company faces, he says, is connectivity.
“There needs to be some integration of multimedia into textbooks,” he says, “But then the question becomes one of connectivity.”
Goodman is very upbeat about the potential of digital tools to change education in South Africa, but as might be expected from a firm with long experience in the field he cautions about changing things too rapidly. And not without good reason.
“The government has good policies in place, but people seem to be leapfrogging about too much,” Goodman says,”We need to make sure there is infrastructure available, training is available and there is ongoing support [for tablets]. We’re very aware of what happened to e white boards – they’re standing unused in classrooms.”
It’s too early to say whether or not tablets and laptops and digital textbooks are making schools better, Goodman says, but he is hopeful. What South Africa needs is a level of standardisation in teaching practices and policy in order to avoid the “spray and pray” approach to computers and tablets in which technology is simply being dumped on schools without proper thought. Teachers need to be able to move schools without having to learn an entirely new system or toolset.
At the same time, he says, there needs to be competition in the market for providing books and services once the infrastructure is in place.
“We’re generally very worried in South Africa about a single source for provision for anything,” he laughs.
The Training Room Online
Based on that experience, The Training Room is about to launch a web platform/app specifically for SA schools called Wozzl.com. The firm is well-connected with publishers, both CAPS-aligned local ones and internationals like Pearson, Oxford and MacMillan.
The Training Room’s Kirsty Chadwick says that once complete, Wozzl.com will be both a curated collection of resources and a learning platform which can be used to organise lessons and set assessments. Right now, she’s looking at incorporating one of Moodle, edX or Clevva for the classroom functions – and again Clevva was not developed with schools in mind but comes from the corporate training space with which she’s familiar.
The really interesting part of Wozzl.com, however, is that The Training Room is looking to reduce the cost of textbooks for children and their families by even more than they can already achieve simply by switching to digital. Wozzl.com will be free to use and available offline, and at the moment the plan is to create a ‘pay for what you use’ model where students will be able to download single chapters rather than whole textbooks as required.