By Micheal Goodman, Group Publishing Manager of Via Afrika Publishers

Most South African learners in rural and township areas do not have access to the Internet.

Yet the reality is that when these learners leave school, they will be entering a world where proficiency with digital technology is a fundamental necessity.

But because of the myriad obstacles to widespread digital access in South Africa, some educators and experts in the technological field argue that e-learning is not viable for us. They believe that bridging the digital divide is too big a challenge.

However, in developed countries learners have been using e-learning technology for some time now. This technology allows them to engage more deeply with the subject matter, while – crucially, in today’s technology driven world – also allowing them to become comfortable with using digital technology.

The naysayers on e-learning in South Africa, in a sense, are right: Implementing e-learning programmes in South Africa is difficult. However, at Via Afrika, we don’t believe that this means we must just give up on e-learning.

The stakes are far too high for that. We believe that implemented properly, e-learning can assist in both equipping learners to enter a digital world, and alleviating what many see as a crisis in our education system. And “proper implementation” lies in using educational technologies that span the online and offline worlds.

Companies like Via Afrika are developing creative solutions to meet these challenges – solutions that lie in using educational technologies that span the online and offline worlds. Over the past couple of years, we have been developing digital learning tools that require only limited Internet connectivity to work, and can be used both online and offline.

One example is the LivingPages app for Grade 10, 11 and 12 textbooks which enables learners to interact with their textbooks using a smartphone or tablet. The core offering of the LivingPages app is that it enhances the printed page with extra digital content (such as video, graphics and audio recordings) that can be streamed directly through the smartphone.

With its interactive, augmented reality technology, this app creates an engaging experience for learners in a digital language, which for them is a primary tool to interact with the world.

Another example of creative solutions to bridge the digital divide is the Via Afrika eBook series for Grades 4–12. Once downloaded, these e-textbooks can be read in the MobiReader app which allows for learners to engage with digital enhancements such as videos, slide shows and audio offline.

Government is also making inroads into overcoming barriers to e-learning. The Gauteng Department of Education, for example, recently announced its intention to introduce e-learning to the province’s schools, and distribute 88 000 tablets to schools that need them. And let’s not forget that broadband technology is also becoming increasingly accessible, with data prices falling steadily.

We cannot afford to be defeatist when it comes to equipping our young people to face an ever more digital-first world.

Too often underprivileged learners who gain entry into tertiary institutions find themselves poorly equipped to work with the technology needed to succeed in these institutions. This, of course, has a direct knock-on effect on their future successes in life. If given the opportunity to engage with digital technologies from a young age, learners won’t have to face such challenges later on.

The creative educational solutions from companies like Via Afrika are part of a tide of innovative solutions to issues facing countries like ours; a tide of progress that will only increase as cheaper smartphones and internet access become available.

This article was first published on TimesLIVE.co.za