“The key to Via Afrika’s content development is that material – be it print or digital – must meet the needs of users while changing the way they learn. Our eLearning material aims at moving beyond only augmenting what happens in the classroom, to transforming the way education is practised,” says Christina Watson, CEO of Via Afrika, leading South African publisher and silver sponsor at the upcoming SABC Education African Eduweek at the Gallagher Convention Centre next week.
She adds: “With over 65 years of experience in South Africa and other Southern African countries, our products meet the needs of learners from early childhood development to Grade 12, TVET (vocational) Levels 2 to 4, as well as for Adult Education and Training. Our educational materials are used by thousands of learners and teachers countrywide. We are a truly South African company with a level 2 B-BBEE status and pride ourselves on the fact that we do all our production and printing locally.”
Via Afrika Digital Education Centres
In 2014, the company embarked on the Via Afrika Digital Education Centres (VADEC) initiative. Watson explains: “We refurbished shipping containers and equipped them as digital education centres, supplying each with 15 first-tier Android tablet devices. These tablets are packed with the latest educational apps and electronic textbooks developed by Via Afrika. The pilot project has seen delivery of VADECs to a school in the Free State, one in Limpopo, and one in Mpumalanga.”
Instead of merely handing over the technology, Via Afrika entered into long-term agreements with the schools to ensure that educators receive on-going training in order to maximize the educational returns of these tablets for learners.
Corporate opportunity to contribute
Following the success of the VADEC programme, the company decided to widen its reach.
“Many corporates are eager to put their CSI spend into assisting education, but a lack of reporting and accountability make it difficult to be sure that their investments are doing any good. Via Afrika is stepping into this gap to launch a venture that replicates the Via Afrika Digital Centres initiative through corporate sponsorship.”
She adds: “Our Digital Education Centres programme, which we do in partnership with the Department of Basic Education, offers a direct and clear system of monitoring in a way that very few other CSI initiatives can, because it is integrated with the school’s curriculum and assessment. We provide quarterly progress reports when terms’ results are made available. In addition, the Annual National Assessment (ANA) tests will provide independent assessment of the progress learners make after a Digital Education Centre is established at the school.”
Teachers are my ‘energy drink’
The Via Afrika CEO, who was last year named among Foreign Policy Magazine’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2014, says being involved in the education sector is a constant source of inspiration: “there are many things that people can complain about in education. But I find working on the ground with teachers and learners is an energy drink. The will to improve, to grow and to embrace change is very strong out there. I want everyone in South Africa, not just those in the education sector, to see that they have an integral role to play in the process of building a better future for all”.
She says they see the upcoming SABC Education African EduWeek as “an ideal opportunity to share our developments in eLearning, and to learn about how education and technology can come together successfully to transform education”.
“The broad range of visitors and exhibitors will provide a wealth of interaction possibilities that will lead to positive growth in education in Africa.”