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Virtual school apps show results

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The Ukufunda Virtual School application has shown positive growth since its official launch in September 2014. The application was developed in partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE), the Reach Trust and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and is modelled on schools as centres of academic excellence.

The technology was created by youth who hail from rural KwaZulu-Natal who work for the Reach Trust, thereby also tapping into the talent and potential of our young people.

Through Ukufunda, learners, educators and parents have access to learning resources and content, counselling and safety services, a central communication and notification hub and many other value-added services and programmes.

The application recently won the Innovation Product Category at the Africa Eduweek Award, a testament to its success.

“The platform is accessible on more than 8000 devices, including low-end feature phones and smart phones, making it very accessible to learners across South Africa,” explains Shafika Isaacs who has been working with the Reach Trust on behalf of the DBE and UNICEF.

“It means we can reach a vast majority of learners, including those in remote rural areas where they may not have Internet access to access digital education resources via Ukufunda on their mobile phones. The application also provides information and resources that support and promote quality of life and well-being. I also think that it makes the case for a bring-your-own-device approach to accessing educational resources and capitalises on the fact that South Africa is privileged with a 140% mobile subscription penetration.”

The response to the application has been overwhelming, with a total of 147 161 users signed up by the end of June 2015. The majority of users are Grade 12 learners, but parents and teachers are making use of the platform as well.

The application’s success has led to the development of the Ukufunda Communicator, which will be made available through the Ukufunda Virtual School, along with a host of other educational apps.

The Communicator App, which was unveiled at the recent Information and communications technology (ICT) in Schools Conference held in Durban from 1 to 3 July 2015, is essentially an instant messaging application for education, which offers a lot more functions for communication and information sharing.

The main purpose of the Communicator App is to promote effective and efficient information and knowledge sharing and communication. This kind of facility is not yet available in the education space anywhere in the world, let alone South Africa.

Isaacs says that, through the app, professional learning communities can be formed around specific subject areas or groups of officials to service a wide range of the DBE and provincial education departments’ communication needs.

The Communicator App is currently available on the IOS and Android mobile platforms and will soon be available on Mxit and a range of other smart phone platforms as well.