Kathy Gibson is at the E-Learning Summit in East London – South Africa is still lagging behind as far as connectivity is concerned – but the challenges can be viewed as an opportunity.

This is the word from Tebogo Leshope, chief operations officer at Sentech, who says government and private sector need to partner to solve the problem.

“We have to invest in digital skilling. If we skill properly we can realise our e-learning goals.”

Leshope points out that the organisation focuses on providing broadband for education, health and municipal services, including the Internet of Things (IoT).

“South African has an interesting topography so we need to be technology agnostic,” he says. “We need to look at solutions that include fixed fibre, fixed wireless and satellite, leverage all technologies equally. We cannot focus on any one of them exclusively.”

Future content and e-learning will be bandwidth hungry, Leshope adds, so we must identify technologies that will make this more efficient.

5G is one of these, and is going to be critical in the realisation of concepts like smart cities, smart buildings and e-learning.

“Building the technologies on narrow band will defeat the purpose.”

Sentech has started 5G trials. “We believe strong that connectivity is a critical backbone for e-learning.”

Overall, connectivity is the cornerstone of e-learning, Leshope says. “You can feel a bit useless if your devices are not connected. All devices come Internet-ready. To maximise its use, connectivity become is very critical.

“We believe that with the maturity of connectivity, we will leverage e-learning.”

If we are to realise the profound effect that technology can have on education, it is vital that government partners with the private sector to make it a reality.

“Do we want incremental improvements in education, or do want a radial uplift?” asks Mpumelelo Khumalo, EC managing executive at Vodacom.

“As an industry we are all talking about the same thing: an improvement in education.”

Through platforms such as e-School and m-Education, Vodacom aims to maximise children’s potential through a range of educational solutions.

Part of Vodacom’s efforts to address the issue of education in South Africa is driven by the network’s Foundation division, which has donated over R1,2-billion to various education and gender-empowerment programmes through corporate partnerships.

With the Department of Basic Education (DBE), Vodacom has connected 3 100 schools to the internet and established 12 schools of excellence, with fully fitted computer centres and upgraded infrastructure.

In addition, Vodacom’s m-Education solution has enabled educators improve the classroom experience for their students, using rich digitised media content. The platform enables learners to access the same curriculum content and learning materials that the educator uses in the class, by delivering the content via the learners’ smartphones, tablets, digital boards or PC browser.

Importantly, connection to the e-school portal that Vodacom hosts for the Department of Basic Education is free.

Students and teachers can register for the e-school portal for access to a full range of education resources.

But you cannot separate e-learning from connectivity, Khumalo says.

There is a massive challenge in reaching all the schools in South Africa, particularly where there is no electricity. Vodacom is solving the problem with solar-powered base stations, particularly in rural areas and for the use of schools.

MTN’s Sipho Mchebe says the company has been working with education departments countrywide and in the province.

On 20 June, MTN will announce a programme to digitise the Computer Applied Technology (CAT) and IT textbooks, making them available of the DBE’s e-learning portal.