South Africa’s education system is full of challenges. Our complex and tragic political history means that there are still huge inequalities when it comes to access to education. At primary and secondary school level, problems can be as dire as learners in rural or township areas not having a functional school building and or even a teacher present. At a tertiary level, many youngsters see a university education as the gateway to a successful future. But universities are not free, excluding a huge portion of our population on financial grounds. Those who qualify for financial assistance or bursaries often don’t continue beyond their first year as the need to work and support their extended families overrides their desire to continue their education.
So, in the two weeks while we covered the topic of openness and sharing, I wondered how open education could help South Africa overcome some of its education sector challenges. In searching the internet, I came across some interesting and inspiring initiatives.
Here are two:
The Village Scribe Association is a non-government organisation (NGO) that has developed an online learning network called awarenet. awarenet is suitable for schools with no or low quality Internet access.
“awarenet is an eLearning platform and social media tool that offers our learners a personal networking space, tools for blogging, online discussions and project work. They learn how to present themselves online, how to connect and communicate, how to upload pictures, create slide shows and videos… awarenet projects combine online and offline work: Offline activities such as participating in sport events, organising public concerts, social engagements and the writing of newspaper articles are documented in wiki-style including multi-media and are discussed in blogs and forums on the awarenet platform” (www.awarenet.org/awarenet).
The content produced can be re-used by all users. awarenet also provides access to additional content such as Khan Academy videos and South African textbooks. Students have the opportunity to comment on and discuss the content.
“For most of its users, awarenet is the first opportunity to get in contact with the Internet, but awarenet is much more. It is a platform that offers the possibility of true open education” (Wertlen, 2014).
Saide is a non-profit organisation and educational trust that “is committed to the process of transformation of education and training so to increase equitable and meaningful access to knowledge, skills and learning through the adoption of open learning principles, distance education methods and educational technology” (www.saide.org.za/#about).
Saide works with educators, institutions and government to enable open education. Their services include programme and course design (based on key principles of open learning), materials design and development, and open education resources.
One their most uplifting projects, in my opinion, is the Africa Storybook initiative, which addresses one of our greatest challenges in South Africa: literacy. “The aim of the African Storybook (ASb) initiative is to support and promote literacy in the languages of Africa using digital storybooks made available through openly licensed digital storybooks distributed by means of web-based Internet and mobile app services” (www.saide.org.za/#services).
About Us [online].Saide. Available at: https://www.saide.org.za/#about [Accessed 4 April 2019]
Awarenet [online]. Available at http://www.awarenet.org/ [Accessed 4 April 2019]
Our Services [online]. Saide.Available at:https://www.saide.org.za/#services [Accessed 4 April 2019]
Wertlen, A. (2014). Open Education South Africa [online].Open Education Working Group. Available at: http://education.okfn.org/open-education-south-africa/ [Accessed 4 April 2019]