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South Africa’s elearning startup space is growing bigger (and brighter) by the day. Recently launched online tutoring service Brighter Futures joins the race to quell the country’s ever pressing education issues.
In 2013, the Department of Basic Education reported that only 26.1% of candidates who sat for the mathematics matric result achieved a pass mark of 50% and above. This fueled a chant that all South Africans have come to know too well. The education system is in crisis, it goes, and then further, we demand government to do something about it. And that is the end of it. Very few people bother to do anything about it. Given that the recent World Economic Forum report places South Africa’s mathematic quality last our of 148 countries.
The problem with dealing with the education crisis is not simply providing enough text books for learners — that is half the battle. The real battle is how do the learners access the books and whether or not they can afford them. Extra classes are at a cost and not many learners can afford them.
This is why virtual classroom platforms like UkuFunda play a crucial role but it cannot swim against the tide unassisted. And it is does not have to.
Brighter Futures offers lessons from R50, which is affordable for parents looking for extra classes or private tutoring. The platform is focused on providing extra mathematics support for Grade 8 to 12 learners. The learning is in a smaller group setup and to avoid the teaching getting lost amidst a crowd of learners, the tutors use curriculum orientated technology so that each learner has an individual learning experience. Expert teachers develop all the learning materials which are in line with the South African curriculum.
Bright Futures currently has centres in Kempton Park, Brakpan, Thokoza, Braamfontein, Germiston and Orlando. Plans to expand throughout the entire country in 2015 are afoot. The expansion is good news, even necessary, because schools suffer the most when it comes to lack of resources and tutors are the ones in far flung rural villages, schools sitting atop mountain and hanging on the edges of valleys.
Joanne Brink, CEO of Brighter Futures Tuition, says, “Our technology makes the practicing fun, so learners don’t feel like they’re doing hard work. This makes the tutor’s job easier. The value of a qualified support cannot be discounted as technology can never replace human interaction and encouragement. We are currently recruiting retiring and retired high school teachers as well as those with university level maths skills to help us roll out the programme further.”
Already the startup lays a claim on success. It says that it has had an improvement of up to 14% in maths performance of learners participating in the programme since May 2014.
The other challenge with a startup that seeks to fill a gap that traditional methods are not filling is how it goes about it — not only in its plan but its implementation and ultimately its reach. With Bright Futures, there are two issues to consider, one of which is expensive mobile data, and the other, telecom exclusivity.
Currently Vodacom subscribers have free access to the mobile technology. This means that those using other service providers will have to pay for the data and in remote rural villages where there is no internet or very little of, this is will be a hurdle the startup will have to leap over.
The technology for the programme was developed by Siyavula — a Mark Shuttleworth Foundation beneficiary that is focused on finding tech solutions to education problems. Siyavula is a company that believes that “every child deserves a chance to become a physicist or a doctor or a musician or an engineer. Every child deserves a hope-filled future. Every child deserves an excellent education”.
Brink continues noting the significance of tutoring in South Africa’s education system:
Tutoring is immensely rewarding as you see learners gaining confidence in maths so that they have the ability to pursue careers with good future prospects. It can also be financially rewarding for tutor-entrepreneurs as our model is aimed at an affordable level for parents who have traditionally not considered tutoring due to the expense. The system uses mobile phones, which are more readily available in families and this opens up a market that is not currently being serviced by existing tutoring offerings.
Bright Futures also extends its service to include exposing the learners and guiding them in accessing relevant tertiary qualifications, internship and entry-level job opportunities. Similar to the recent partnership between Mxit Reach and the Department of Basic Education, supporting other initiatives like Bright Futures and rolling out the programme more widely would be a great decision.