/ 26 May 2011

Learning the MXit way

Grade 12 learners struggling to understand their teachers now have an unexpected lifeline — their mobile phones.

Since October last year, the department of basic education has taken learner support material to the fingertips of Grade 12s by using the popular social networking site MXit. The project — known as “Class of 2010” — was launched towards the end of a school year that had been characterised by challenges.

Not only was there the Fifa Soccer World Cup, there was also a month-long strike by public servants. But the department’s spokesperson, Terence Khala, says the project did not arise from the need to counter such challenges.

Instead, the department was inspired by the numbers of young people using MXit. Learners have responded enthusiastically. “Within the first month we had had 16 000 learners communicating with us,” said Khala.

The department wanted to use “a platform that learners were already using” to provide additional material, he said. It may be harder to convince parents. Many feel their children already spend too much time on MXit.

But Khala isn’t worried. “That’s the reason why I came up with the concept.” “I think it’s more about changing what they are doing, as opposed to getting them off the platform.” This year, learner support for the initiative has been taken to a new level.

An interactive contact, called QuizMax, was launched in February. In MXit terms, a contact is a person or platform MXit users interact with. According to MXit Lifestyle, 12 154 users had already registered by the end of April. To access the two contacts, learners need to use their Wap-enabled phones to download Mxit if they don’t already have it.

Those who do simply need to log into MXit, and then click on the “Tradepost” contact, before going to “MXit Cares” and finally to “Education”. Both contacts are accessible for free.

QuizMax has three groups: MXit Grade 12, which covers a range of topics and subjects; MXit Maths Practice, which specialises in maths questions, and MXit Testing group, which helps to prepare learners for different tests, including the learner’s licence.

This year’s update — “Class of 2011” — has an expanded menu, ranging from a message from the education minister to information about university studies. It also includes tertiary education funding options and sport.

Laura Hallam, spokesperson for MXit Lifestyle, said MXit Cares, which hosts both contacts, has gained in popularity. But she said it would be difficult to judge the popularity of the education contact compared with other sections of their site, such as entertainment.

Khala says more needs to be done to attract learners from other provinces, like North West and Northern Cape. So far, Gauteng and Western Cape boast the highest number of users. KwaZulu-Natal isn’t far behind.