Educating children through cellphones

Mobischool. (Supplied)

Mobischool. (Supplied)

Enter Eduvolve with a brilliant solution: Mobischool. Ingenius in its conception, simple – and near free – in its implementation, Mobischool uses Mcit as its platform.

Eduvolve is an NGO committed to equal education. Its director, Simeon Mantel, says: “We've developed a new app on Mxit that makes it possible for all South Africans to access free video-based curriculum lessons on their mobile phones. As far as I know, only Mobischool offers a full range of subjects.”

Five to 10-minute videos are uploaded every weekday. These summarise the subject’s daily lesson, allowing kids who need help with their curriculum to watch a virtual teacher. All lessons are followed by practice activities and online tutors are available in the evenings to answer questions.

Six of the 10 core subjects from grade 10 to 12 are offered – Maths, Maths Literacy, Accounting, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences (Biology) and English – and any entry-level phone, costing as little as R120, allows access to the videos.

Mantel, Lisa Blakeway and Nadia O’Brien are the three partners who launched Mobischool. They ran a pilot campaign in September 2012 that garnered 74 000 users in 40 days.

Currently Mobischool has 123 000 subscribers. The target for 2014 is to reach half a million learners. However, because the project is self-funding, new partners are being sought to reach the next level.

“It is crucial for us to reach children across the country – to get the word out,” Mantel says.

Roadshows that have taken place over the past year resulted in visits to over 200 schools and more than 20 youth centres. During those visits, revision seminars and workshops were offered, as well as more general workshops teaching learners how to become community journalists, to understand the role of media, and to become aware and analytical.

“That way,” he says, “the learners themselves can spread the word.”

Mobischool has a sizable team producing content. There are also 15 full-time staff going out to schools and running the workshops, and more than 100 tutors, who are either university students or graduates.

During exam time, tutors are online from 6pm to 8pm daily. Mantel says: “We try to make it like a chat, depending on volumes, but strive to keep response times under 10 minutes.”

Mobischool is most often used outside of classroom time, and pupils gather at youth centres after hours for workshops. “What has been great is that students form their own study groups, and view and discuss tutorials, then interact with the tutor,” enthuses Mantel. “Our dream is to give all young adults in South Africa equal opportunity for quality education – a low-cost way to reach out, especially to marginalised and disadvantaged communities.”

A learner's point of view

Mobischool is the answer, according to grade 11 learner, Mapule Madisha, from Alice in the Eastern Cape.

“I use Mobischool for Maths especially, as well as Life Sciences. I would definitely recommend it. Mobischool has helped me a lot.”

Together with her sisters Maphefo (also in grade 11) and Dipuo (grade 10), she used Mobischool every week leading up to her exams, after learning about it during a roadshow.

“We download and watch the video, check the notes and do our revision. Then we interact with each other and with the tutors, who are very good and helpful. It doesn’t use much airtime at all - probably not more than R60 a month for the three of us, and that includes regular visits to the Mobischool Facebook page.”

A tutor's point of view

For Maths tutor Edward Chisoro, Mobischool has been something of a surprise. This final year Electrical Engineering student is online between 6pm and 8pm in the evenings, on both Facebook and Mxit.

“I’ve been tutoring for Mobi for three months, and started off reviewing videos before tutoring. I noticed there was a lot of interaction from the students, and when I began it was quite a learning curve for me.

"The first time I logged on to Mxit, I was surprised to have more than 100 invites. Since then my contacts have expanded exponentially, maybe because of exams.

“The students encourage me a lot and inspire me, which is not what I expected. My assumption was I would get something to put on my CV, some experience. And then I got paid on top of it.”

Chisoro was in for another surprise. Chisoro tweeted about what he was doing. A tweet about using Mxit led to a Skype interview with the Mxit communications manager, who in turn promoted Mobischool through the Mxit platform, which, according to watchful Chisoro, created a spike.

 He has since been in meetings to discuss the way forward for Mobischool and is keen to remain involved.

This article forms part of a supplement paid for by Unilever. Contents and photographs were supplied and signed off by Unilever.