A lot to learn

At the Social Innovation Summit, many of the organisations showcased had education as their central focus. Girls In Science, a project that exposes teen girls from townships and rural areas to the technical side of science, organises field trips and camps to provide close encounters with the most intriguing aspects of chemistry, physical science and life sciences. Moithuti, among the Social Innovators of 2018, is an app created to meet a variety of needs experienced by secondary school learners. It supplies information about university closing dates, provides a forum for pupils from different schools to discuss their challenges, and social workers are able to discuss the pressures students experience.

Edtech might be viewed in isolation or misunderstood as educational software of games designed to aid teaching the established curriculum. In reality, tech innovation has a role to play in a far broader range of educational issues, serving a wide audience, from those younger than school-going age to those far past graduation. Rather than focusing narrowly on achieving academic results, it can provide much-needed support and a more creative approach to learning that’s invaluable to students who are struggling.

Perhaps most importantly, it helps learners at all levels to understand that they’re not completing their education just to achieve arbitrary goals set by teachers or parents, but rather to become active contributors to their communities and areas of interest. Design thinking — a cognitive process that prioritises potential users’ needs and preferences and encourages a no-holds-barred approach to ideation before bringing concepts back to the user for testing — has a critical role to play in the creation of useful technologies and systems that are being imagined by young innovators.

For Glenn Gillis of Sea Monster, augmented reality has long been a tool for training that enables companies to upskill their employees with training that’s accessible and even enjoyable, and to get kids involved in learning that’s decidedly not boring. The company’s begun to create a virtual reality programme that encourages girls to cultivate and maintain an interest in sciences and traditionally male-dominated careers such as aviation.

At the Innovation Summit, Gillis and his team showed off the technology to anyone interested in trying it out, resulting in nerve-wracking moments for those unprepared for the level of realism displayed once the VR headset was strapped on. Aside from impressive graphics and attention to detail, there was another important aspect of the project that impressed many: the VR simulations ran from a standard smartphone, and the VR headsets it runs on can be ordered online for as little as R99. This level of accessibility is a must for technology that’s designed to reach as many students as possible, so the Sea Monster team has already bridged what seemed to be a significant barrier to entry.

Pitching at the Innovation Summit’s Startup World Cup, CodeSpace chief executive Emma Dicks outlined her scalable model of tech education that empowers organisations of any size to share tech education with its members. Her business model is exciting in that it allows for the large-scale implementation of tech education for those who usually struggle to access and afford it. When young innovators gain access to the sets of skills it offers, they can use them to provide solutions to some of society’s most pressing problems.

When it comes to education, innovation should be seen as both an ingredient and an outcome: those designing learning systems and teaching methods need to employ innovative thought, while students need to be encouraged to cultivate it. As the title of one of the Innovation Summit’s keynote addresses eloquently put it, “we need innovation to keep innovating”.

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Cayleigh Bright
Cayleigh Bright
Journalist, author, copywriter. Full-time freelance.

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