/ 10 December 2020

Social media a powerful tool in education

Graphic Edu Platform2 Twitter
(John McCann/M&G)

Social media is a powerful tool that can be used to bring change to South Africa’s education system.

The Phepha uFunde campaign was launched to mobilise for education change and respond to the challenges school leaders are facing during this period of uncertainty brought about by Covid-19. A coordination team brought together experts and developed content for the campaign by sourcing information from educators and profiling innovative solutions to these previously unimagined problems. 

This was the key way through which the campaign aimed to reach its objectives. At the core of the Phepha uFunde communication model was a social media strategy that included Facebook and Twitter. A number of lessons were learned from the campaign regarding the potential power of social media to mobilise for much needed change in schools.

The need for a platform

At the beginning of the campaign, the Facebook strategy focused on content that was developed by the content team and media team. 

The strategy was reworked from week five of the campaign to focus on sharing user-generated content that was supplied by teachers and school leaders. On sharing this content in the form of videos, transcripts, and pictures we received from teachers and school leaders, the engagement and reach numbers rose exponentially, highlighting the need for a space or platform for teachers and school leaders to share problems and solutions.

The power of user-generated content lies in the fact that the audience — teachers in this case — are able to profile solutions that are specific to their contexts and can be adapted to other contexts by their colleagues. 

Social media becomes a very powerful tool for peer learning. User-generated content is also sustainable for ongoing sharing because it is free to produce, unlike the content produced through expert teams, which usually takes time and is not in touch with the audience.

In a subsequent survey run by the Phepha uFunde team after the 10-week radio broadcast to measure teachers’ engagement with the campaign, one of the overarching themes that came up is that educators are yearning for a place to have discussions and exchange information, and this platform should be accessible.

Through social media platform features such as Facebook’s online communities/groups feature, educators can be further clustered into small communities based on their roles. An example would be clustering special education teachers or foundation teachers in one group for the purposes of sharing specific resources and for having conversations that are specific to their contexts.

For researchers, such online communities are important because they keep them in touch with teachers and their problems. A great example of how Phepha uFunde was able to achieve this was through leading educationist Alistair Witten’s weekly blogs published on the website, which were a direct response to issues raised weekly through voice notes, radio participation and social media discussions.

In the age of fake news and false reports on critical information that affects people’s personal and professional wellbeing there is an ever-growing need for a virtual space for up-to-date information that has been vetted and is relevant to helping educators solve immediate problems and plan for the future. Phepha uFunde, alongside other projects of this nature, are some of the key steps to filling this vacuum.

Reaching everyone

By using radio and social media, Phepha uFunde was able to reach a broad audience of educators. Furthermore, the use of radio and social media enabled a much broader exchange with voices that would not usually make it on to mainstream platforms. School leaders in rural areas were able to share their context specific difficulties and solutions with a broad range of people involved in education. Apart from peer learning, such platforms, being public, also offer an opportunity for conversations that can be used to lobby for serious policy discourses about the issues identified in schools.

One of the key successes of Phepha uFunde was its ability to rally different stakeholders into having conversations about the problems that Covid-19 has brought to teaching, learning and leading in schools. A collective approach that cuts across sectors is important because it brings about comprehensive responses to challenges. By bringing together unions, nongovernmental education organisations, health practitioners, teachers, the SABC and the department of basic education, this campaign was able to build an online network for educators to share their experiences, problems and solutions during these difficult times.

For this generation and the next to reform education in South Africa, it will be important that all tools are used to improve the opportunities to learn for children and young people. The future of the African child depends on each one having a quality education. This can be enabled by ensuring that educators and school leaders are equipped with the necessary resources and skills they need.