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Ukufunda-300x26122 September 2014 – On Friday 12 September the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Enver Surty, Gauteng Education MEC, Mr Panyaza Lesufi and Ms Nadi Albino of UNICEF launched the ukuFunda Virtual School application at the Sci-Bono Centre in Johannesburg.

Ukufunda was developed after a series of consultations between the partners and in response to challenges faced by learners, teachers and parents. The goal of the Ukufunda Virtual School is to replicate a good physical school in a virtual environment, marrying quality education material with safety and wellness.

 Below please find an extract from the Ukufunda Virtual School Information Pack. 

 

What exactly is Ukufunda?

Ukufunda is the name of the virtual school that was developed by Mxit Reach, UNICEF and the Department of Basic Education (DBE). It's an innovation in the South African education system that will address inequalities in the school system, raise education standards and put the power of education in the hands of every learner, teacher and parent.

Ukufunda was modelled on schools that are regarded as centres of excellence. At these institutions, educators and learners alike had access to good quality learning aids and content, psychosocial support in the form of counsellors and extra-mural activities such as debating clubs.

These key components are replicated in Ukufunda - learners, educators and parents have access to learning resources and content, counselling and safety services, a central communication and notification hub and many other value-added services and programmes.

 

What makes Ukufunda unique?

While there are other virtual schools and mobile-enabled educational technology, these are either only available via the web or if though a mobile app, usually restricted to smart devices.

In South Africa, as in many countries, access to the web and ownership of a smart device is beyond the reach of those who need it the most. Ukufunda is unique because it breaks down those barriers and allows accessibility and support across 8 000 mobile devices, and reaches areas where only 2G connectivity is available.

Ukufunda enables remote learning and teaching; the delivery of the CAPS curriculum; fosters continuing teacher professional development and professional learning communities in ways that can reach the most remote learners and teachers in South Africa. This aligns Ukufunda very strongly to the objectives of the National Development Plan of South Africa.

Many past and current mobile phone-based education programmes in South Africa are solely focused on supporting learners directly; Ukufunda will also speak to the needs of government, schools, teachers and parents to improve education.

 

Ukufunda will be rolled out in 3 phases:

  1. Teachers are the first stakeholder group and the DBE will utilise and test tools like the virtual calendar, by populating it with key dates and disseminating important notices. The DBE will also shortly roll out a diagnostic tool for all teachers to help improve their content knowledge.
  2. The second phase of deployment will focus on learners and will be complemented by a comprehensive online safety programme. Mxit Reach is currently engaging with content partners to bolster revision materials for Grade 12s in the lead-up to the Matric exams this year. Ukufunda already has learners from over 3000 schools across the country enrolled on the platform.
  3. The final phase, planned for mid 2015, is the roll out of Ukufunda to parents.

 

What are the advantages of using Ukufunda? 

  • Continuous learning: Because the virtual school is mobile, it means that learning is extended beyond the classroom and can take place anywhere and at any time. It's essentially a tutor, library, counsellor and mentor in your pocket, available 24/7, at virtually no cost to the end user.
  • Improved communication between education stakeholder groups: Tools such as the virtual calendar and discussion groups improve communication between all education stakeholders. For instance, the calendar allows the national DBE structures to instantaneously alert and notify its various stakeholder groups, irrespective of their handset type and at almost no cost to the DBE. This works in the same way at a school-level, allowing a principal to send messages to parents, teachers or learners. Furthermore, Ukufunda will facilitate the growth of professional learning communities among teachers, Teacher Centre Managers, the Department of Basic Education, Provincial Education Departments and District officials.
  • Access to learning resources: Books, assessment tools, question papers and other learning aids that are usually only available at a cost, are freely available on Ukufunda. Ukufunda will boast an ever-expanding library of educational resources.
  • Accessibility: Ukufunda is handset agnostic and can be accessed on more than 8 000 devices - this ranges from low-end feature phones to smart devices including tablets. While smartphone adoption use is growing rapidly in South Africa, the majority (1 in 5) of South Africans still make use of a feature phone.
  • Affordability: Mxit is extremely data-light and the cost to the end-user is very low. A recent trial by Mxit Reach suggested that if Ukufunda is accessed for an entire week inclusive of downloading a book, the data costs would range between R5 to R8, dependent on mobile handset, network stability and network provider rates. Fortunately, one mobile network service provider in South Africa has already indicated that they are considering zero-rating Ukufunda for users.

 

What are the disadvantages (if any) for learners and teachers? 

BxUb0oYIAAANmm6Possible barriers to uptake and mobile learning could include:

  • Access to mobile devices: Although mobile penetration in South Africa is extremely high, there may be instances where a learner or teacher doesn't own a mobile phone. But, it's more than likely they will have access to one, from which they can access Ukufunda. Mxit Reach and its partners are investigating ways in which handset manufacturers, network providers, corporates and the broader public can participate by donating older and surplus handsets.
  • Cyber bullying: A potential but limited threat. Ukufunda has stringent checks and balances in place to curb this behaviour and anyone found to be infringing the privacy and/or rights of another individual on the platform will be kicked off the platform. Mxit Reach has a zero tolerance policy regarding the abuse and misuse of Ukufunda and user engagement will be monitored very closely. Mxit's Family Safety Centre app has already been made available in Ukufunda - this links users to tips and advice regarding safe online use and steps to take to report untoward/inappropriate behaviour. In addition, all parties will roll out awareness and education campaigns in schools and on the platform.

 

Precautoniary measures to ensure secure use for learners and teachers 

Safety of our Ukufunda users is of utmost importance to Mxit Reach and our partners. Numerous checks and balances have been put in place to ensure educators, learners and their parents are as safe as possible. Like any system, it's not 100% guaranteed-safe, so there will be regular and intense monitoring of usage will be performed, and anything that violates the platform's terms and conditions of use will be removed.

Precautionary measures include restrictions on advertising by private companies and individuals, sending out alerts on the safe use of mobile devices and developing apps that encourage cybersafety. Tools to protect your privacy, to report and block people are also available.

 

How do teachers access Ukufunda? 

  • Firstly, you will need to download Mxit, register and create a profile.
  • Once your Mxit account has been created, go to Apps >> Select 'Apps' >> 'Search' & write 'ukufunda_teacher'. Once ukufunda_teacher has been added, go to Apps and select ukufunda_teacher to open it.
  • On Ukufunda_teacher you will find the following:
    • My Education Resources: Links to textbooks and reference material
    • My Safety and Wellness: Links to counselling and emergency services
    • My Calendar: Notifications of tasks and events
    • My Groups: Virtual Communities of Practice
    • My Classroom: Only learner-facing educators can access this section and communicate directly with learners they teach
    • My Contacts: these connect you with all contacts in your institution/area e.g. a school or a district
    • The ANA Test: an assessment tool modelled on the paper version of the ANA tests conducted by the Department of Basic Education

For more information on Ukufunda and its partners please download the full Virtual School Information Pack. (PDF, 184 KB).

 

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