Bay pupils unpack ingenious e-learning devices

Sibusiso Gcakasi, a grade 12 pupil at Douglas Mbopa High School, unpacks his new Omang e-learning device. It is pre-loaded with textbooks and digital educational resources that will help him and his peers, like Aphiwe Gxotiwe, back, minimise the disruption to their academic year
EDUCATION AID: Sibusiso Gcakasi, a grade 12 pupil at Douglas Mbopa High School, unpacks his new Omang e-learning device. It is pre-loaded with textbooks and digital educational resources that will help him and his peers, like Aphiwe Gxotiwe, back, minimise the disruption to their academic year
Image: SUPPLIED

Hundreds of Eastern Cape pupils are benefiting from a new e-learning programme developed by a Bay engineering firm.

The programme, by Jendamark Automation, provides affordable access to curriculum-specific educational material for pupils anywhere in the country, accelerating government’s goal of making e-learning accessible to all.

The e-learning solution is a boon for rural and lower quintile schools in particular, and was developed as part of Jendamark Automation’s Odin Education software ecosystem.

Since the end of June, the educational tablets called Omang — a Sotho translation for “identity” — have been rolled out to more than 600 schools in the Free State, Graaff-Reinet and Port Elizabeth through purchases and donations.

With schools facing frequent closures and regular learning compromised due to Covid-19 related disturbances, the devices offer an easy, at-home learning experience for pupils, teachers and parents.

Pupils who were among the first to put the devices to use said they made learning more convenient.

“We are excited. This is huge for us as we come from very underprivileged homes.

“This device will enable us to function better, as everything we need is at our disposal.

“It’s like having a second teacher,” Douglas Mbopha High School matriculant Xhanti Qandana said.

Qandana is among 75 grade 11 and 12 pupils in the Bay who received the devices through the Unity in Africa Foundation’s Incubating Great Engineering Minds (iGEMS)  after-school programme.

The programme caters for pupils from several Bay high schools including Ikhwezi Lomso, Ndyebo and Newton Tech.

The tablets are loaded with content drawn from the major SA educational publishers, with free internet data.

Content is specific to each school’s curriculum requirements — including its chosen textbooks per grade, approved educational websites, and any e-learning platforms or apps the school may already be using.

Each device is personalised according to the individual pupil’s registered subject choices, with additional website content added based on their interests and most-viewed topics online.

In addition, teachers can upload their own content, including video lessons, old exam papers and notes, as well as allowing them to set multiple-choice tests and answer any questions via safe class chat forums.

Jendamark group MD Quinton Uren said the intention was to make knowledge accessible to every child.

“This is not just about textbooks on tablets. This is about bringing costs down through collaboration to create a truly affordable ed-tech solution for every SA school, with no hidden costs,” Uren said.

Unity in Africa Foundation GM Berenice Rose said providing additional maths and science classes and support for iGEMS pupils had been especially challenging during the lockdown.

“Right now it is very important for us to remain at the cutting edge of content delivery. Kids need to be very resilient, as their whole educational path is just obstacle after obstacle,” Rose said.

Odin Education head Ajit Gopalakrishnan said the coronavirus had highlighted the immediate need to ramp up digital education for remote learning.

“In this digital world there is no shortage of quality educational content, but access to that content and to devices like phones or tablets is a real obstacle for many SA children.

“Many parents have concerns about what their children may be viewing online and who they are talking to, but the Omang device can only be used for educational purposes, with safe, approved websites and teacher-led chats,” Gopalakrishnan said.

He said the device would be locked if stolen or lost, rendering it valueless to would-be thieves.

The pre-loaded devices can be purchased by schools or provincial education departments at a monthly cost of R134 per pupil, including 2GB of data and full tech support.

- HeraldLIVE

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