Founder and Senior Managing Partner at digital learning platform Syafunda, Zakheni Ngubo uses solid business principles to find a viable and sustainable solution to challenges facing the South African education system.
Ngubo has developed an online learning platform to help children access educational material. He learnt when he started working at Virgin Mobile that learners were dealing with the same issues he did while at high school.
Inspired by his own experience when he was a high school learner in Umlazi with very limited access to educational resources and information, Ngubo saw a need to help solve the crisis in education.
“When I started working, in the mobile sector at Virgin Mobile, I knew I had to find a way to use the technology in a very productive way,” he said.
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Ngubo did not have a mathematics teacher during his final two years in school. This meant that he did not have a teacher in grade 11 and 12 who could help him produce good marks in the subject. He obtained five distinctions, but could not gain admission to university due to his poor mathematics marks. It was only when he upgraded his results that he was admitted at the University of Cape Town.
“It is the crucial point that ultimately led to Syafunda. At the core of our organisation, we are driven by the need to create a fair world, where a person’s future is not determined or limited by their background or financial status, but one where information and access to opportunities are available,” he said.
Syafunda Digital Libraries have been set up in schools, community centres and municipal libraries. The system is preloaded with premium digital educational content and allows learners to download e-books, video tutorials, past papers and worksheets free of charge. Although the system currently only offers mathematics and science material, Syafunda are looking to expand it and add geography and accounting aids.
“Once a student is registered with us, they can also do assessments and quizzes to practise, compete and engage with teachers and students from different schools,” he said.
Ngubo said the firm is an active member of Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa, which assists them to identify and build relationships with the best mathematics and science teachers and understand challenges faced by teachers. They also source additional content through partnerships with publishers like Siyavula, Presto Academy, Digify Africa, Pearson and the Department of education. “We empower and educate our students in a wide range of issues from academia, entrepreneurship, IT, career guidance and life skills,” he said.
“Africa is in need of local solutions to our unique challenges and therefore, we have to equip our young people to drive those solutions and innovations and ensure the next generation of Africans in informed, involved and empowered,” he said.
Ngubo said the mobile industry was growing, with about 76% of the 3,5 million high school learners between the ages of 15 and 19 enjoying access to a mobile device, either at home or at school. “For the students who don’t have access to digital devices, we give the school a minimum of 20 tablets to give to students on a short loan basis to use while at school. Our goal is to expand our reach to 500 schools, 200 public libraries and 100 community centres by 2019,” he said.
He said textbooks were expensive and most learners did not have access to them. “We are working on a plan to give publishers an alternative channel to sell their textbooks that will eliminate the cost of printing, distribution and retailer shelf space. Students will be able to buy points, which can be used to buy an encrypted digital copy textbook or certain chapters directly on our system at about R9 per chapter,” he said.