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The Minister of Communication and Digital Technologies (DCDT) issued directions in Government Gazette No. 43164 published on 26 March 2020. The purpose of the temporary spectrum assignments was to alleviate network challenges, ease congestion, and ensure good quality of service for consumers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The obligations provided licensees with access to high-demand spectrum to make available connectivity to schools with a minimum speed of 10 Mbps to support virtual teaching during the Covid-19 national disaster. The Basic Education Sector agreed that the schools should be provided with a turnkey solution. Therefore, 17 schools were selected in the 8 NHI Districts to pilot the Virtual classroom solution. Vodacom was allocated six schools in three provinces, namely Limpopo, Northern Cape and KwaZulu Natal to implement the Virtual Classroom Solution.
Driven by its purpose to connect for a better future, Vodacom Group, in partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE), has installed its Virtual Classroom Solution at various schools in rural areas across three provinces in the country. A handover ceremony held at the Vodacom Group headquarters in Midrand marked the official transfer of the hardware installed at the schools to deliver Wi-Fi over a secure cloud-based SD-WAN network. To enable connectivity remotely for the educators and learners, Vodacom has provided a monthly 10G data bundle plus SIM for the learners and a 20G monthly data bundle with a SIM and MiFi router for the educators. Vodacom also delivered broadcasting and streaming hardware, as well as devices for learners and educators alike. While educator training will be provided by Vodacom, the DBE will oversee progress at the schools and further entrench digital learning opportunities for them.
The Virtual Classroom Solution forms part of Vodacom’s larger Connected Education platform, which was created to transform the education sector by leveraging the power of technology to bridge the digital divide in schools. Launched in 2020 in partnership with Microsoft South Africa, the platform is a single educational space where learners can connect with their teachers and access productivity apps like Teams, OneNote, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.
A total of 101 laptops were supplied to educators, with 1 360 laptops donated to Grade 12 learners across the schools. Vodacom also provisioned an additional 437 laptops so that the schools can install these in centrally accessible libraries, giving Grade 10 and 11 learners a chance to familiarise themselves with the digital devices and applications, ahead of being issued with their own device when they reach Grade 12. Each laptop came with its own bag, and secure safes were installed on the schools’ premises for device storage.
“ICT continues to be a key driver in the advancement of education, Covid-19 has certainly allowed us to accelerate our progress towards greater access and connectivity for all schools across the country. With this launch we truly believe that the sector will continue to make great strides in ensuring that all children across the country benefit from the opportunities that come with connectivity’’ says Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga.
“Vodacom firmly believes in partnering with government to not only drive digital inclusion in the country but to also democratise access to connectivity and bridge the gap between legacy education systems and technology. Online education is an important societal equaliser as learners will have access to technological equipment and online educational content regardless of their socio-economic status or geographic location,” says Vodacom Business Chief Officer, William Mzimba.
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the digital divide that already existed in South Africa’s education system. Vodacom’s e-School digital education platform, which is a free unlimited online education portal that provides educational content for learners in grades R to 12, has supported more than 1.25 million South African learners to date. While device and data affordability, connectivity, and basic digital literacy are some of the obstacles preventing democratised digital-education access, the Virtual Classroom Solution, offered in partnership with the DBE, is set to accelerate digital-education access and inclusion in SA schools.