Durban installation case study July 2016
In July 2016 BluPoint brought free offline access to curated educational content to 15 schools in South Africa as part of a pilot project generously funded by Dixons Carphone as part of their CSR project and in partnership with Mr Price Foundation (MRP).
The pilot is comprised of 6 primary schools and 9 secondary schools spread over a 200km2 area in the region of KwaZulu-Natal, north of Durban on South Africa’s east coast. In this region, pupils from rural townships must walk several kilometres to schools that in many instances lack the basic amenities that people from developed areas take for granted.
Bringing technology education to rural schools
MRP has worked over the past six years in several of the primary schools to introduce a programme of technology education, but progress is limited by power outages (due to “load shedding”) and unreliable or non-existent Internet connectivity and speed of Internet. Students that graduate to secondary school often return to make use of the improved facilities at these primary schools.
Given the benefits and appeal of interactive educational content, the learners are keen to broaden their knowledge online. MRP has instituted a programme based around the online Khan Academy course. However, with class sizes often in excess of 30 pupils, contention on the Internet connection’s bandwidth (when available) makes concurrent learning difficult. This connection also comes at a cost to the school/foundation and limits scalability. Moreover, when away from school the children incur airtime costs for using mobile data to continue their learning that are massively disproportionate to their family’s income.
Educational learning hotspots
BluPoint has installed multiple Hubs into each of these schools, each one creating a local hotspot to which the learners can connect and access the learning material. The learners can connect without any data cost and at incredibly fast speeds. The Hubs were preloaded with curated content that includes all the Khan Academy course videos, as well as additional material including Fuse School, Wikipedia for Schools, and stories from African Storybook.
Free on any device
All the material is available to the teachers and pupils at no cost and with no requirement for an Internet connection. Anyone can access the material using a basic “feature” phone (via Bluetooth), a Wi-Fi device – such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop – or by listening over FM radio. Pupils can save content offline on their phone to take home and to share with their family.
Together with a group of volunteers from Dixons Carphone in the UK, the BluPoint team visited the schools to introduce the new technology to the staff and pupils. The principals and IT- literate staff were the first to show us their enthusiasm for the new possibilities in education opened up by BluPoint. At Darnall secondary school, Mr Ivason told us that pupils had already started to ask how soon they could use the new system, having only seen us install it a couple of days before.
An intuitive learning experience
Some schools were even willing to suspend their usual rules prohibiting mobile phone usage to allow pupils to access content during the lesson. In other schools, Hubs were installed in places that are known social areas for students, so that they can continue learning even during the breaks. With a little instruction, even the young children were quick to use their intuition in accessing BluPoint and soon began teaching each other.
Our concern that the more conservative members of staff might be sceptical about the new technology was unfounded. As one 64-year- old teacher – a self-confessed technophobe – told us, “this is simple to use and will revolutionise our children’s education”.
“This is simple to use and will revolutionise our children’s education”
– 64-year-old teacher
Technology deployment made easy
The deployment went very smoothly. Embedding new technology is always problematic, especially in an environment with little exposure to such systems. Even in the schools where the groundwork had been laid by MRP, there is still limited familiarity with technology. This should not be surprising to us, as for many pupils this was their first experience of “browsing the web”, even if they are used to using tablet-based apps. So we were thrilled to be told that this was the easiest deployment of technology that MRP has been involved with in schools.
A seamless experience, on any device
We aim to improve and make the user experience seamless and more intuitive for all users, regardless of the device they use. Bluetooth is a protocol that historically was used to share ringtones from one phone to another, and in the developed world is now mostly limited to connecting headsets and Fitbits to mobile phones. It was never intended to provide a “web-like” experience that is now taken for granted among smartphone users. However, in developing markets where at least 70% of the devices people own are not smart, BluPoint is leading the way in making content traditionally only available on the WWW to users with access only to feature phones and radios.
Improving lives with technology
The BluPoint team and another select group of Dixons Carphone volunteers will be returning to the schools in October to evaluate how the technology has helped the teachers and pupils. Watch this space.