A teacher helps pupils in a DigiSchool classroom.

JOHANNESBURG– DigiSchool, a partnership between ICT giant Huawei and NGO Click Learning, is helping bridge the digital and literacy divide for South African schoolchildren.

In a country where just 49% of schools have some form of connectivity, and only 20% using it for teaching and learning while the remaining for administration, Huawei says its support for initiatives such as DigiSchool underscores the company’s commitment to connecting more unconnected people and organisations to foster positive social change.

Dr. Liang Hua, Chairman of the Board, Huawei speaking at Sustainable Corporate Development Forum

During the Sustainable Corporate Development Forum this week, Dr. Liang Hua, Chairman of the Board of Huawei, emphasized the importance of connectivity inorder to open up opportunities for communities.

Said Dr Liang: “Many people around the world remain unconnected. So connecting them is the first step. This will give them greater access to knowledge, digital skills training, and opportunities.”

He added that it is important to go beyond connectivity, and look at how to connect for impact.

“In this new era, where everything will be connected, connectivity will be more than just a tool for convenient communications. Together with digital technologies like cloud and AI, connectivity will help bring everyone into the digital world and drive social progress,” said Dr. Liang.

Research has shown that 78% of South African Grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language. President Cyril Ramaphosa has made several calls to improve literacy among South Africa’s youth in his State of the Nation Addresses.

He has said the South African government’s “immediate task” is to improve the foundational skills of literacy, especially reading for meaning.

DigiSchool, launched in 2020, responds directly to the concern. The programme provides schools with equipment to connect to the Internet via Rain’ s 5G or 4G networks, exposing learners to digital tools and materials that have a proven track record of improving reading, comprehension and digital skills.

The programme has connected almost 100 urban and rural primary schools across the country and has impacted more than 50 000 learners, helping them with connectivity, devices, content, and skills.

Thami Sibanda, Principal Tlama Tlama Primary School in Tembisa township.

One of the beneficiaries of the programme is Tlama Tlama Primary School in Tembisa, a township east of Johannesburg. Principal Thami Sibanda says DigiSchool has had a significant impact on his school.

Said Sibanda: “This initiative has brought great opportunities to our learners who would not be normally exposed to them. Learners look forward to going to the computer lab and interacting with the content that the programme offers.”

He added: “Learners’ reading has improved since the inception of the programme and those who complete the programme are given an opportunity to read to other learners at the school assembly with the aim of encouraging others to have an interest in reading.”

Leaner Khutso Kgatla of Iphuteng Primary School.

Moreover, both parents and learners are noticing the impact of DigiSchool.

“The computers helped us understand a lot of things,” said Khutso Kgatla, a student at Iphuteng Primary School. “Now, I am good at class and I get a lot of awards thanks to the computers.” 

Andile Libazi, a parent at Thembile Primary School in Gauteng, said: “Ever since the programme was introduced to our school. The children have more knowledge on what they’re reading about. They understand more now.”

DigiSchool’s mission is neatly encapsulated in its slogan: “Connect to Read, Read to Connect”. In other words, once children are exposed to the internet and digital education tools, they can use it to improve their reading and comprehension skills.

With daily computer, software and internet use, they also have basic digital knowledge and skills that allow them to be better connected to their surroundings and the world.

The DigiSchool programme also helps create urgently needed jobs. Trained facilitators, who are usually young people from the same communities as the schools, help guide the learners in the use of technology and the digital literacy programmes that form a pivotal part of the initiative. 

The skills taught in the DigiSchool programme aren’t just helping the participating learners either. Many learners pass on the skills they’ve learned in the programme to their friends and families, helping further accelerate the digital transformation of South African society. 

Huawei believes that programmes like DigiSchool form a critical part of its corporate role in the countries in which it operates.

The company’s programmes under the overarching concept TECH4ALL, had benefited more than 110 000 people by the end of 2021, driving broader digital inclusion worldwide.

“Together with digital technologies like cloud and AI, connectivity will help bring everyone into the digital world and drive social progress.

“It is essential for those benefits to reach all, because we believe that connectivity is not just the cornerstone of the digital economy, but a basic right for every human being,” said Dr. Liang. – Zambezi News