For the last six years, MiDO Technologies has been working with Franschhoek High School in Franschhoek to help the school transition into a proper e-learning and e-teaching education facility. Today the school boasts a digital hub with a full-time digital hub coordinator, developments that allowed the school to better handle school closures due to government lockdowns implemented because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additionally, learners are being taught digital skills that will help them to excel at higher education institutions and in the South African workplace.

“There was absolutely nothing here when we started out,” says Marjorie Myburgh, Acting Principal of the school. “However, thanks to funding from the Rupert Education Foundation, MiDO Technologies was able to meet with staff at the school to discuss our improvement plans in 2015 and how we could turn Franschhoek High into a smart school.”

According to Myburgh, five teachers, including herself as Deputy Principal at the time, were provided with tablets and underwent Google Classroom training. In the same year, MiDO Technologies provided 80 tablets to the combined school – 40 went to the school’s primary school section and 40 to the high school.

Three years later, the hub, which has been dubbed the Fransies Hub, was established by MiDO. A venue was identified in the school and transformed into a learning space that houses various technology to facilitate learning.

“Abigail Fortuin, another Hub Coordinator from MiDO who is now employed as our Assistant Administrator, ensured that all our learners obtained Gmail e-mail addresses to be able to use Google Classroom when we went into lockdown,” says Myburgh.

“She also moved our register onto Google Classroom, which allowed us to get rid of the paper registers we used before and now we do it all online.”

However, while the technology was there for students to start learning online, the quality of the wifi connection at the school needed to be improved. Again MiDO stepped in with the support of Remgro’s Stellenbosch Schools Broadbased Internet and implemented a more reliable wifi connection.

In the primary school grades, learners now use the online Reading Eggs and Green Shoots math platforms regularly for online learning. They also use FutureKids, a programme also funded by the Rupert Education Foundation, which provides teachers and learners access to the digital CAPS curriculum covering all subjects from Grade 1 to 7, and promotes e-teaching and e-learning at schools. High school learners use the digital hub to learn digital skills including robotics, coding, graphic design, digital video production, and photography from industry experts and are also trained in the effective use of Google Apps.

In 2020, with school lockdowns, the partnership between MiDO and the school came into full effect.

“We immediately took our hubs online and used our hub coordinators to ensure that learners were signed up on Google Classroom and had data to work online,” explains Daniel Solomons, the Executive Director of the MiDO Foundation.

Learners were also equipped to deal with the emotional toll of the lockdowns, school closures and social distancing, and share their personal experiences, while motivational sessions were presented to keep learners motivated.

“We introduced an exam preparation programme in partnership with Utility Consulting Solutions for Grade 12s, with 1 400 learners registering on Schoology, a learning management system, to participate in the programme. Learners were able to download content on their phones, previous exam papers to work through the content provided, do self-assessments as well as online assessments. That gave them a very good indication of their competency levels per subject but also their readiness for the final exam,” says Solomons.

Teachers were also taught how to use Zoom to teach online.

Franschhoek High Grade 12 learners, Tamson Bailey and Lauren Boonzaaier, say the support they received from MiDO during the lockdown was very helpful for their academics and ensured they were ready for their matric year.

“Covid-19 really affected my studies. Before the lockdown, I did not have access to any wifi at home, and most of my work needed to be completed via a computer. It was really hard convincing my parents that I constantly needed money for data in order to submit my school tasks, but fortunately, during the lockdown, MiDO disbursed monthly data to all the learners including myself,” says Bailey.

Bailey believes that the skills she has learnt at the hub will also help her next year when she pursues a degree in Social Work.

“The hub has taught me how to present and hand in my school projects using a computer, which was something that was foreign to me before. One thing that I also realised is that the skills we are being taught help us in our personal lives as well, because we are always using our phones and the internet to communicate daily.”

Boonzaaier says that the pandemic and lockdowns have had a toll on her academics as well. Online learning was something that she had to get used to very quickly even though she was uncomfortable with it.

“All of my school life I only knew the kind of teaching where my teacher would stand in front of me whilst teaching and all of a sudden I had to adapt to only seeing them on my computer screen, which took a lot of getting used to.”

“Before I joined the hub I was not computer literate. I knew how to operate the computer, but now I know how to use certain digital applications like Zoom. I was also taught how to use Google Docs and how to load my school work online, which will help me in university next year,” Boonzaaier adds.

She believes that the hubs that MiDO develops to upskill learners and teachers at poorly resourced schools are extremely important, especially for schools without the necessary digital resources at their disposal to do so.

“I wish that every high school learner could leave high school technologically equipped and ready for university,” says Boonzaaier.

Learners like Bailey and Boonzaaier are now back at school but are still following a platoon attendance style. MiDO worked with staff and the school’s new hub coordinator, Maurice Fritz, to implement strict Covid-19 safety protocols in the hub in anticipation of the school reopening. Fritz completed MiDO’s Digital Citizenship Programme, which provides youth from lower-income communities with internships to develop technical skills required in the ICT sector through a mentorship and industry-based 12-month paid internship.

“It was a struggle moving from in-person to online education as we also had to teach teachers and learners how to use online video platforms like Zoom properly. It was a huge jump, but also a good jump for the school to get closer to becoming a proper smart school,” says Fritz.

Fritz also helped Grade 10 to 12 learners to get used to the Google Classroom platform.

Myburgh says that the hub and the support from the hub coordinator made a big difference in bringing Grade 12 learners up to speed.

“They could use the hubs to continue with e-learning while Maurice worked through the breaks to support the learners.”

Priscilla Booysen, responsible for educational development projects and programmes funded by various foundations in the Rupert Family, explains that the Trust has funded a range of interventions at the six public schools in the Franschhoek valley over the last nine years. One of those interventions was to  provide computer skills training and teaching support to teachers. In the last three years, and in preparation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, they have funded digital skills training for teachers and learners, using organisations like MiDO with the existing expertise to implement their objectives.

“Through the hub at Franschhoek High, we are training teachers to regularly make use of technology in the classroom when teaching and providing learners with a space where they are not only acquiring digital skills, but learning how to use those skills responsibly and effectively to empower themselves. Learners are not only using these skills for online learning, but matric learners have the competency now to also search for and apply for study or job opportunities online,” says Booysen.

Adds Myburgh: “We are really thankful to the Rupert Foundation and MiDO, who have worked with us to help us move closer to becoming a fully-fledged smart school. I also could not have done this without the support of my entire teaching staff.”

“Children today are growing up with technology around them and using it every day. Schools and teachers, therefore, need to be ready to adapt and to use the digital learning tools available to them to help our learners acquire the digital skills they need now. This is the new world that our learners are growing up in, so if we want to create smart schools where e-learning and e-teaching is practiced, we have to keep up with the times.”

Main photo: Ms Marjorie Myburgh (middle), Acting Principal at Franschhoek High, chats to Grade 12 learners, Lauren Boonzaaier (left) and Tamson Bailey, in the digital hub set up by MiDO Technologies with funding from the Rupert Education Foundation . (Lynne Rippenaar-Moses)