All over the world Covid-19 has crudely interrupted centuries-old teaching and learning practices resulting in about 1.3 billion children and students studying at home. As a result, education has changed radically, with online and remote learning on digital platforms becoming the norm during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This largely unplanned and rapid move to online learning with only emergency training of lecturers and teachers, little preparation, and often insufficient access to the internet, data, and bandwidth, resulted in several growing pains. But many schools, universities and educational businesses were able to pivot quickly and adapt to the new circumstances.
Unfortunately, institutions in developing countries experienced some serious challenges. Students without reliable and affordable internet access and/or technology struggled to participate in digital learning. Therefore, certain universities launched massive drives to provide laptops and data to students in need.
An innovative online solution
However, a Brazilian EdTech company, Descomplica (Portuguese for “uncomplicate”) made studying incredibly easy and affordable and their 100 percent online model currently services about 30 million students. As Brazil’s go-to online learning platform, Descomplica supports students along their entire learning journey, from the university entrance exam to their graduation and post-graduation, as well as support with free courses, school reinforcement, preparation for competitions and Bar exams.
Access to universities
Standardised test grades are the only criterion in Brazil for access to higher education institutions. However, there is a high correlation between income and grades in these standardised entrance exams and very few low-income students would get access to higher education. The lack of access to undergraduate education has therefore become a major hurdle for employability in Brazil.
In the early 2000s top-tier universities in Brazil tried to address this shortcoming of the admissions model due to low-quality public basic education. Affirmative action and social quotas were widely implemented, and enrolment increased tremendously. Unfortunately, many years of exposure to poor education left a lifelong consequence and drop-out rates among the quota students were unusually high.
Descomplica, however, believed that technology was the only way to make learning accessible to all people. They leveraged technology to provide quality education to anyone with an internet connection at about 1 percent of the normal cost.
The online platform
They created a platform with more than 40 000video courses presented by engaging lecturers, daily live classes, tutoring sessions by senior students, an exercise platform, essay grading, micro-tests, and an incredible library of resources and study guides. The multiple-choice exercises provide comments on all wrong answers and are linked to extra lectures. The exercises also have a social architecture by allowing students to invite friends for a challenge.
The platform offers two weekly schedules to the 30 million students: The first is pre-recorded to introduce concepts that can be viewed at any time. The programme is composed of video lectures that are broken into three-to-five-minute modules, a complete set of reading material, relevant exercises, and essay assignments. Currently there are more than 30 million video views per month.
The second is 40-minute interactive classes live streamed seven days a week from the Descomplica studios at set times to reinforce concepts, solve exercises, and clarify doubts. The biggest live session entailed 1.2 million students!
Descomplica realised the challenges of studying alone and therefore designed the content much more entertaining than in traditional courses. To keep students engaged, classes are fun and provocative. Teachers are trained not only to master online teaching but also to develop “TV presenter skills”.
Students can further add their reactions to specific moments in real-time while watching the videos. Eventually the lecturers receive a map of students’ reactions to assist them in improving the lectures.
Personalisation of the learning experience
In January this year, Descomplica fully personalised content for each student by implementing algorithms that recommend the best materials according to an individual student’s profile and level of content mastery. This increased engagement had a positive effect on learning results. Students who used the platform scored much higher across all subjects and scored 38% better than the national average in the university entrance exam.
Descomplica’s model blends technology with charismatic and entertaining lecturers, compelling content, and a tone of voice that breaks with traditions and speaks the language of today’s students. By making education accessible, affordable, and enjoyable, Descomplica is making lifelong learning more attractive and tangible for all.
Renewing the education system
It thus seems that the pandemic interrupted an education system that has for quite some time lost its relevance and needed transformation and improvement. Perhaps the forced move to online learning could be the catalyst to create a new, more effective, and more relevant educational system in South Africa. Just think how games have changed. Pac-Man from the nineties is not fun anymore. Neither is teaching and learning from centuries ago. It is time to adapt the kind of classes, content, and pedagogy to make it fun and captivating.
The intersection of technology, education and media can make innovative and relevant high-quality education accessible to everyone in South Africa at a much lower cost and thus increase employment.
Professor Louis C H Fourie is a technology strategist
*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites