Cape Town – A father’s dislike for travel helped to give rise to a leading online education provider, whose courses are followed by thousands of students every year.
GetSmarter was founded by Rondebosch brothers, Rob, 31, and Sam Paddock, 33, and their parents, Mandy and Graham, in 2008, and initially had only one employee.
Rob said Graham offered training for property managers around the country but didn’t really enjoy the travelling.
Together, the family developed a suite of online property law courses and “it did quite well”.
Sam, who co-founded a company called Getwine in 2005, said the family was looking at ways to grow the business when he followed the advice of a friend who had told him that “the best opportunities are the ones closest to you”.
“I suddenly thought, we teach online, and we’re involved in the wine industry. Maybe we should do an online wine course.”
They sold the idea to a Stellenbosch University lecturer who was running a wine evaluation course and took it online. Close to 300 students enrolled for the first course.
GetSmarter then teamed up with managers and professors at UCT on a range of courses.
The company now employs 178 full-time employees and 50 part-time teachers and, with UCT and other partners, offers more than 50 online short courses.
Just fewer than 8 000 students enrolled for courses in 2013.
Last year the company and UCT’s commerce faculty launched the Across Africa initiative and two of the institution’s postgraduate programmes were made available online. The move was expected to increase access to students across the continent who could now follow the programmes without having to set foot on campus.
Rob said that although South Africans were sceptical about online education when the company started, it had become an accepted way of studying.
“It’s encouraging to see so many universities responding to this opportunity and actively exploring the provision of online and distance education programmes. I probably receive one call a week from a new institution looking for advice on how to start offering online programmes. I think this is hugely positive, and a great indication of the growth we can expect in the online education market over the next 10 years in South Africa.”
Ilse Fredericks, EDUCATION WRITER