Lockdown legacy... one school girl’s efforts help hundreds of fellow pupils

Alex Lutz, 17, who has started the non-profit organisation website milanieducation.com to share quality education resources produced by advantaged schools, free of charge to everyone and anyone. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Alex Lutz, 17, who has started the non-profit organisation website milanieducation.com to share quality education resources produced by advantaged schools, free of charge to everyone and anyone. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 15, 2023


Durban - Lockdown saw privileged schools adapt to remote teaching in a jiffy while poorly resourced schools battled with a lack of devices and data.

Alex Lutz came from the former category, not missing any lessons in the transition from being in a classroom to looking at a screen. Thanks to the influence of Amy Brown, her English teacher at St John’s Diocesan School for Girls in Pietermaritzburg, she realised the restrictions imposed by Covid could have devastating effects for her less-privileged contemporaries.

“There was only a small handful of top schools in the country that had amazing resources, videos, power points and whatever you can think of, but the vast majority of pupils had absolutely nothing and were losing weeks, and eventually months, of valuable learning time,” said Lutz, 17.

She is in matric, a head boarder prefect of St John’s and founder of a non-profit organisation that provides a digital platform for anybody to access lessons and curriculum-related resources offered by advantaged schools that have come to the party, free of charge.

It has started with maths and there are plans to introduce other subjects, with business studies next in line. Others are English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, maths literacy, life sciences (biology), physical sciences, history, geography, computer literacy, isiZulu, technical drawing, accounting, music theory, drama, life orientation and computer applications technology (CAT).

The past couple of years have seen her holding Zoom meetings in her “often messy, noisy” dormitory with participants in www.milanieducation.com, from corporate funders to teachers, since pitching the idea to her principal, Simon Moore, and winning the school’s support.

Nearly 100km away at Adams College, in southern eThekwini, twins Anele and Aneliswa Shange who had been introduced to it through the Imbeleko Foundation, which had sent them from their home in the Valley of 1 000 Hills to the historic institution on a scholarship, introduced the platform to their dormitory pals.

They recall a huge gap emerging in their education at the beginning of lockdown.

“We had a long time without doing anything. It affects one’s mental health in that you end up ‘overthinking’ and you don’t have anything to do.”

However, being introduced to www.milanieducation.com made a significant difference to their lives.

“I don’t remember how many months into lockdown it was, but it came as a huge relief. The first lesson was learning arithmetic sequences through the website.

“At school there had been gaps, I didn’t understand some things. Once we loaded them, it helped us master them.”

Lutz explained that instead of learning off a whiteboard (in a classroom) as a once-off, one could rewind and rewatch the video lesson.

There are also graphics among the bank of resources, all linked to the curriculum.

“A lot of times, you find lessons irrelevant to you, or from another language, or continent which, honestly, leaves you more confused than before. So, pupils no longer have to use tons of data searching Google and YouTube trying to find a video that relates to them and makes sense to them. You can find this all easily on the web site.”

She refers to it as “the Google of education”.

The two other schools that have become partners are Maritzburg College and Thomas More College, Kloof. St Mary’s, Kloof; Curro Hillcrest; Epworth in Pietermaritzburg and Michaelhouse have pledged their support.

The seed was planted in Lutz’s head back in Grade 9 when she researched the advantages of integrating technology into the classroom.

“I was determined for St John’s to have more technology within our classrooms and see how we could be more futuristic about how we are taught. Then lockdown hit and we moved seamlessly online and all my efforts had been for nothing.”

However, the country’s educational inequality came to mind. Lutz learnt first-hand of the desperation among disadvantaged pupils to make up for lost learning after she shared some resources she had at hand with such people on a Google Drive document on a tablet.

A Grade 8 pupil without access to data or WhatsApp got hold of it and, in a few weeks, went through months of content.

“I was struggling to keep up with the demand,” Lutz recalled.

Helping Lutz along the way has been a group of eight friends dubbed the “Milani Army”. They have helped with things like web design and loading content to get the product to what it has become.

Contributing teacher Andrew Browne,from the maths department at Thomas More, jumped on board straight away after hearing about www.milanieducation.com.

“Here was this Grade 10 with all the privileges in the world. I got goosebumps at her maturity, insight and vision.”

The project’s funders are businessman Lloyd Meaker and Bidvest.

The Independent on Saturday