Durban - The paint on the walls of Shea O’Connor Combined School is peeling, the roof leaks and the floorboards are cracked.
But state-of-the-art technology looks set to propel the school and its pupils into the future.
Launched last week at the modest school in the heart of the rural KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the award-winning Ligbron e-learning system allows highly qualified specialist maths and science teachers, based at the Ermelo headquarters, to present lessons that follow the national Department of Basic Education’s curriculum, using SMART boards and computers which are linked to rural classrooms all over the country.
While they are teaching, pupils can communicate with the teachers using video and audio equipment and by writing on the interactive SMART boards in the classrooms.
Shea O’Connor will be the first KZN school to sign on with Ligbron.
But the system has been in use in some schools in other provinces for up to 10 years.
And Umzimvelo Secondary School in Mpumalanga credits it with contributing to a dramatic increase in the overall pass rate – from 38.3% in 2009 to 94.5% in 2016.
Masizakhe and Ithafa Secondary Schools, also in Mpumalanga, have seen similar spikes in their performances. The former’s overall pass rate has increased by 43 percentage points in the last seven years and the latter’s by almost 42.
Ligbron alumnus Nodida Sikhosana says the system “profoundly influenced” his education. In Grade 10, Sikhosana was averaging between 50% and 60% for maths and 40% for science.
He started with Ligbron in Grade 11 and that year saw his marks soar to 65% for maths and 70% for science. In 2015, he matriculated with 78% for maths and 89% for science.
He was awarded a bursary to study medicine at the University of Moscow and is in his second year.
Shea O’Connor’s Nosipho Nkosi hopes Ligbron might give her the boost she needs to follow her own dream of studying for a Bachelor of Dental Science. Originally from Mtubatuba in Zululand, the 18-year-old lives in Mooi River with her aunt.
“My mum and dad are still in Mtubatuba,” she says. “My mum doesn’t work but my dad is a guide at a game reserve there.”
The oldest child of three, she says: “It’s all on me.”
“My parents have done so much – sacrificed so much – for me and I want to pay them back,” Nkosi says.
Classmate Melikhaya Jacobs has similar aspirations.
“What I want is to build my parents a double storey house,” he says. And with a passion for technical engineering, Melikhaya says mastering maths and science is critical for him.
School principal Nicholas Nxumalo says his pupils are struggling with those two subjects.
“There are numerous challenges in this kind of a school,” he says. “So having this state-of-the-art facility, it gives us a chance and it gives our community – our learners, our teachers and our parents – an opportunity to explore the potential that we have…
“I’m hopeful it will make a huge difference in elevating the performance academically, boosting the morale and motivating us as teachers.”
The project is being sponsored by One Digital Media and supported by local big names, including Fordoun Hotel and Spa and Michaelhouse, which is playing a major role in managing it.
Michaelhouse rector Paul Fleischack says they are “thrilled to be involved”.