MTN invests R12m in online school, calls for more spectrum

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 21 Oct 2021

MTN has invested R12 million in a new online school, to address the digital divide in SA’s education sector, by increasing digital access to curriculum-aligned educational content for grades R to12.

The MTN Online School, a free integrated online educational portal, was developed in partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the National Education Collaboration Trust.

It aims to address the 21st century learning needs of SA’s children and close the gap in access to quality education among the youth.

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the 2020 and 2021 academic calendars, after millions of learners were thrust into a virtual learning environment they were ill-prepared for.

Speaking during a virtual conference this morning, MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa highlighted the important role played by spectrum availability in accelerating such initiatives – in a country with over 20 million people who use smartphones, accounting for about one-third of the population.

He pointed out that MTN, with a network that covers 96% of SA, has zero-rated the e-learning portal so learners can access it whether they are based in urban or deeply-rooted rural areas.

“As part of our strategy, we continue pushing digital aggressively because we believe we can reach people much quicker. As we continue building the physical infrastructure across the country − such as the multimedia centres – of course we need more spectrum so that we can cover more people.

“Digital transformation takes place within a huge ICT ecosystem, and for that ecosystem to flourish, we need young people to be able to access quality teaching and learning that is essential to enabling them to play their part in changing the world. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the urgent need in SA for accessible and approved online curricula and we are delighted to deliver the MTN Online School, to do just that,” commented Motsa.

More than five million people currently have access to the 1 000+ websites MTN has been able to zero-rate since the temporary spectrum was made available by the telecoms regulator, he added.

However, in August, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa announced it had resolved the temporary radio frequency spectrum assigned to licensees will have to be returned to it by no later than 30 November.

MTN has been vocal about the devastating consequences of the withdrawal of the temporary spectrum, and how it will pose a significant risk to lower income South Africans, students and learners who are benefiting from free learning tools.

MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa.
MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa.

The online school is available via the MTN website or the MTN Online School mobile app, which can be downloaded from the Android app store. The Apple version of the app will be available from next week in the iOS app store.

The app can be used by a teacher during a classroom lesson, or by a learner on their own.

According to MTN, a full content library will be added to the platform and made available over a period of three years, focusing on key subjects.

Video lessons will be provided with a sign language interpreter to accommodate deaf learners.

Also speaking at the launch, basic education minister Angie Motshekga said: “Our vision for the schooling sector is anchored in the National Development Plan, which recognises that education is the cornerstone upon which a nation that provides opportunities for social mobility, equity, social justice and democracy will depend.

“The MTN Online School is a fit-for-purpose digital tool to take our basic education to the next level. The online portal is agile, innovative and modern. Together with the innovation and commitment to societal change by MTN, today’s launch of the MTN Online School is a significant leap forward for education and ushers in positive change for communities across South Africa.”

This initiative is in line with MTN Group’s over-arching “Ambition 2025” strategy to be ahead of the curve in provider digital solutions that advance digital education, skills and jobs, notes the telco.

Jacqui O'Sullivan, MTN SA executive for corporate affairs, added:“COVID-19 wreaked havoc for school children everywhere, but access to digital tools and solutions proved critical in ensuring children could stay in touch and up to date.

“Building on the success of our partnership with Siyavula in 2020, this new platform aims to give the power of online tools to support teachers in adding value to their lessons, in teaching digital skills and reaching those learners who need additional support.”