MathsGee joins forces with Joburg City to digitise libraries

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Edzai Zvobwo, founder and CEO MathsGee.
Edzai Zvobwo, founder and CEO MathsGee.

Learning analytics start-up MathsGee has teamed up with City of Johannesburg libraries, helping them become fully digitised.


It has, since publication of this story, emerged that no contracts have been signed by the City of Johannesburg or MathsGee, and the city is still doing its due diligence. MathsGee founder and CEO Edzai Zvobwo has apologised for his error in judgement and accuracy in the interview, and for talking about an issue that was yet to be concluded.

The start-up, which is eyeing global expansion for the burgeoning education technology business, says with the latest deal, key offerings to the city include managing the infrastructure for its public engagement activities.

The city can now have “Ask a Librarian” capabilities, plus lots of learning analytics that will be used for academic research in the future, says MathsGee founder and CEO Edzai Zvobwo.

In an interview with ITWeb on educational and learning technologies, Zvobwo says the deal with City of Johannesburg libraries is part of the start-up’s response to SA’s edutech, which he says can be summed up as “concentrated at the extreme” compared to its peers.

He says the unbalanced adoption of edutech in SA has increased inequality because the well-resourced schools did not lose teaching and learning time like their poor counterparts.

“During the hard lockdown, the private and public schools that can afford to managed to seamlessly switch to remote learning, but little to no progress was made in the majority of township and rural schools,” says Zvobwo.

He tells ITWeb that technology is not the biggest barrier to online learning, but affordable data and access to broadband have been the biggest obstacles to “attaining the promise of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR)” especially in response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parity levels

“Connectivity is a problem in terms of access to reliable, fast broadband. A few well-to-do neighbourhoods have broadband but the townships and rural areas where most of the learners reside do not have broadband, which limits their ability to watch video lessons and use immersive technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality. The solution to this is for both the public and private sector to facilitate the production and distribution of offline content.

“Data is expensive in South Africa – the cost of data is too high, thus a lot of learners are not benefitting from the wealth of the Internet. The government and telcos have stepped in with the zero-rating programme, which I believe is useful but not sustainable, as it flouts the philosophy of net neutrality. By zero-rating some sites and others, there is an asymmetry in the Internet economics that benefit education portals that can negotiate with telcos, or have money to pay telcos to play.”

Furthermore, Zvobwo says, many projects have been rolled out but the devices are stolen.

“Secured computer labs have been installed in schools and in no time they are empty, so this is a society-wide problem and it will take more than the education sector to solve this.”

He believes SA’s performance in the adoption of education technology is distributed according to affordability, and the bottom of the pyramid schools are lagging behind.

According to Zvobwo, private schools are now hiring chief technology officers, digital instructional designers and data scientists, among other specialised roles, which is an indication of intent to be fully immersed in the 4IR.

“There is no such in poor public schools and that will widen the gap further. Because technology can be centralised, it is imperative that the departments of education look into a platform that every school can plug into. This will help in achieving ubiquitous content, standard and infrastructure. This is one way the gap can be reduced.

“Government has to seriously incentivise entrepreneurs and large corporations to invest in education. The know-how is there in the country but there needs to be more value for those who choose to solve the problem sustainably.”

Ray of hope

Nonetheless, Zvobwo says the local edutech situation is not all gloom, as there has been some intervention by government and the public sector.

“I would like to commend the departments of health, higher education and training, and basic education for crafting the world’s largest telco-led intervention through the zero-rating of education Web sites. More than a thousand education sites have been zero-rated by the various mobile network operators.

“No other country put in place such a comprehensive programme. The only problem is that not enough information dissemination was done to alert all the stakeholders in the education value chain on the emergence of this intervention.”

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