South Africa’s state of education remains firmly – and crucially – in our collective spotlight. Identified as one of the country’s top three national priorities in the 2018 budget speech and with fee-free higher education and training already being phased in, key players in the space have consistently argued that simply increasing spend is neither effective nor appropriate when it comes to solving the burning issues at the heart of our current system. The ever-increasing needs of learners and educators (i.e. the customer) also have to be overlaid against this national backdrop. Customers want cost-effective, convenient and on-demand access to learning, learning tools and associated support. Their need for simplicity and increased productivity is not being heard by the sector, with players largely disparate, fragmented and unable to offer meaningful converged learning and education solutions. While many solutions have been recommended, the CEO of Fundi Amasi Mwela argues that for South Africa to disrupt its own status quo, we need to rethink education and support the move towards a learning eco-system. The digital narrative and the pervasiveness of technology in everyday life today have to be seen as key drivers of this conversation.  

With education a crucial enabler and arguably one of today’s most effective socio-economic equalisers, its importance – and potential – in our country and on our continent cannot be underestimated. That being said however, our current definition of what constitutes “education” is both outdated and limited; with outcomes typically dependent on factors outside a learner’s control. 

“This is especially seen in the case of learners from disadvantaged communities where they don’t have personal resources they can use to overcome barriers of access or quality, for example,” notes Mwela. “Imagine what could and would change in this context if we dismantled this definition of ‘education’ and replaced it with that of ‘life-long learning’?”

Edu-tech means this is now possible. As technology democratises content and learning, our current view on “education” is increasingly being challenged and interrogated to determine real-life application and relevance – specific to the individual. 

“This is a complete about-turn for what we have been brought up to believe education should look like. In the past it was scoped for the masses around a finite certificate, diploma or degree. Today, current and future generations of learners are demanding learning that speaks to them in a holistic way as the unique individuals they are; stimulating intellectual, physical, emotional and even spiritual growth. This makes it infinite – and a process; a quest even.”

What does this mean for educators and education as a sector though? Mwela explains that tools are already being used to supplement and even replace traditional teachers and lessons, with learners wanting to combine these across platforms and with products that “enable” their learning experience. 

“This is something we’re seeing more and more as Fundi. Because learners see the experience as a journey, they want to shape, control and ultimately own it themselves. They’re consequently demanding 360 solutions they can tailor to their needs: from uniforms, food and accommodation allowances, to basic career guidance and extra lessons. This means that providers, including schools, need to find ways to aggregate these for them to remain both relevant and meaningful contributors. For many, this will require reinvention.” 

While the disruption is being seen and felt at various levels, Mwela maintains the sector needs to support and embrace it as an opportunity to evolve – and meet the real needs of learners across generations. “Education should never be seen as static, finite or ‘complete’. It’s an enabler. We need to embrace it as such. This means we need to innovate in real-time, leveraging the opportunities technology is making possible to create relevant, appropriate solutions across the collective. This will ensure we actively challenge and overcome the pervasive issues we face, and finally overcome them.”