Virtual learning in South Africa
Virtual learning used to be an imaginary afterthought especially here in Africa until recent years. Many people including academics believed we were still a bit far from it but with rate of technological advances in the world and locally it has become a reality. Virtual learning or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) refers to a web-based/software/app digital platform that is used to aid learning of a specific course. A good example of virtual learning would be an online course, which has online assessments (or quizzes), allows communication via email, text or live video and the course material is in electronic format such as video and eBooks.
On the 4th of August 2015 the University of Pretoria opened the first Virtual Reality Center for Africa which was designed with the goal of aiding students design safer mines. The Kumba Virtual Reality Centre for mine design is a 3D 360 degree stereoscopic theater and requires students to wear 3D glasses to experience it, which according to Prof Webber Head of the mining department “using VR to supplement actual mine visits is much cheaper and mistakes are painless, yet the immersive nature of the simulations means the emotional effects are tangible”. This is virtual learning at it’s best, being able to visualize design simulations in 3D.
This month we also saw a collaboration between Vodacom and the Eastern Cape Department of Education to digitalize education in the province. The virtual learning platform introduced is called “Virtual Teacher” and is used by teachers to deliver lessons in real time to remote multiple classrooms or locations simultaneously. The advantage is that through smart devices learners can join access from anywhere at any time which according to Vodacom is a first in South Africa. The main objective of the platform is to improve the matric pass rate of the province by providing extra classes to learners at selected districts which are delivered by some of the country’s top teachers. This further shows that partnership with the private sector and government can make virtual learning possible in South Africa and improve our education system. In the words of Vuyani Jarana, Chief Officer at Vodacom Business “The future of the South African education system is digital and we must embrace the opportunities this offers to leapfrog infrastructural backlogs and legacy issues in our schools”.