BROOKHAVEN, New York — As of 2002, school attendance has increased in South Africa with 99% of students enrolling in primary school and 88% enrolling in secondary school. However, there are still concerns with children’s education in low-income communities. In impoverished and remote regions, the quality and access to education are significantly lower, ultimately impacting youth development.
Fortunately, a developer from South Africa created a software program to help ease these concerns. Mmaki Jantjies invented a program known as M-Thuto. M-Thuto facilitates multilingual learning from home for students aged 15 to 18 in the hopes of advancing education access in South Africa and providing more access to educational resources.
A Developer and a Dream
Mmaki Jantjies, a Ph.D graduate from the University of Warwick, U.K., was interested in developing STEM programs such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics for youths in South Africa. However, she quickly realized students in grades 10 to 12 were struggling in these STEM subjects due to language barriers. As a result, Dr. Jantjies worked to find a way to provide universal language learning in South Africa, and, in turn, help increase participation in STEM programs. The M-Thuto was the result of her Ph.D studies.
South Africa has limited technology access. Only about 11% of the population have personal computers. Because of the limited number of computers, Dr. Jantjies wanted to make it easier for children to use M-Thuto.
Thus, in order to make M-Thuto more accessible, Dr. Jantjies designed the program to be used on mobile devices. Students do not need a smartphone to use the platform; instead, they can use it on older phone models as well. This way, no matter what cell phone a student, or the student’s family, may have, the software can be used. By programming M-Thuto to be available on most phones, Dr. Jantjies is improving educational access in impoverished communities.
Language of Learning
First and foremost, Dr. Jantjies built the program around a multilingual surface. South African children learn English in the classroom. However, in local communities, the South African population also speaks Setswana and Xhosa. M-Thuto allows for the student to select the languages Setswana and English to view and complete the education materials. Throughout the whole educational experience, the student will have access to either language whenever desired. Developers hope that through this, children from all backgrounds will be able to access the educational services.
The purpose of M-Thuto is to allow children to participate in their education anywhere, whether in the classroom, at home or anywhere in between. The program includes notes from the class as well as any class quizzes, exercises and other resources a student may need. Students can view all of the resources in either English or Setswana. By allowing the students to learn in both languages, they are more open to understanding school materials in their at-home language as well as the language of the South African school system. M-Thuto was tested in various schools in South Africa, with Dr. Jantjies’ supervisor Dr. Mike overseeing the testing and noting students’ improved test results.
While there has been an increase in school attendance in South African schools, there are still obstacles limiting students’ access to their education within the classroom. With the help of software developers, such as Mmaki Jantjies and her M-Thuto, it is hoped that education access in South Africa will continue to improve.
— Sarah Kirchner