One cannot observe South Africa’s tech scene without stumbling upon MXIT, Africa’s largest social network. MXIT gained popularity around 2004 when the mobile platform provided subscribers with text messaging at a fraction of the cost of a traditional SMS. The company has fallen down some financial wells a few times since then, but was saved by the investment group World of Avatar, and is a thriving network with 50 Million users across Africa.
Since becoming aware of the service, I have asked people (from the girl sitting next to me at UCT to a bartender in Livingstone, Zambia) if they have MXIT, and even if they aren’t still using it obsessively, its seems everyone has the app on their phone.
The platform has expanded past communication into the realms of ecommerce, gaming, and much more, most interestingly education, in the form of MXIT Reach.
MXIT Reach brings the power of corporate industry to the realm of NGOs, and provides the infrastructure of change through a familiar instrument. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently listed primary education opportunities as the #1 concern for Sub-Saharan Africa, as nearly 10 million African children drop out of primary school annually.
The beauty of the mobile medium is the widespread accessibility; while internet penetration in much of Africa is under 20%, a vast majority of people have mobile phones (Africa is the second largest mobile phone market in the world, with over 620 million mobile subscriptions) and many people access their personal and financial accounts through the mobile network.
MXIT Reach hopes to tap into this tendency, and provide educational, healthcare, and technological apps to the Global Village.
What’s more, the mobile platform is the interactivity; students who are unaccustomed to focusing their attention on reading could be engaged by the technological wonder and personalized content available through an app.
Take QuizMax, a math studying tool:
Dr. Maths is another one of MXIT’s study tools. The platforms have allowed over 30,000 students receive extra tutoring sessions through live chat sessions.
As for the humanities side, check out the Yoza Project, designed to teach reading and writing to children without easy access to physical books through mobile novels (m-novels). The first story was published in 2009 on a mobi-site and on MXIT, and employed the platform effectively by allowing users to vote in polls, leave comments, and vote for the direction of the evolving plot.
In seven months, the story had been read more than 34,000 times, and the early success has allowed the platform to expand into a youth zone with a variety of stories and 69,000 subscribers through MXIT.
And these platforms are only the beginning of the movement. Alongside all of the independent developers, companies like Microsoft and Google are catching onto the trend and changing the way knowledge is distributed.
Let me know how else technology is changing education in South Africa in the comments!