The time is now to lean into digital learning

The time is now to lean into digital learning
James Lees co founder and managing director at Advantage Learn

COVID-19 has rocked the foundation of the education system, not only in South Africa but across the globe. It’s time to wake up and accept the new normal and use it to accelerate the critically needed transformation of our education landscape. Online learning is now a necessity and not a nice to have.

On March 18, 2020, all schools in South Africa shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Education organisations across the board were forced into a scramble to try and ready themselves to attempt to keep learners learning during the lockdown, but the large majority certainly wasn’t ready.

Covid forced e-learning in South Africa firmly into the spotlight and, although there had been prior progress, the progress to digitally supported learning had been a little too slow. This meant that some schools were able to adapt while others weren’t, highlighting yet again the enormous education inequality we have between served and underserved schools in South Africa.

The effects of the Covid-pandemic were felt in every part of our lives, but none more so than in the education sector. The delivery of quality education in South Africa is deeply unequal and needs to be rectified urgently. COVID-19 has accelerated the need for an already critical long-term correction to a broken system.

This said I prefer not to dwell on who is responsible for the inequality, how it came about, and how it has been allowed to continue with low rates of meaningful resolution. I prefer to apply my thoughts to how we as a country can create meaningful change through considered investment, smart solutions and interventions, appropriate partnerships, and well-executed corrective measures that have a high probability of correcting our deeply unequal education system in the long term.

One thing is abundantly clear, with growing unemployment rates and a rapidly evolving global economy we need private and public players to work together to provide a high-quality, openly accessible education for all South Africans that allow them to be a part of the global economy.

As South Africans, we can no longer accept the poor service delivery and corruption in our education system. All of us who can contribute to changing the education system long-term should work together to do so. The rapid digital acceleration caused by COVID-19 offers us a unique opportunity to innovate and lean into scalable solutions that lean on digital technologies.

As the famed educationalist, Sir Ken Robinson said, “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

So how do we use this era of rapid educational transformation to accelerate the provision of quality education to all South African students?

In my humble opinion, we can start by leaning into leveraging digital learning and focusing on integrating it into the classrooms and homes for the long term as far, fast and wide as possible. Coupled with this we focus on providing free internet access for all students so that tried and tested online learning solutions can help begin to attempt to level the playing field.

How do we (Advantage Learn) fit into this picture?

 Covid-19 school lockdowns and disruptions created an immense learning loss for a large majority of learners. This is especially worrying in key subjects like Maths and Science as the results you achieve in these subjects directly affect your access to many coveted degree programmes at a tertiary level.

At Advantage Learn, we believe we can help remediate this learning loss in Mathematics and Science by giving learners and educators access to digital resources that they can use to supplement and complement their in-classroom and out-of-classroom learning through our Neo Series.

We believe that matching pre-recorded teaching in key subjects with materials for teachers to use with their students will create a cohesive learning experience that can withstand all that Covid-19 and other disruptions throw at us.

What is the Neo Series?

Over the past few years, we have been hard at work creating the components of a Maths solution we believe could make educators’ lives a little easier and support learners in and outside of the classroom.

When Covid-19 lockdowns hit schools in 2020, we decided to use these resources to try and help continue Maths learning where we could by offering these digital Maths resources openly for free to schools and students.

Thousands upon thousands of learners signed up to use the resources with their teachers alongside them and this period showed us that our resources might have a place in the classroom and more importantly, might make Maths educators lives easier and learners Maths support and extension more flexible and accessible.

The Neo Series is a flexible, blended learning solution for schools that enables active learning inside and outside the classroom through outcomes-based design, curriculum-aligned teaching and assessment resources (video lessons, question banks and worksheets), and a cutting-edge online LMS. It matches over 25 000 minutes of Maths teaching videos covering the full syllabus from Grade 8 – 12 with an in-classroom textbook, educator guide and fully worked memo. All for the cost of an average textbook.

In 2021 we piloted our Neo Series at 16 schools with great success and believe that the solution makes teachers’ lives easier and students’ learning a bit easier by making maths learning a bit more flexible.

We firmly believe that powering educators with helpful resources while simultaneously helping learners to support themselves will create a classroom environment that is enhanced and cohesive. One of our partner schools recently claimed their Maths performance across the board is showing signs of a 7 – 12% increase in results. We here at Advantage Learn dream of the potential impact this solution might have on both served and underserved schools and learners.

 Into the future

One of the unique features of the Neo Series is that it is never done. It is by design a digital technology solution that enhances synchronous learning environments (in-person, live-online, etc) and as with new-age tech, this will be continuously worked on and improved.

It is built on our years of experience delivering learning flexibly (in-person and digitally) in our programmes (NBT preparation, Advanced Programme Mathematics and Physics) and we use it in our classrooms here at

Working closely with our Neo Series partners we will be improving the solution in an ongoing manner, with the ultimate goal of making this a seamless, flexible learning solution that enhances learning both inside and outside the classroom.

In 2022 we will see some incredible features being launched for educators including deeper insights and reporting that is connected directly to learning prescription. We plan to add a lot more revision, exam preparation, and practice for learners so that they are empowered to practice their skills on an ongoing basis. Something we believe is critical to increased performance.

We are certainly at a tipping point in education in South Africa. We have seen how a virus that started approximately 11 785 km away in Wuhan, China, closed our schools within four months. A virus that has forced our teachers to be physically separated from learners for an unknown length of time.

Yet learning needs to be consistently delivered, our economy and future depend on it. Those that thought it only necessary to integrate online learning into our means of instruction over time have now been rudely awoken. COVID-19 has forced our hands – schools, educators, parents and learners alike. It has forced us to rapidly transform our instruction methods in our schools to keep our classrooms open and this will fundamentally change our approach to learning and instruction. I sincerely hope we can utilise this moment in history to rethink how we can create necessary and meaningful change in our somewhat broken education system.

For more information on our Neo Series please do get in touch with us at [email protected]