Syafunda which means ‘we are learning’ in IsiZulu is a learning and data management platform that provides access to digital content for Math, Science, Entrepreneurship, Financial literacy and digital skills through mobile technology in rural and townships schools. The platform is looking to expand its reach with the launch of Syafunda Plus which aims to serve youth by making content available outside of school in community centres and libraries.
Founder Zakheni Ngubo, who is also the Senior Managing Partner said, “Syafunda will no longer focus on high school learners but also those who have just left school or could not finish high school and those that are unemployed.”
Syafunda plans to expand the scope and add more content. “We are looking for partners who have relevant content that we can host in the different locations. This will help us in expanding the experience and diversifying the reach,” said Ngubo.
Siyafunda is also working on an online bookstore. The company is on a quest to get publishers onboard to allow students to purchase a 12-month license to use a textbook, this according to Ngubo aims to decrease the price of the book by 30 percent.
“Because the textbook is only needed for one year, the need to buy, print and wait for the book to be delivered is not there. We are trying to get publishers on board to enable students to buy the licence for the book instead of a hardcopy. We are also looking at making certain chapters available instead of the whole book. This should be ready by the end of the year,” he said.
Syafunda has an app that allows schools to keep track of the learners’ performance and identify students who need extra support. They are then able to download material and perform assessments. The app creates a context where all learners have a profile which is carried out through their high school career. It is like a digital CV. Syafunda plans to partner with a bursary programme where they can share student information with potential companies.
“Everything the learner downloads is stored into the download section. The app protects the material. It is saved on the app and cannot be shared externally which also protects the publishers,” said Ngubo.
The company is currently working with 47 schools and will be rolling-out to an additional 24. “The goal by the end of this year is to reach a hundred schools,” said Ngubo.
The platform works with schools across South Africa which includes Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng.
Explaining how the content is delivered, Ngubo said, “We codeswitch between English and IsiZulu because we realised that some learners are failing because English is a second or third language or they have very limited exposure to it. This is what makes our content unique,” said Ngubo.
Syafunda focuses on supplementing teachers and allows learners to use learning content outside the classroom. Currently, Syafunda has teachers in Kwa-Zulu Natal who are handling past papers. This is done via video tutorials that are exclusively past papers from the past three years.
“Initially we thought we could use other peoples content but quickly realised that it does not work. We realised that we needed to start developing our own content which is relevant to our people,” added Ngubo.
Ngubo says a major challenge that the company encountered was development, and the lack of support as well as political dynamics. “The education space is structured and has a set of policies and frameworks in place so trying to disrupt the industry was an issue. Engaging with stakeholders has become a crucial part of Syafunda. We ensure that teachers believe and support what we are doing, said Ngubo. “We also need the district to buy into the platform. It is mainly about managing complex relationships,” he added.
Ngubo said another challenge was changing the perceptive about cellphones in schools. “Because the solution is digital and learners need to use cellphones or tablets to access content,” he said.
“Syafunda is localised in language and context. We need to rewrite the narrative and change our story. That means that we have to develop our content ourselves. Content is becoming better and more interactive,” he concluded.