Issue: March/May 2008
Liberty Life

Technology embraced

How the content of Mindset reaches learners.

Article and photo by courtesy of Finweek

Consequences of the 1953 Bantu Education Act of 1953 are still being felt particularly in a critical shortage of maths and science teachers. Historically, most South African teachers haven’t been adequately supported to acquire the skills they need to teach these subjects.

The challenge facing the Liberty Education Foundation was to deliver lessons in maths and science on a national scale. Television was the obvious answer, because one good teacher in a studio could reach into potentially thousands of classrooms and living rooms country-wide, even continent-wide. That gave rise in 1990 to the Liberty Learning Channel, currently broadcast via SATV1.

Based on this success – pass rates increased by up to 300% in some schools that had scheduled the programmes into their daily routine – Liberty Education Foundation became convinced that SA needed a full-time educational TV service to deliver a timetabled curriculum to under-resourced schools countrywide.

In addition to the Liberty Education Foundation’s considerable portfolio of projects in education, the Liberty Group and Standard Bank became lead partners in setting up the Mindset Network. It’s an independent, non-profit organisation that creates, sources and delivers educational material by means of satellite broadcast – and, over time, also datacast via the Internet – with supporting multimedia material.

Since being established in 2002, this far-reaching strategic partnership has expanded to work with MultiChoice, IntelSat, Sentech, the Telkom Foundation, the Sunday Times and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, sourcing donors and funders for the creation of content, as well as for the installation of equipment at schools, clinics and hospitals.

Mindset’s content is then delivered to participating educational institutions free of charge.

It was the first time worldwide that such a comprehensive and integrated multimedia approach had been taken to tackle issues of skills development and entrepreneurship. Mindset broadcasts on a number of channels via DStv, focusing on further education and training for grades 10, 11 and 12, targeting the critical subjects of maths, science and English.

It doesn’t simply “dump” content into schools. It also provides equipment, training and the necessary support for people to be able to access the content and use it correctly.

Kits include a TV set, satellite dish, decoder, video recorder and a supply of blank tapes for asynchronous viewing.

The power and flexibility of the technological solutions available, the content’s high standard and the top levels of approval and acceptance of both media and content encouraged Mindset to follow its original vision in expanding its offerings into the schooling, health and vocational sectors through a number of programmes:

  • Mindset Learn provides content supporting the national curricula in English, maths, physical sciences, information technology and mathematical literacy for scholars and teachers alike in grades 10 to 12. This content is now provided to 1 500 high schools and into 1,5m homes countrywide and into Africa. Content is also available on the Mindset Network web-site;
  • Mindset Cabanga was launched in May 2006 to focus on grade 4 natural sciences, maths and technology, with the aim of eventually providing content up to grade 7;
  • Mindset Health provides educational content for the healthcare industry and the general public on most key health areas: HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and child survival. It’s offered via dedicated transmission into the waiting rooms of 270 clinics and hospitals in SA;
  • Mindset Livelihoods provides a comprehensive range of multimedia resources to assist unemployed young people in establishing small business ventures as well as skills development programmes. It has also embarked on content development projects with Telkom Foundation’s information and communications technology skills training, and with the Umsobomvu Youth Fund.

Four generations of learners have already benefited from extensive educational development programmes sponsored by the Liberty Education Foundation. Established in 1971, its emphasis has shifted since the mid-1980s to support sustainable development projects, increasingly concentrating on public education.

Every year, matric results continue to reveal the deficiencies in South Africa’s educational system. Since 1990, the Liberty Education Foundation has invested more than R350m in mostly large-scale educational programmes that support the state’s investment in the national education system and harness the power of partnerships with non-governmental organisations, government departments and other companies.

The Liberty Group is now the largest private sector sponsor of public education in SA. The Liberty Education Foundation’s policy is to spend resources on education and health education, as it believes these basic needs represent the crucial requirements for sustainable economic growth.

 This policy aligns with the overall business strategy of the group, for the biggest challenge facing SA’s life insurance industry is to grow the potential market and society’s savings culture. By educating people to become economically active and healthy, the industry will create future customers for our products.

The Liberty Learning Channel has been on TV for more than 15 years, broadcasting thousands of hours of educational programming to learners throughout Africa. It delivers core curricula material for grades 11 and 12 pupils in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics and English. The Learning Channel is also televised to at least 100m pupils in 17 other African countries from Ethiopia to Ghana and Nigeria.

Last year the channel moved from SATV3 to SATV1, reaching more pupils and broadcasting 100 more hours than in 2005. The channel received the Impumelo Trust gold award for innovative work in the fields of poverty reduction and community development.

Apart from its 15 years’ experience with the Liberty Learning channel, and its more recent activities through Mindset Network, Liberty Education Foundation is also extensively involved with the print media. In partnership with the Sunday Times and Rapport, as well as Independent Group titles and other major newspapers, it produces printed material that supports the educational curricula at all levels.