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Apex High School students in South Africa learn in the classroom

No-Fee Apex High Conquers Challenges of Online Learning

COVID-19 Project Overview

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across South Africa face the challenge of ensuring that learners can effectively continue their studies while physically at school or learning remotely. While online learning is an option in South Africa for a few communities that have the resources, the country’s readiness for this is still hampered by various challenges including high data costs, lack of access to suitable remote learning devices, and effective delivery of lessons.

Apex High School — a no-fee, dual-medium, public high school in Eersterivier, outside Cape Town — solved these challenges and others when its learners were not able to physically attend school during the national lockdown. Through its partnership with Acorn Education, Apex was able to provide holistic learner support and inspire attendance within a virtual school setup — resulting in 100% teacher participation and more than 80% learner attendance.

Part of an algebra lesson recorded for Apex High School students

Many pupils in South Africa come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the COVID-19 crisis shone a spotlight on the country’s digital divide.

Sean Bastable, Program Manager for South Africa

How it Helps

Apex High School’s virtual model is keeping learners engaged and on track throughout the pandemic. Before launching online learning, the team surveyed families to identify constraints and platform preferences. Then, they sourced low-cost devices for students without one — about 10% of learners. Facebook surfaced as the most widely used tool with the lowest data requirements.

Apex Virtual High School initially began with 55 Facebook groups acting as virtual classrooms for four days a week, eight hours a day. The Facebook groups used the same format as in-person lessons and the originally planned curriculum, combined with features likes polls, videos, and photos to keep learners engaged. Some learners even attended virtual classes in their school uniforms! The Apex team developed a way to push data to each learner every morning, and to reduce data usage to just 3MB per lesson.
Apex now uses their own zero-data-rated online learning platform for daily lessons, reducing data costs even more. In living out its motto to do “whatever it takes”, Apex High is educating learners for a week using the same amount of data that would typically be used for a one-hour Zoom meeting.

The team’s journey clearly demonstrates that online learning — including the need for devices, data costs, and the delivery of the daily lessons— is feasible. The strides made by Apex are not just remarkable, but also replicable.

Foundation Project Lead

Stronger Together: Our COVID-19 Response

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