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Matrics can turn to MXit for help

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2010 has been a disruptive year for South African learners. Recent national public servant strikes have severely hampered the sector and this, compounded by an extra-long school holiday over the World Cup, has had a detrimental effect on matric students’ ability to cope.
With less than 40 days to go until the final exams, the Meraka Institute, as the information and communications technology unit of the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), along with MXit, its mobile social network partner, have intensified its Dr Math mobile learning programme in a bid to alleviate the pressure on the teaching system and to assist learners through their final exams.  Dr Math is a live tutorial tool that uses volunteers to help math learners with their homework or studies via MXit.

Although the CSIR has used MXit’s platform to run the Dr Math programme for the past 2 years, for reasons of scalability and insufficient tutors, it could not be extended past a small base of the social network’s South African community of nearly 10 million. Closer ties between the CSIR and MXit’s educational and social initiative, MXit Cares, as well as the fact that the CSIR has recruited a base of 100 tutors, has facilitated this programme’s availability to the entire MXit community.

“Dr Math is currently helping 12 000 learners on MXit, but we could be helping so many more if we had additional volunteer tutors,” says Laurie Butgereit, CSIR researcher and creator of the Dr Math initiative.  “Here is a perfect opportunity for South Africa to roll up its sleeves and help this year’s matric pupils.  Volunteers don’t need to be teachers, but rather university students or members of the private sector, who have taken math as a subject in school or university.”

Just over 100 tutors, from the University of Pretoria, African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, University of Stellenbosch,  and the CSIR, have been screened and registered to tutor learners from anywhere in the country from 2pm to 10pm from Sundays to Thursdays.   University students can earn community service credits by volunteering their services on Dr Math.

Former deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka recently used Dr Math as part of an e-teaching thesis.  “Our teaching system is normally under pressure, so when one adds the additional pressures they have faced this year, it is clear that other solutions must be sought.  Dr Math is a wonderful initiative that not only helps matrics, but learners from all grades, to interact with subjects on a platform that they understand and are familiar with.”

“We think that this programme is perhaps one of the most significant mobile learning initiatives ever developed.  It has the ability to alleviate pressure and help learners pass their exams.   We urge volunteers to join the programme so that we can increase the value of Dr Math and its impact on helping our youth.  This is a perfect demonstration of social networking at its best,” says MXit Cares’ manager for social business and education, Laura Hallam.

For learners – how to use Dr Math:
Although the pressure is on to help matric learners through their exams, the programme is open to all grades.  Learners can access the programme by registering on MXit and adding Dr Math to their contacts – it’s then simple to navigate to Tradepost / MXit Cares / Education / Dr Math.

For volunteers – how to become a tutor:
CSIR Meraka Institute is looking for English, Afrikaans and vernacular-language volunteers to help tutor learners from all grades on MXit.  Volunteers should be able to donate a convenient amount of time (even an hour per week would help), have knowledge of math and should understand the technology platform of MXit.

Although tutoring is open to everyone, there is a set of criteria that must be completed in order to qualify.   Volunteers can email Laurie Butgereit at lbutgereit@meraka.org.za

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