Village Scribe Association

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The Village Scribe Association (VSA) was born from the vision of Anna and Ron Wertlen, to create jobs in the Eastern Cape through software and high-tech industry (2008). The VSA has gradually emerged through the doings of many of its stakeholders and trustees, taking part in research, prototype building, governmental and other exciting projects aimed at delivering technology sustainably to rural areas. Along the way VSA has learned that education is the key to development and jobs. Investment in equal education is essential to stabilise the political and economical situation of the country and create a climate where more jobs are created. VSA has seen that technology can make society more equal, but can also divide it. The education system in the Eastern Cape is under skilled and overburdened and desperately needs their technical help. A ray of hope in all of the darkness is that learners embrace technology and are open to new ways of learning. VSA harnesses their enthusiasm and turns it into knowledge.
They started the awarenet Programme in 2010. The programme includes an e-Learning and social media tool called awarenet as well as a community programme to fill this platform with life and make the programme sustainable. The platform offers a personal and networking space for learners and teachers, tools for blogging, online discussions and projects work, galleries to upload multimedia and creatively work with them. It contains accredited third party content such as Khan Academy videos, Siyavula textbooks, Geogebra, etc. Awarenet coordinators train learners and teachers in computer and Internet use. They show them how to integrate the described tool into their day-to-day work and teaching.
The youth are the main beneficiaries as they stumble through a curriculum they do not understand in underprivileged schools, as well as the teachers doing their best to teach them. While offering them the community programme, VSA connects them to private and former model C Schools in South Africa and overseas.
VSA’s mission is to get everyone to use awarenet and the Internet independently of the VSA in order to enhance education and to empower the users.
VSA’s vision is a more equal society, in which individuals feel that their contribution has value and that their opinions matter. VSA wants to see people working together on great communal projects, enjoying being part of it and deriving direct benefit from it.
The main activity of their awarenet coordinators is the engagement in awarenet projects, which combine online and offline work. The coordinators encourage learners and teachers to become active and strive towards specific goals such as participations at fun-runs, public concerts, theatre visits, science festival presentations and the writing of newspaper articles, etc. Such projects are simultaneously documented on awarenet using multi-media - participants discuss the topics and blog about their experiences. This enhances reading, writing, general communication and language skills.
The awarenet platform is developed in such a way that remote schools without Internet or with interrupted Internet access can use it as well as schools with permanent Internet access. The VSA offers to install awarenet servers in existing computer labs and gives introductory workshops for new teachers. Currently, there are about 2 500 users registered on awarenet, most of which are in the Eastern Cape in underprivileged schools. More than ten schools use awarenet regularly during their curriculum or co-curriculars. Awarenet is free open-source which welcomes any new school or user. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) uses the technology in their Tech4REED project, where it is proving to face up to requirements and bringing much value to the programme and the schools involved.
VSA faces challenges like all other non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The organisation does not have enough coordinators and capacity to travel, which is required daily. But recently, the VSA has moved into the Joza Youth Hub in Grahamstown, in which the organisation shares a computer lab with IkamvaYouth. VSA hopes to offer free regular awarenet courses to underprivileged teachers.
The organisation also hopes to partner with more private schools that would like to use awarenet for outreach projects.
Awarenet offers a lot of opportunities for learners and teachers as well as partnering
NGOs in the educational sector. Awarenet can be used for and enhance the teaching of any subject and can be integrated into any after school training programme. It offers Web 2.0 use even if Internet connections are interrupted or too expensive. There are no costs involved for underprivileged schools.
Project impact to date and contribution to society:
VG High School (former Model C School) uses awarenet as its main e-Learning platform for exchange and collaborative project work with underprivileged schools. These efforts contributed to VGHS being voted the top school in the Eastern Cape by Fairlady in June 2013.
Five teachers became awarenet Champions, i.e. they are empowered to use information and communications technologies (ICTs) in and out of class, and have improved their teaching and confidence. Teachers use awarenet independently of the VSA (proof of sustainability of the programme).
Five unused school computer labs in Grahamstown were re-opened and computers fixed owing to their initiative. Some were fixed directly by our volunteers. Ongoing awarenet use by learners and teachers at those schools.
Ten labs at underprivileged schools are used more frequently by more learners: on average labs were open 22 hours per month longer and 345 learners in a month worked using awarenet while a VSA coordinator was present. About 100 learners work independently of a VSA coordinator.
Increased learners' motivation to go to school and learn; enhanced English, computer and Internet literacy through social networking: more than 1 000 blogs were written, more than 15 000 forum posts were made and more than 50 collaborative projects were completed. Many of these projects were joint school project bringing together up to five schools at a time.
The Judges Award of the Microsoft Innovative Teacher Awards 2012 was made to three awarenet teachers and trainers from VGHS and the VSA. The VSA reached the Final Round of the Impumelelo Social Innovation Awards 2012.
During 2012 and 2013, awarenet was used by the CSIR for rural education and content delivery in its Tech4REED (Rural Education and Education Development) Project.

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