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Dear MEC Lesufi, let’s talk about the Gauteng online school applications platform

Bra Willy Seyama | Panyaza Lesufi | Online Applications Platform | 27 July 2020

Dear Panyaza Lesufi. 

This is a perfect time to talk about the online school applications platform, now that the closing date of 25 July is past.

I had the privilege of submitting an online application on behalf of my niece for her grade 8 in 2021.

This was my first time using the platform, and I did not encounter any technical issues during the application process that went quickly as soon as I got the hang of it.

My experience with the online applications platform inspired this eNsight.

Table of Contents

Declaration of self-interest

To set the context.

I am a self-confessed eternal student. This title is actually in all my online profiles, including LinkedIn.

You can gather from the title that I value education, and the many years I spent in formal education institutions are the pudding.

In addition to the above, I run an online business that is in its 12th year of operation.

So yes, this eNsight is driven by self-interest. Thankfully though, it is for a good purpose.

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Out of curiosity

I checked the Gauteng Department of Education’s 2020 media statements on the progress of the 2021 online applications, remembering the high number of access-related queries and associated parent anguish that your department had to deal with in 2016.

By all accounts, there has been a lot of progress – judging by the stability, security and quick and painless application process that I experienced. 

The fact that #GDEOnlineApplications did not trend is a good indication of how relatively well things went. 

As you and I know, good education news never trends on Twitter. 

I believe #BlackTwitterSA, and #TwitterSA at large, would agree.

So high-five from me.

I guess this is why you had a cause to smile 1 day before the closing date, because things were running smoothly?

It is so far so good. 

But given that frankness is one of your strengths, I would not be surprised if you uttered the words “it’s not yet uhuru”.

This is why I saw it fit to share my thoughts in the remainder of this eNsight, with the hashtag #ChebeloPele on my mind.

What works with this online school applications platform

In acknowledgement of your passion, commitment and hard work; I want to start by pointing out what I think works with the online applications process.

I know you know all this, but I am going to share my top 5 positive points anyway.

  • Knowledge of learner enrollment numbers at your finger tips.
    I can tell you appreciate the value that comes with this, it comes through in your department’s media statements.
  • Distribution of resources.
    With the knowledge of individual school application volumes, this platform must be such a blessing for resource planning purposes, not only for you but also for the respective school administrations; as indicated by the “High Pressure Schools” that are shared on the online platform. 
  • Red flags.
    Linked directly to the previous point, I would imagine the skew in school applications can also be used as an indicator of issues with some of the schools?
    I say this because my niece was clear that she did not want me to apply to one particular school within the feeder zone, apparently because the school does not have a good track record. Thus, good learners avoid it.

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  • Enhanced record keeping.
    I guess this goes without saying. 
    With the digitisation of grade 1 and 8 applications, a huge administration burden is removed from the schools, hopefully allowing them to become more efficient in the area that matters most – teaching.
  • Tracking of each individual learner’s rate of educational progress.
    This is where the beauty of data collection comes in. 
    The level of accuracy with which progress of the nation’s learners can be tracked is greatly enhanced, and this assists in the implementation of interventions where necessary, such as to address undesirable drop-offs in the first 9 years of schooling.

You will note from my top 5 list above, which is by no means exhaustive, that the online applications platform is more beneficial to your department and the schooling system, and to the parents; even though the benefit to the latter may not be obviously tangible or at the least not immediate.

I believe though that the benefit to the communities, the education fraternity and the general public is the missing piece.

More about this below.

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My recommendations for improvements of the online applications platform

Here is my 20 cents worth, with the points in no particular order:

  • Enhance the current applications form to enrich collected data.
    • I looked at the Western Cape Education Department’s online applications platform and I found it has more valuable content and the submission form captures more data that is usable.
      Yes, I know. There is politics in provincial education too.
      Thing is, the GDE platform is too basic at the moment, and the submission form can be enhanced without overwhelming the parents who may not be computer literate. 
      What is that saying about the baby and the bathwater? I know you catch the drift.
  • Employ the latest technologies on the platform.
    • When I saw that the uploaded documents such as a learner’s progress report are going to be verified manually, my first thought was that this can also be automated.
      It takes asking the tech community for the solution, and it may be less complex and far cheaper than you think.
  • Share useful stats on the online applications platform.
    • In my view, the current stats on the platform about over-subscribed schools are somewhat meaningless, because the data is too minimal for the transformation into information.
      To make the point,  it is easy to know where the most over-subscribed school is in the “High Pressure Schools” list, because its name includes a location – Alberton High School.
      But where is Phumlani Secondary School?
      I bet there is more than 1 secondary school in the country with such a Zulu name.
      In essence, the limited stats shared on the platform lack the so-what factor. Therefore, they are tantamount to being just noise.
Bra Willy Seyama | Panyaza Lesufi | Online Applications Platform | High Pressure Schools | 27 July 2020
    • Some stats can be shared real-time, e.g. automatic counts of submissions, placements, and confirmations.
      These can be shared by geography as well.
      This way, interested citizens of the province don’t have to wait for media statements.
      My guess is that this will also keep GDE in the media for a sustained period, as the updated stats will become an ongoing point of discuss and not an event.
      Constant coverage of real-time COVID-19 stats provides a perfect example.

  • Include “spot surveys” type questions in the applications process.
    • This can be done randomly, and be optional.
      Information about  number of people who work at the home of the learner, number of computers in the home, and size of homestead; can enrich the collected data.
  • Open access to the collected data.
    • I am increasingly passionate about this point.
      The various levels of government have lots of data that can be turned into gold, pun intended in the case of “Gauteng”.
    • With all the privacy laws observed, data in the hands of innovators, entrepreneurs and other interested parties can be used for the greater good.

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  • Collaborations with the tech community hold the key to ongoing enhancements of the online applications platform.
    • Building on your reference to the online applications platform as the future, I encourage you department to engage the country’s tech community regularly for exploration of enhancement opportunities.
    • I witnessed government-tech community collaborations working beautifully at Kenya’s Nairobi iHub, and I am convinced that this model is needed by all government departments, at all levels, across Mzansi and the continent.
    • Test the collaboration model with the likes of Wits University’s Tshimologong.
      I truly believe that such engagements will be worth the effort in the long run.
  • Here is the last one for good measure – inclusion of indigenous languages on the online applications platform.
    • Here too, I know there are too many official languages in South Africa – 12 to be exact.
      However, there is a case for including the main languages within the main groupings Nguni and Sotho languages, as a minimum.
    • I know that you are just as passionate about an education system that is inclusive, and you embrace multilingualism that is already embedded in Gauteng.
      It is time to get on with bringing this to life on the platform.

Dear MEC. You will notice from the list in this section that there are suggested improvements that will benefit the public at large, and this can be beyond the Gauteng borders.

In line with the commonly held view that education is a national issue, drawing more citizens in can only add impetus to the courageous work that you have been doing in your tenure.

As I conclude

I took the time to develop this eNsight, which some “clever Blacks” may call an open letter, because I support the cause you are pursuing.

I am optimistic about the future prospects of education in this Province, and in South Africa as a whole, despite the niggle about by the current trajectory that is not keeping up with the exacting needs of the 4IR era. 

Pele ya pele, MEC Lesufi.

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