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In a world that is growing increasingly digital, access to the internet is of paramount importance. Yet, according to parliamentary findings, less than a third of South African public schools have access to the internet.

Statistics released by the Department of Basic Education show that there are nearly 12.5 million learners in public schools. This means that over four million of these students are deprived from the benefits that internet accessibility brings to their learning environment and schooling careers. In addition, a lack of connectivity prevents over 130 000 teachers from accessing online resources, interactive teaching methods and digital materials.

“The majority of our youth are already at a disadvantage as they face numerous challenges with regards to schooling,” says Dietlof Mare, Vuma CEO. “Despite government efforts to bring digitised solutions to rural schools, the rollout of this vision has been slower than expected, and involvement from the private sector is desperately needed. We are in the fortunate position to make a fundamental impact to the future of South Africa, and because we can, we must.”

Vuma’s Fibre to Schools programme is an example of the way in which the private sector can make a huge difference at a limited cost. The programme sees the rollout of free uncapped open-access fibre optic infrastructure to every primary and high school passed during the deployment of fibre in a suburb. Each school receives a one gigabit per second line and can choose from a variety of Internet Service Providers to provide free uncapped internet connectivity.

In a society where knowledge is power, internet access allows learners and teachers alike the opportunity to benefit from a wealth of resources that they would otherwise not have access to, in a format that they understand.

In addition, e-learning services are being rolled out in schools across the country, without access to the internet schools are at a further disadvantage of the assistance that these services bring, such as distance learning, blended learning courses and interactive teaching methods.

Since the launch of its Fibre to Schools programme in 2016, Vuma has connected 255 schools across Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni, Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal, and aims to reach a target of over 300 schools by February 2020. Vuma is also looking at strategic partnerships that will allow schools to maximise their fibre access through digital education platforms, tools and hardware.