Exams are a lip-biting, head-pounding experience for any student, but imagine you had to write an exam in the middle of a teacher strike with only half of the course material under your belt. Talk about stress. Students in South Africa were facing this situation when a think-tank, a social network and a large group of volunteers came to the rescue in an innovative implementation of social networking in the school system. Details and implications of this move are discussed below the jump.
According to the Washington Examiner, teachers across the entire nation of South Africa were on a three week strike that ended September 6th. Students were expected to continue their semester as usual, and this left many graduating students unprepared to write their final exams. The situation was so dire for so many students that it led to violent protests and even one reported casualty.
In response to the overwhelming demand for more exam prep, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has partnered with MXit to provide SMS and online math exam prep material and tutors to South African students struggling to study.
MXit is a South African-based IM application that is available on any cell phone – even a non-smartphone – free of charge. It enables users to send SMS to each other and join chat rooms, as well as connect to third-party chat services like Google Talk and Windows Live Messenger.
The exam prep available through MXit is called Dr. Math. Students can connect with volunteers who are screened by the Dr. Math program and get help during their cram sessions. Currently, there are more than 12,000 students using the service, with demand outpacing the speed at which the organization can sign up volunteers. Dr. Math is only available during non-school hours, to prevent any cheating.
This is an innovative use of cheap, basic social networking to respond to an emergency in the educational sector. 1,000 MXit messages can be sent for a cost of approximately $0.15 USD. Imagine this type of technology being used by high schools, universities and colleges in the US and around the world: students who otherwise couldn’t afford the tutoring they desperately need could access an “answer pool” for their questions for next to nothing.
This could effectively turn into a virtual tutor for every student, while costing governments very little to implement. A peer-to-peer social network of volunteers and student seeking help could become the next big thing in social media for higher education.