What’s the common thread that runs through all your ventures?
I’m a one-trick pony, and that’s education. My core focus has got to be maths and English, in particular across Africa. For Africa as a continent to really become an information economy, you’ve got to have a sufficient proportion of people with strong maths skills. Right now we don’t have that, but it’s eminently doable, and that’s my challenge at the moment.
Where does technology fit in?
We’ve got to harness the power of connectivity, the power of mobile devices to teach and learn. We’ve got to think beyond just how to train teachers better. Having the model of 30 kids in the classroom to one teacher is great – no one’s saying change it – but we’re going to have to do more than that. We can’t train teachers fast enough, we can’t build schools fast enough, so we have to look at new ways. We have to look at how technology can play a role.
What are you working on at the moment?
I chair an education technology company in South Africa called Watobe. The challenge we’re trying to solve there is the poor learning outcomes all too often encountered as education systems struggle with understaffing and lack of teacher training. Across the continent, schools are short of 1.2 million teachers. When you combine that with the ridiculously fast growth rate (17 of the top 20 fastest growing cities in the world are in Africa), it becomes very hard to keep up. Watobe offers live online after school lessons for free across South Africa, alongside support and resources for those who need a bit more motivation.
I also work with a number of start-ups or scale-ups that I’m passionate about. The one I’m working with at the moment, which I absolutely love, is called Digital Learning Associates. They’re doing exciting things in the world of multimedia by creating engaging English language learning videos for education platforms.
Tell us a bit about Turn On The Subtitles…
It all starts with this simple fact: Did you know that if you put subtitles on Kids TV programmes, it dramatically improves their literacy? In fact, it doubles the chance of a child leaving school as a proficient reader. It’s pretty much, we think, the most impactful 10 seconds you can ever spend as a parent, it’s hard to think of a better one.
To find out more about how you can get involved, go to turnonthesubtitles.org. Most importantly, spread the word!