Lessons learned from our Innovation Fund partnership
It’s been one year since Edulution partnered with the Treasury’s NPMN Innovation Fund, and in that time, we’ve learned some important lessons about what it takes to scale up a great idea.
The Fund is associated with the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative and has a particular mandate to incubate projects that use technology in innovative ways to drive job creation. They value the replicability and quality of jobs rather than the volume. Hence, Edulution’s target in this project was fairly modest: 35 youths employed and retained for one year as digital learning Coaches. However, the impact of this project went far beyond our initial objectives.
Coaches have not simply been productively employed in their contracted roles, but through their training, intensive mentorship, and participation in the enabling culture of Edulution, their career prospects and sense of self have been transformed. Moreover, their new skills in facilitation, management of learners and stakeholders, and ICT are highly transferable to other sectors, which has maximised their prospects of future employability.
Similarly transformed are the Learners that the Coaches have worked with. Although not contracted primary beneficiaries of the Funding, Learners have improved numeracy results by an aggregated 36% against the control group and shown reported increased performance in other subjects and their sense of confidence regarding the future. Digital learning has begun to unlock a brighter future for every Learner we engage with. And since the key variable in unemployment is the quality of education received and skills acquired, this programme and its funding directly contribute to the prevention of future unemployment.
Another strata of beneficiaries are the teachers and school leadership who have seen how a digital learning solution can enhance their teaching practice and their students’ outcomes. We have thus de-stigmatised eLearning, making these teachers receptive to such learning innovations and confident to drive its use independently of Edulution. Our anticipated teacher capacitation workshops will further develop this confidence.
The key lesson of Edulution’s work is that with appropriate networks of support and funding, facilitated digital learning can transform both the education outcomes of Learners and the careers of talented unemployed youth. However, scaling the solution to really magnify the impact across the education system requires two critical elements:
Upgrading and packaging of our digitised training content, learning methods, and analytics to allow for wider distribution and sharing across other implementation partners
Funding from the provincial and education budget or discretionary grant system to allow for youth to be placed and equipped at scale into schools. Given that the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative (PYEI) has allocated over R25-billion to hire 840,000 youth on temporary contracts (5-8 months), we believe that there is a significant opportunity to allocate funding more productively to the training and capacitation of digital learning Coaches where their impact would be significantly greater and long-lasting
Apart from the Innovation Fund, Edulution secures diverse financial support from private sector co-funders – but this is never in perpetuity. Therefore, it is critical that we translate the support we have received from the DBE – in the form of excellent access to schools and input from curriculum officials – into a more substantial influence on DBE digital learning policy and eventual financial backing to roll-out the programme at scale into schools. This is the way to serve the common good and invest productively in the futures of young Learners and community youth.