Young innovator impresses Richard Branson

S’thembile Cele
2015-06-15 15:23

Zakheni Ngubo. Picture: Supplied
A young man from Umlazi, southwest of Durban, has come up with a revolutionary idea to attend to South Africa’s education crisis and its failure to produce pupils who are competent in maths and science.

Zakheni Ngubo’s innovativeness has been recognised by renowned international entrepreneur Richard Branson. Ngubo recently returned home after spending time with the billionaire at Branson’s private Necker Island.

In 2002, Ngubo’s high school maths teacher fell ill and was not replaced by the school. At the time, Ngubo was in Grade 11 and, until the end of his matric year, he and his classmates were without a maths teacher. Despite obtaining distinctions in other subjects, his maths marks were not that good and, as a result, he was not able to get into university.

The following year, he repeated maths and was accepted into the University of Cape Town for a BCom in marketing and supply chain management.

His struggle – and that of many other pupils around South Africa – led him to create Syafunda, a platform that provides learning solutions through mobile technology.

Through the platform, the best maths and science teachers are identified and asked to record their lessons, which can be downloaded by students for free.

“So we had auditions around KwaZulu-Natal to find the best teachers in the province. Eventually, we found two for maths and two for science. We got the four of them to teach the entire grade 11 to 12 curriculums on video, and students can download it for free. The lessons are also available in MP3, and soon we will have workbooks in PDF format as well,” Ngubo told City Press.

All of the content is available on a Wi-Fi network, which has a connectivity range of 100m. Students can download the content while at school, and even other members from the community can access the material when they are in range.

The service is free and is a sophisticated mobi site, which means it is supported by a number of low-cost phones.

The Wi-Fi network has now been used in 100 schools in KwaZulu-Natal. Ngubo says they hope to increase the schools benefiting from the Wi-Fi network to 1 200 by this time next year.

Ngubo’s involvement in the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg afforded him the opportunity to pitch his idea to Branson at his island. His week on the island was a networking opportunity for him and other Branson Centre graduates from around the world, which also gave them a chance to be mentored and advised by other well-known entrepreneurs.

“It was an incredible opportunity. It was amazing to have the chance to have breakfast, lunch and supper with Branson for a week and to engage with him and some other entrepreneurs I have admired for a long time,” Ngubo said.

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