Changing Worlds

How academic video created 100 percent pass rates in rural South African schools.

GUEST COLUMN | by Gary Weis

credit-sonic-foundry-lucky-imageSixteen-year-old Lucky Hlatshwayo lives in one of the most rural areas of the South African Free State province — a community in the mountains that borders South Africa and Lesotho.

“My family is a very destitute family. It’s not very wealthy. They cannot even support me with money to register for universities,” Lucky said. “I lost my mom in 2004.”

Despite the hardship, Lucky’s grandfather encouraged him to be the first one in his family to embrace education. Motivated with the desire to finish high school, attend university and better his family, Lucky (pictured, above) put everything he had into his studies at Phofung Secondary School.

“I see the light for me. If you can’t change the situation, make the best of it. I made the best of it. You can do better by hard work.” 

There were difficult times. Lucky recalled when he failed a class as his lowest point.

“It was very bad, very very sad,” he said.

South Africa values education. As former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

That’s easier said than done, though.

A lack of quality teachers and severe home conditions in rural areas has resulted in some South African provinces having 80 percent of schools classified as failing.

Supporting Learning with Video

To combat this, University of the Free State’s IDEAS Lab in the Distance Education department turned to academic video to provide support to students in 83 rural high schools.

And so the Internet Broadcast Project was born – a collaboration between the university and the education department within the province.

More than 54,000 learners and 3,000 teachers participate. The schools receive five hours of daily video lectures from highly-qualified teachers from around the Free State province who record videos in the central IDEAS Lab studio using Mediasite by Sonic Foundry.

The videos include support for core subjects such as mathematics, physical science, life science, economics, accounting and geography; preparation and support for Grade 12 exams; and teaching development training programs.

The videos are automatically distributed to remote end-points at each school through a robust content delivery network. This distributed video deployment helps the program bypass the region’s unique bandwidth challenges that come from cost and infrastructure limitations.

Online video-based learning allows for quick and cost-effective communications between teachers and students, despite distance. The content maintains the benefits of a centrally-managed, secure and automated deployment, including powerful analytics that measure student and school success.

“We can see what videos schools are viewing and judge that against how much the school is improving at the end of the day. Although we take a holistic educational approach, we can definitely see a direct correlation between Mediasite and success. The more content a school views, the longer they view it and the more they repeat watching the lessons, the better learning results they have at the end of the term and the end of the year,” said Edward Musgrave, IT & AV manager, IDEAS Lab, University of the Free State.

Student grades have improved significantly since this program began in 2011. Pass rates have jumped from 26 percent to 100 percent in some rural South African high school classrooms.

Prior to using these videos, the university couldn’t provide cost-effective daily support to students and teachers. Now, the province is recognized in South Africa as the state with the highest pass rate.

Bright Future with Academic Video

The future of the project looks very bright. The National Department of Education in South Africa has plans to expand the project in all nine South African provinces.

As for Lucky, he became number one in his class. In fact, he used the videos so much that his high school calls the room with the academic videos in it “Lucky’s Room.” He’d lock himself in that room and study through the night and then use it all day during school hours.

At the end of his final year in high school last year, Lucky looked to his future with excitement.

“I see the light for me. If you can’t change the situation, make the best of it. I made the best of it. You can do better by hard work. Your books are there. We have teachers. We have Mediasite. We have so many things. You just have to use them and work hard.”

Lucky wants to study actuarial sciences.

“I’ve never been to a university,” he said. “They say it’s challenging, and I’m up for it. I’m confident I’ll do better for my family and everyone.”

Hear from Lucky in this video

Gary Weis is the CEO at Sonic Foundry, the makers of Mediasite. Contact him through


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