Using music and e-learning to address challenges faced by South Africa’s youth

The Casterbridge Music Development Academy (CMDA) is a non-profit organisation (NPO) based in Mpumalanga, South Africa that was started to provide training to aspirant musicians who plan to earn a living from making music.

As a non-profit competing for a finite pool of funding, CMDA decided to expand its e-learning platform to include mathematics and science in addition to music subjects, to attract additional grants and donations. It was at this point that the Mpumalanga Department of Education decided the solution would also work well in their schools, signaling the beginning of the CMDA’s foray into school education.

And so, 2Enable was born – a digital solution that delivers tailor-made educational content developed by qualified teachers via its website and mobile app, free of charge to all South Africans.

“Funding for the arts is low on the list of priorities for youth in Mpumalanga, and students who are interested in the arts don’t have many opportunities. We believed that we could make a difference in this space,” says Michael Matthews, program manager for 2Enable.

The organisation’s mission is to use music and e-learning to inspire creative thinking, instil self-confidence and raise global awareness to address the challenges faced by South Africa’s youth.

How does 2Enable work?
After registering and logging in, users can enroll in the subjects of their choice, which align to the national school curriculum and are arranged in weekly modules. At the end of each module, users can take an assessment to see how well they understand the content. Each user has a dashboard that suggests revisions based on the wrong answers. They can then ask for help from their online peers or teachers via the instant messaging app.

To get around low bandwidth problems, all data-heavy content is hosted locally on a 2Enable Digital Library with the internet connection only being used for tracking a user’s progress and delivering assessments. This means that 2Enable can work in schools, libraries and community centres where internet speed is an issue. Any users, including those in under-served areas, who do not have access to the internet at home, can access 2Enable on a mobile device without using any data.

Growing and scaling effectively
The platform has approximately 6,000 registered online users and another 6,000 downloads of the app. 2Enable digital libraries have also been installed in over 70 schools country-wide.

The NPO operates several virtual machines (VMs). These include a testing platform, a live website that hosts the 2Enable domain, and a repository that syncs with all its digital libraries.

With discussions currently under way to expand the platform to provide academic support and professional teacher development to more students and teachers across the country, the NPO needed to implement a solution that would allow it to scale their operations effectively.

The decision was made to host the platform and VMs on Microsoft Azure to keep up with the organisation’s expansion. Microsoft provided the organisation with a strategic US$30,000 grant of azure credit to help them expand their services and reach more students. The team chose Microsoft’s intelligent cloud platform because it gave them choice and flexibility, while also resulting in significant cost-savings.

“Azure allows us to deliver a national solution with confidence,” says Matthews.

The organisation also deployed Office 365 to improve collaboration and teamwork. “Office 365 is easy to use. It has the same look and feel as previous versions of Office, while allowing our organisation to take advantage of the benefits of cloud computing.  We now regularly share and collaborate on a single document from our desktops. Because all our data is stored in the cloud, data loss is now an issue of the past.”

In addition, users of 2Enable can login to Office 365, where they can copy teacher resources directly to their OneDrive account, update their Outlook calendar with any 2Enable calendar entries, and contribute content from OneDrive to a learning area of their choice.

2Enable has also made substantial use of Skype for Business’s broadcast feature. “In 2016, we provided 14 hours of live, country-wide support in mathematics and physical science per week using Skype,” Matthews adds.

Transforming lives though e-learning
The move to the cloud is a big step forward, allowing the organisation to shift its focus back to the reason why it was originally founded, namely to provide quality education to students in underserved communities.

Azure and Office 365 have been instrumental in helping the organisation support more students in more locations. It is now able to offer a full-time music course to students 18 years and older, and the school is completely digital.

Microsoft Azure offers an integrated suite of cloud services – analytics, computing, web and mobile apps, networking, storage, and more – to empower your non-profits to achieve more. Azure delivers deeper insights to enhance decision-making, supports a broad selection of operating systems, and provides industry-leading security. It also integrates seamlessly with existing IT infrastructure and scales as your nonprofit grows – giving you the ability to harness the power of Microsoft’s data centres for a wide range of capabilities and scenarios. For more information, visit https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/philanthropies/product-donations/products/azure