South Africa

Durban entrepreneur heads home to give back

DURBAN  - Local IT entrepreneur Shermar Stuart has returned to his old high school to set up a data-less streaming device for pupils at the school to pick up educational content on the school grounds and catch up what they missed during lockdown.

Stuart and his business partner Andile Mchunu are setting up a pilot project at Sydenham’s Bechet High, the school where he matriculated in 2015.

It’s a project that he hopes to extend to other schools without the advantage of wi-fi hotspots and whose pupils don’t always have data at home.

First in line are Bechet’s 240 matrics who have missed out on so much work this year due to lockdown. The balance of the school’s 1500 pupils will follow.

“All that a pupil need is a device that could be a phone, tablet, laptop, or computer. They do not need data, any internet connection, or even a sim card,” said Stuart, 23.

“This makes our solution extremely practical, cost-effective, and useful.

“It is completely off-grid, and as such, we are able to implement it in rural and disconnected schools where internet connection, let alone money for data, is a huge obstacle.”

Bechet High matriculant Monique Mukendi said access to online information on the school grounds would help her with research for assignments as there was often no data at home for her to do so.

“It’s very motivating,” said the 17-year-old who hopes to study IT followed by tourism after school.

Her friend Laiken Starkey, who hopes to study education and tourism, said the programme would help her catch up on much of the work she had missed.

Principal Abbie Dalton, who once taught Stuart, said his idea filled a desperate need.

“We, generally, service the poorest of the poor. Many pupils do not even have phones, and we try to find old devices for them.

“There are children from child-headed homes and others that live with grandparents off Sassa grants. A large percentage ask for an exemption from school fees.

“Many teachers cover the gap, providing lunch and helping with transport. Thank God for the people who are willing to assist.”

Stuart said: “It feels right to make a difference. Especially having seen what privileged schools have. It feels as if it will be impactful.”

Mchunu, who hails from Estcourt and studied at Wits University, highlighted the difference online access had made in his life: “It doesn’t make you less smart, if you don’t have access to information. Access is just such a privilege. You need money to have access and we’re removing that obstacle.”

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