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Curro equips learners for the fourth industrial revolution

In 1998, the first Curro School was opened in a church in Durbanville, Western Cape. At the time, Curro forged its beginning with 28 learners. Its network now consists of 66 153 learners, 6 245 employees, of which 3 651 are teachers, and 76 campuses (178 schools) across the country. The JSE-listed private education group recently sealed a deal to purchase HeronBridge College in the Fourways area in Johannesburg, adding to its ever-growing school footprint.

Curro currently offers schooling across nine education models, namely Curro Castle Nursery Schools, Curro Schools, Curro Academy Schools, Curro Select Schools, Curro Assisted Learning, Curro DigiEd Schools, Curro Private College, Meridian Schools and Curro Online.

In addition to widening access to quality schooling, the independent education provider has cultivated a school system where technology plays a pivotal role, which, in turn, has enabled it to stay on track with the advancements shaping society.

 

Education cornerstone

For Curro, its ethos is focused on the development of quality leaders and responsible citizens who will have a positive impact on the economy, environment and society.

On the technology front, it has taken a holistic approach, enabling it to accommodate not only the current technology requirements, but also those expected in the coming years, according to digital transformation manager Angela Schaerer.

Curro was an early adopter of technology, says Schaerer. “We realise its potential to enhance teaching and learning, ease the administrative load of teachers and optimise business operations.” She adds that learners leave the school equipped with the relevant technological skills.

She points out that technology enables Curro learners to construct knowledge and develop vital skills such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, complex problem-solving and digital literacy, to name a few. “These skills, along with opportunities for our learners to develop resilience, reflection and empathy, will enable our learners to be productive members of society.”

According to Schaerer, many South African industries, both private and government-backed, leverage emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technological breakthroughs, such as AI, robotics, 3D printing and biotechnology to streamline business processes, enhance offerings and create new solutions for societal demands.

“These developments will have a major impact on the workforce as employees will have to quickly adapt to technologically-advanced workplaces,” she says.

Even though technology plays a more important role in learning than ever before, Schaerer stresses that the teacher’s role remains equally important to ensure that innovative, 21st-century learning opportunities are created to develop skills.

“There’s still a place for pen and paper and other learning tools in the classroom, and we don’t expect teachers and learners to use technology for every activity. Instead, it should only be used when it’s the appropriate tool to enhance learning, or when the desired learning cannot take place without the benefit of added technology.”

 

An online revolution

In 2020, like many independent school providers, Curro prepared for remote teaching, learning and work.

But the global pandemic also presented an opportunity for Curro to introduce its first digital-only education offering, which, says Schaerer, had been in development for some time.

Curro decided to rethink how schooling was conducted in the Covid era, she says. It identified a need among parents who were struggling to juggle home-schooling with their own career, or who were looking for an online programme that would still give their children access to class-time with qualified teachers.

“Curro Online is a response to all these pressing needs,” she says. “It’s a solution that aligns with the needs of the 4IR and will prepare the learners for a technology-rich future, where work-from-home possibly becomes the norm.”

Since launching last June, the Curro Online model has received a ‘positive response’ from the parent community, says Schaerer. It currently caters to learners from Grades four to 10 across Southern Africa.

Curro Online isn’t a home-schooling model; rather, it’s a learn-from-home online model with CAPS curriculum-aligned online material, she says.

“The model’s online material is created and taught by Curro teachers. There is a structured timetable in place for the learner who needs structure, and the option to be flexible for those who work well at their own pace. The timetable includes teachers initiating each class and guiding learners through pre-set material on the online platform. The parent assumes a smaller supervisory role (similar to the role they would normally fill).”

With Curro Online as well as education models enhanced by emerging technologies, Schaerer is confident that Curro is well-positioned as an innovator on the education front. “The group will continue to design or expand solutions to stay true to its value proposition and commitment of offering affordable quality independent education to more South Africans.”

 

DIGITAL FUTURE

Curro’s Angela Schaerer says that much is being done to prepare learners for a digital future, and they are encouraged to participate in external events such as expos and cross-border challenges.

• In March 2021, five girls from Curro schools across the country participated in the Global Microsoft Imagine Cup Junior Virtual AI Hackathon. During the hackathon, the girls were taken on a practical journey of AI, helping them develop widely applicable machine learning skills in the context of sustainability, biodiversity loss, and climate change. The Curro team came second overall with their project focussed on saving African wild dogs using AI.
• To enhance STEM skills, Curro has implemented science, technology, engineering, arts, maths and design labs, also known as STEAM-D labs, at many of its schools. The labs include a variety of technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, mechanical and electrical systems. Teachers and learners can host lessons in these labs with experts.
• Schaerer says all Curro schools offer IT as a subject to help development skills. Coding and robotics are also offered at many of its schools, using physical and virtual equipment.
• Curro has upped the ante by using Minecraft: Education Edition as an e-sports arena. In 2020, Curro launched a global pilot of Minecraft e-sports, which has since become a formal part of the Curro sports programme. Using the Minecraft e-sports arenas, learners compete against teams in other schools or teams within a class. They’re given a topic to research and plan as well as a time limit in the live e-sports arena to build. The judges (teachers) assess the builds based on a rubric comprising build techniques, use of space, teamwork and likeness of build to the topic. This process and the game provide opportunities for learners to develop a range of skills and attributes – research and media literacy, collaboration, self-management, leadership, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, communication and creativity.