Meet Vivlia Publishers, a black-owned publishing company based in the west of Johannesburg which has been in operation for the past 24 years and boasts a staff complement of about 60 permanent employees. The family business which specialises in educational material houses over 7 000 publications including teacher training material, literature for all grades and adult basic education, just to mention a few.

The JobStarter team managed to catch up with Miss Phathu Nemukula, Director of Digital Assets at Vivlia Publishers. Nemukula gave us a tour of the premises and introduced us to a few of the interns they are training to migrate some of their material from analogue to digital. We decided to take this opportunity to ask her more about the internship and Vivlia Publisher’s decision to make the move to digital.

According to Nemukula, the publishing house has realised the importance of meeting the digital needs of schools, thus they have been working on creating an eLearning platform where teachers and learners can download their particular curriculum, and discover more engaging and relatable ways to learn. This need created an opportunity for Vivlia to not only build on their digital assets, but as a socially aware organisation, this was also an opportunity to develop young programmers and thus the internship programme was set created.

“We’ve seen dismal matric results and we believe it's mostly because learners do not understand the way a question was asked. It’s about comprehension, so now we are solving the language problem. There’s a huge gap in our system where learners process information differently. We simply said, ‘let’s look at how they learn in their home language’,” Nemukula says.

The blended online eLearning platform combines video, audio and animated content in order to prepare the learners for exams. The platform also encourages independent learning because there is only so much a teacher and a textbook can teach you.

“The platform will accommodate those schools and parents that have the necessary infrastructure to apply the eLearning material that goes hand-in-hand with our country’s curriculum. There is also a private licensing fee for parents to buy the educational material for their children’s private use,” Nemukula says.

The eLearning platform comes in a range of South African accents. This dynamic range, Nemukula says, was crucial in empowering both teachers and learners. The first roll-out was in Sepedi and isiZulu. Now, the range has expanded into isiXhosa and English.

“We’ve zoned in on the problem areas such as vocabulary and comprehension because African languages deal heavily with dialects. Learners love the inclusion of video and animation, and through these engaging ways of learning, teachers are under less pressure to make sure a class is fully engaged,” Nemukula says.

For this enormous project, Vivlia Publishers needed not only young minds who would develop this software and keep the user in mind, but “team players who would gel well in their team set up. Also flexible in terms of their ideas, and of course programming skills.”

Vivlia Publishers then partnered with JobStarter to make sure they place the right candidates for the job.

“JobStarter was integral in helping us find these young people through their database which includes 17 and 18 year-olds who have just come out of the schooling curriculum. Traditional publishing usually favours older employees, but in this case of finding software developers, it was important for us to find young people, who typify skills such as programming, creativity, on-the-job learning, and problem-solving. JobStarter sat in on the interviews and we were able to put six interns to work,” Nemukula says.

Some of their challenges of building this eLearning platform include, “Fighting with service providers, sleepless nights, and worrying about budgets,” Nemukula says.

Of her fondest moments, Nemukula says it has to be the learners’ interaction with their product: “That was most definitely one of my proudest moments. Seeing the learners interacting with the material, especially the students who have a creative side. This is the first type of alternative content, with African dialect that they are engaging with.”

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