It's exactly a year since e-classroom, a free online educational resource, was launched and it has grown from attracting a mere 127 visits in its first month to a whopping 15 000 monthly visitors.
"The feedback has been overwhelmingly great – both from users and sponsors," said founder Natalie Wood.
"It's so wonderful to see the response. When we first launched, I was excited to receive 20 000 hits. Now we have reached over one million. I am very humbled by the response."
E-classroom provides fun and educational curriculum-based worksheets to parents and educators. After completing a simple registration process, users can download the content and distribute it for use in the classroom or at home.
The content has been developed to promote creativity, enhance cognitive skills, and to encourage kids to think out of the box.
Wood, who has worked on numerous education projects, decided to start the online tool after she ran a literacy programme which donated books and worksheets to 100 schools across Gauteng.
The project was hugely successful and more schools were asking for the resources. Unfortunately, because it was a pilot project, she had to stick to delivery parameters, meaning schools that were not on the list were unable to benefit from this opportunity.
"It was very sad and I realised then that there was a desperate need for support material in schools," said Wood. "When I decided to start e-classroom, I sent the idea to a teacher friend who loved it and the rest is history."
Born in Zimbabwe, Wood relocated to South Africa 23 years ago and spent years working in the advertising, marketing and communication industry.
She first realised her passion for education 12 years ago when she teamed up with a business partner to develop a schools project for the National Prosecuting Authority.
In April 2011, she unveiled the first online education resource in South Africa, targeting pre-primary and primary school learners.
Fun, exciting content
E-classroom's content, which is updated monthly, consists of support material for basic curriculum subjects such as mathematics, science, literacy, environment, health and life skills.
In addition, strong emphasis is placed on creative arts activities like puzzles, word games, colouring-in charts, water saving quizzes and more. Wood believes creativity and the arts are just as important as English and mathematics.
When asked why the portal focused more on fun activity worksheets, she said it's important that children feel excited to learn, but they must be provided with the right tools with which to do so.
"The role of a teacher who distributes information they have learned in parrot fashion needs to change fast to one who excites their children in the classroom," she said.
"This drives intense interest so that the information they give is turned into an enthusiasm for learning."
Her mission is to inspire teachers to think creatively and make learning fun, exciting and memorable.
Through using different teaching methods, learners will want to know and research more, said Wood.
"Like anything in life, if something bores us to tears, we're not interested in wanting to know any more."
Technology is the future
Delivered in a digital format, e-classroom offers unlimited content that can be accessed from any location. In today's fast-paced digital world, Wood highlighted that schools have to be prepared for the fast way in which technology is steering the future.
"Too many schools are still teaching in the ways of the past – the industrial revolutionary age of teaching does not fit in with the technological revolution of today," added Wood.
"Digital change is eminent and one must be able to access information using this advanced technology at the click of a button."
In order to overcome challenges in the education sector and to be able to adequately compete with the rest of the world, Wood suggests that educators need to change their thinking and teaching methodologies accordingly to meet the online, research-based environment we live in. Topics should be integrated to promote critical thinking, analysing and problem solving.
"Technology is the future and therefore should be integrated in the classroom sooner rather than later," she said. "Children today need to become media literate and use technology as a tool to learn rather than for entertainment purposes only."
A fun way to learn
Since its inception e-classroom, which has a database of 2400 schools nationally, has won over many educators with some saying pupils have enjoyed using the worksheets.
"I have been able to use a lot of the sheets, but mainly as extension, as we have department books that have been sent to us, which I use in class time," said Mary Lindsay, a grade two teacher at Scottburgh Primary in KwaZulu-Natal.
"I particularly like the different approach and the children enjoy the layout and artwork."
Initially the material only catered for pupils from grades R to three, but the e-classroom team is in the process of developing material for grades four to seven. In the next few years it will be expanding its programme to include lesson plans and support material for FET colleges.
The content will, in future, include lessons, interactive books, entrepreneurship programmes and will be available in different languages.
There are plans to also concentrate on new technological developments to use in the classroom. Wood was could not be drawn to reveal more details on the progress of these developments.
"I can't really disclose too much about what technology I am developing at this stage as it is still sensitive, but it is all in line with 21st century learning and will be beneficial to learners and educators."