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Understanding the trends that will shape SA Education in 2024

For the longest time, education systems have changed at the proverbial glacial pace.

However, the rapidity of change in every other human-made system over the past few

decades has put education under excruciating pressures to transform, to keep up and prove

that it is fit-for-purpose in the modern world. Education in South Africa is undergoing

significant transformation which is driven by several key trends. This is ushering in an era

where South African children are increasingly being educated in different ways, in different

kinds of school environments with their teachers serving in different roles. In short, the

education of today’s children is becoming increasingly different from the education that their

parents experienced.

Mark Anderson, the Principal of Koa Academy, a high engagement online school started in

2021 in South Africa, is a strong advocate for schools delivering a relevant education that

ensures that learners develop the real-world skills they need to succeed in the 21st Century.

We’ve asked him to unpack six trends that are currently shaping the South African

educational landscape and are set to become more evident in 2024.

Learning is becoming personalised - Personalised learning customises education to the

individual learners needs, interests, and abilities. This is a radical shift from the traditional

school classroom model where standardised content is delivered to a group of learners.

According to Mark, we’ve known for decades that collective learning is far from effective, and 

that students learn best when they are on individualised learning pathways. He says, “Due

to constraints, we’ve traditionally modelled education on the assumption that if we teach in a

very standardised way then most of the learners in the classroom will be with us, and that we 

might need to differentiate for just a small portion of that group. But the reality is that when

we do this standardised teaching and assessing, we actually miss most of the learners. The

research is clear, learning is a highly personal journey, and therefore our education needs to 

be tailored for individual learning, not group learning. So, we are seeing big shifts in the

ways that schools are thinking about how content is delivered and how assessments are

done to be much more personalised and individualised, while at the same time operating

within constraints, which may be economic, geographic, and meeting legislative


Personalised learning not only changes the education experience for learners. Teachers are 

no longer mere presenters of content, but the expert guides and facilitators who dynamically

support and coach each learner as they progress on their unique learning pathway.

“Personalised learning unleashes the real expertise of teachers who are trained to have

deep knowledge and experience of how people learn and about different learning styles,”

says Mark. “It also addresses the major concerns that parents have when their child is

either left behind because they are struggling with certain concepts, or they are bored in

class because they grasped some other content more quickly than their peers.”

The growth of online education in South Africa is also driving the trend towards personalised

learning. Mark says, “The online space is amazing for personalising the education journey.

It opens up limitless opportunities to present content in different formats to suit different

learning styles. Individualised dashboards and timetables empower learners to chart theirown course and track their own progress. These tools also enable teachers to track every

learner’s progress in real-time and quickly identify where learners need additional support.

At Koa, parents can also access their child’s dashboard every day, and see their child’s

progress on their academic targets in real-time.”

Mastery and competencies are in the spotlight - The mastery-based approach shifts the

focus from advancing because of your age or grade level to advancing because you’ve

mastered the concepts. This emphasises not only a deeper understanding of subjects and

the abilities to apply learning but also ensures that no student is left behind. Mark says, “The

real strength of the mastery-based approach is that we don’t plaster over gaps in learning.

Historically, this has been a significant problem for kids in South Africa where they are

promoted into the next grade, even when they have big learning gaps. This has happened

particularly in Languages and Maths. Kids are pushed through into the next grade because

schools understandably must get them through the system. They end up going to the next

grade with a shaky foundation and then we keep building on top of that, and it all comes

crumbling down. The idea of mastery-based education is that you can move at your own

pace. Once you have shown mastery in a particular area, you can move ahead without

having to wait for others. So, if a child is particularly strong in Maths and ahead of their

peers, they move on quickly. They then have more time to focus on the areas where they

are not so strong, perhaps in their language course they may need to slow down or take

extra time to get help from a teacher. The mastery-based approach goes hand-in hand with

personalised learning, and it doesn’t work in large groups.”

For teachers, the mastery-based approach means more precise assessments, greater

flexibility, and a redefined role in helping students achieve mastery, rather than just teaching

to a curriculum.

Gamification has entered the education landscape – With its propensity to deliver

dopamine boosts, gamification is making learning more engaging and interactive. Through

game elements such as targets, leaderboards, points, and rewards, schools are creating

more enjoyable and motivating learning environments. For learners, this trend can

encourage problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity as they navigate through challenges

and adventures in the pursuit of knowledge.

Mark says, “It’s important to note that gamification in education is not just about having fun.

It’s about being rewarded for progress and inspiring you to be accountable for your own

learning. The idea is that I know what my academic goal is, I know what I must do to reach

my goal, and when I reach it, I am rewarded. This is a tangible recognition that I have

levelled up and it gives me an indication of my progress. As you are working, the

gamification platform is telling you the things you are getting right, and it is showing you

where you are tripping up or dropping the ball. This gets my buy-in on my learning process,

I can understand my strengths and challenges more clearly, and it makes me want to reach

the next level. Of course, in the online space, gamification is incredibly easy and there’s a

lot of expertise to hand when it comes to hooking you in and levelling you up. While that

may not be good for us when it comes to platforms like social media, we can get a positive

result with gamification in education because when we see our growth and our development,

it makes us want more of that and so we spiral upwards.”

AI in education is already a game-changer – We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg at

this moment. Mark says, “In the early 1980’s, educational psychologist, Benjamin Bloom

conducted research into teaching and learning techniques that showed that average-

performing students who were exposed to one-on-one tutoring could perform better than

98% of their classmates who experienced classroom learning only. He coined the term ‘the

2 sygma problem’ in reference to the fact that our education systems are not built to deliver

one-on-one tutoring to every student, and this solution to attain optimal educational

efficiency is simply not scalable. One of the great promises of AI is that it has the potential

to fill the gap in one-on-one tutoring. We are already seeing the emergence of, and

classroom testing of AI tutor models such as Khan Academy’s Khanmigo. An AI tutor model

embedded in an education platform means that the platform can see exactly where each

learner is and what they are struggling with. It can then immediately provide the precise

guidance or help the learner needs so that they can master the concept and progress. This

use of AI supports both personalised learning and the mastery-based approach. This is just

one way, a very important way, that AI can be deployed to enhance education in the future.

We are also likely to see AI making an impact in freeing up teachers from routine

administrative tasks so that they can spend more time focusing on meaningful engagement

with their learners. We’ll no doubt see AI coming to the fore when it comes to analysing

learner performance data, identifying learning gaps and creating individualised learning

plans. At Koa, our approach to AI generally is to encourage our learners, teachers and

parents to learn about it, engage with it, and have the important conversations about the

responsible and ethical use of AI models, which is going to be important to our learners

when they enter the workforce.”

Soft skills are foundational instead of ‘nice to have’ – If modern education is to meet the

workplace demand for young generations with the skills to succeed in their jobs, then gaining 

soft skills needs to be prioritised in school and tertiary education. In a 2019 LinkedIn Talent

Trends survey, 91% of employers ranked soft skills as their top requirement in the

recruitment process. Research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation

and Stanford Research and published by the National Soft Skills Association concluded that

soft skills make an 85% contribution to career success. Mark says, “We know that

understanding myself and understanding others; being able to interact, communicate,

create, and collaborate are so important. These attributes are key drivers in our learning

process itself, and in achieving outcomes. Schools are realising socio-emotional learning

can’t be icing on the cake, it must be foundational.”

Demand for high engagement in online schools - The COVID-19 pandemic greatly

accelerated the uptake of online education in South Africa. However, a curriculum dumped

online and accessed by large groups of learners doesn’t make a school or a college. Mark

says, “As online education evolves in South Africa, and the world, we’re seeing different

models emerge based on the needs and wants of learners and their families. Koa started

with a clear vision of being a high engagement school and we’re spearheading this trend of

experiencing a strong sense of community, and of belonging, in the online space. We’re

leveraging the benefits and the flexibility of the online environment to get small groups of

learners together with a teacher. We have Pods of eight learners with their Pod teacher

because when you have eight on a screen, every learner is seen and heard. No one is

anonymous and there are plenty of opportunities for social interaction during the school

week, which is so necessary for a well-rounded education.”

These trends transforming education are reshaping the roles of teachers and the

experiences of learners. As personalised learning and the mastery-based approach develop

further, more South African learners will be set on their own pathways to develop as lifelong

learners. We can expect that gamification in education and AI will be revolutionising forces

in the years ahead. It’s taken a long time for our education system to evolve, in many ways

it is still woefully out of step with the world of work, but change is happening; and the pace of 

change in education is certainly accelerating.

Discover Koa Academy, visit


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