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Johnnic Moves into Education Market

South African media and entertainment group Johnnic Communications Thursday launched a R100-million (US$11.9 million) education business, Johnnic Learning, aimed at providing lifelong learning by harnessing the group's existing strengths in the content, technology and distribution fields.

At the same time, M-Cell, the Johnnic telecommunications arm, announced the MTN Schools Connectivity Project, which will see R21-million (US$2.5 million) injected into selected schools around the country over the next two years.

Launching Johnnic Learning at the Funda Community Centre in Soweto, Education Minister Kader Asmal welcomed Johnnic's "innovative and creative" entry into education.

"The need to bring about fundamental change in the educational system is so great, neither the government nor the public sector can do it by themselves," he said. The Johnnic initiative would "stir the imagination of both young people and older people involved."

Johnnic Learning will be a division of Johnnic e-Ventures (JeV), the group's digital arm. JeV CEO Neil Jacobsohn stressed that Johnnic Learning will exploit the group's core strengths in content and distribution, and would not move into ownership of bricks and mortar learning institutions.

"Johnnic Learning will concentrate on providing cost-effective multimedia educational content, teaching materials and interactive learning to the entire SA marketplace."

Johnnic would not focus only on e-learning, but would provide educational solutions appropriate to the broad South African market, from live training to print, broadcast, video and the Internet, said Jacobsohn. Further, learning solutions would be provided from early childhood through school and tertiary training, to adult basic training and professional training.

Johnnic Learning clusters existing and newly acquired businesses within the Johnnic stable into a single entity. Jacobsohn said Johnnic Learning would be both a contributor to the social good of South Africa and a profitable business.

Businesses in Johnnic Learning are:

  • A 56.4 percent stake in Learning Channel Campus, the educational business embracing television, print, video, live and Internet education for the schools market;
  • 51 percent of distance learning solutions company eDegree, which provides an Internet platform for SA universities and other institutions to deliver education remotely, and a widely-adopted adult basic education and training (Abet) system and platform;
  • 51 percent of Effect, a leading educational television company producing top brands on South African television like Takalani Sesame and Take Five, amongst others; and
  • An 85 percent stake in LeadTrain, an online electronic service that helps corporate users research, book and co-ordinate all their training needs.

Johnnic Learning will also embrace a number of strategic relationships with key players. These include:

  • Knovation, the professional learning division of listed group Adcorp, will partner with Johnnic Learning to provide adult and professional training; and
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers, recognised globally as the leading consultant on education, will work with Johnnic Learning in a specialised educational consultancy to service business & government's human resource development needs.

Educationalist and businesswoman Fathima Dada has been appointed executive chair of Johnnic Learning. Dada, former chief executive of educational publisher Maskew Miller Longman, has played a major role in the development of the Revised National Curriculum for Schools, currently out for public comment.

Speaking at the launch, Dada said Johnnic, with its content and distribution channels and human skills, was well positioned to serve the particular educational needs of a diverse SA, from urban to rural, and from poor to well-off.

"Johnnic can deliver solutions from low-tech, such as print, to high-tech, such as the Internet and broadcast," she said. Johnnic group Chairman Cyril Ramaphosa called the investment -- both by Johnnic into the learning business, and by MTN into the connectivity project -- a "clear demonstration of a major commitment to sustainable social development in our country."

"By harnessing and utilising technology to deliver life-long learning, the establishment of Johnnic Learning is a bold strategy that seeks to address the education challenges that face all South Africans," he said.

Johnnic is already a major player in the connectivity and platforms market through M-Cell, ISP Citec, Internet content and services provider Johnnic e-Ventures, as well as the group's traditional media and entertainment interests.

Existing educational initiatives in the group include the Sunday Times' highly successful ReadRight project (in association with Liberty) and Johnnic Film Education, which uses film as a visual literacy tool for SA school pupils.

As one of the country's leading black empowerment groups, Johnnic has spent some R45-million (US$5.3 million) on corporate social responsibility projects -- including education -- in the past two years.