Lesotho’s own “Facebook” for students

Lesotho’s own “Facebook” for students

ROMA-OF course, it is not Facebook.
Yet, it has all the hallmarks of a social media platform.
You can like, share and comment.
You can edit your own profile to be seen by your friends.
The difference is, you come here to learn and share knowledge with others— while socialising.

So you find books, video tutorials, past question papers and other educational materials in a one-stop-shop.
The app is called Thusanang. 

Hundreds of students have already joined in and it is growing by the day.
The web app was developed by a National University of Lesotho (NUL) student who has just completed his first year, Thomello Matšasa.
The 20-year-old Matšasa has now been offered a place at a prestigious university in South Africa.

His app is a classic case of “mixing learning with pleasure”.
It is an app that is halfway between a normal website and a social media platform.
It avoids the rather boring nature of a typical website (actually, conventional websites can bore you to death) and the free-for-all nature of a social media (which have little to no rules).
Here, you socialise even as you learn.

In there, you become part of the following communities (topics): Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, ICT, Sesotho, English, Geography, History, Basic Handicrafts etc.
Gone are the days when high school students were ignored online.
The young man taught himself coding since he was doing Form A in high school, to this day.

“I have learned HTML, BOOTSTRAP, CSS, Java Script (through the help of some libraries), API tech, mySQL database and Php wrapped in Laravel framework, all by myself. I have never sat in a Computer Science class,” Matšasa said.

He said he fell in love with computing when he was very young.
“I think I got my love for computing from my mom.”
That is not because her mom ever taught him computing.
“Rather, she used to have a personal computer with which she taught people in my village some basics of computing.”

As early as when he was nine years old, he was already asking her mom to “teach me too.”
Her mom would have none of it.
In her view, the nine-year-old was “too young to learn anything about a computer”.

“In fact, when she stopped teaching, she donated the computer to the village chief, much to my dismay,” he said.
He would never see that computer again.
But the fire had been lit.
He was forever looking for any chance to lay his hands on a computer and, as fate would have it, he found one in his first year of high school.
“I had a friend who, despite having a computer, couldn’t be less interested in it. He brought it to me saying it was not working, I picked it up and went on the internet to find out what its problem could be. I fixed it.”
The rest is history.

He started learning coding by himself—right away.
He studied the likes of HTML, CSS, and Java Script.
He was only sixteen when he attended a Hackathon — a computer competition.
“In my team of five, I was the only one who knew a thing or two about coding, the others didn’t.”
They were in high school and they were competing against university students from Lesotho and South Africa.
“I was surprised when, in the area under which we competed, we got position 2 out of 12 teams.”

He only did BSc General in first year at the NUL and he has now been admitted to one prestigious South African university where he hopes to do Computer Science and Engineering.
So what is the philosophy behind Thusanang?

High school students have opened Facebook groups, supposedly to share knowledge.
However, many such platforms were not designed to be educational in nature.
Rather, they are where people go for all kinds of reasons — to express themselves, to vent, to gossip, you name it.
Some people just get into groups to advertise and go.
Many Facebook groups have lost meaning.
Thusanang is different.

The content is highly regulated.
First of all the purpose is education.
So the platform does not attract every Jack and Joe (like Facebook does…don’t tell them we said this).
So you join because you want to learn.

If you come with a different purpose, you might be shown the door (ba ka ’na ba u shebisa tlase).
Second, it has more writing tools than normal social media platforms.
For instance it has special characters that can help you write mathematical equations, something you won’t find in a Facebook-like platform.
More importantly, students come here to access resources which they would not find anywhere else, including books, video tutorials, past question papers and other educational materials.
So what is the vision for this brilliant young man?

“I hope Thusanang will grow to be a huge international platform where businesses with interest in education can make paid ads even as they make students’ learning easy.”
It may turn out to be Lesotho’s own “Facebook”, with international appeal.

Own Correspondent

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