Keeping it in the family

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For more than 30 years, Brainline has been providing home education to thousands of learners in and outside South Africa’s borders.

This family-run business started with humble beginnings, but today, three decades later, it is one of the most prominent distance education providers in the country. Brainline CEO, Coleen Cronje, says it was a matter of sink or swim.

Coleen Cronje Brainline
Coleen Cronje, CEO

“It all started when my husband, Dr Johannes Cronje, announced that we would home educate our daughters. As parents, we had to investigate what would be required to cope with these new demands. My husband and his brother, David Cronje, started the information technology journey for the learner in South Africa when they moved into the computer retail market. They soon discovered that there was no software for learners at school, either as additional support or as a complete replacement for traditional school. By implication – isn’t that what marriage is all about – I got drawn into it, as it soon became part of our family’s lifestyle.”

Dr Cronje had the insight to realise that this concept would grow into an internet-based school. The intricacies were not yet clear; however, the concept was. The internet being connected by ‘telephone lines’ around 30 years ago gave him the idea of ‘Brainline’, connecting parents, teachers, tutors and all those interested in the academic education of the learner. Uncertainty over technology proved to be a constant obstacle.

“The fear of technology is lodged deep in the psyche of parents of a certain era. For that reason, all new technology, floppy discs, followed by stiffies and then DVDs, immediately created the logistical challenge of hardware that had to be replaced at the drop of a hat. The biggest challenge was the development of software with regard to knowledgeable people, suitable resources and access to material. The “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, which started even then, made hardware and software easier to afford and it became a growth factor for this industry,” Coleen says.

The year 1993 saw the company registered as an official matric exam centre, with the Department of Education (DBE) as a B-centre for part-time candidates, though its registration soon migrated to that of a private entity, the Independent Examination Board. The next two decades saw the establishment of a fully-fledged and accredited virtual school, offering a wide range of subjects, complete with live lectures, and real-time responses via a stable communication application.

According to Coleen, the phenomenal growth of home schooling in South Africa cannot be ascribed to a single cause, but may be due to a perceived lack of safety at schools in South Africa, special needs in reading and learning that are not catered to, as well as concerns about the quality of teaching and learning in schools.

“Every child is unique and every family is unique. Home education offers them the opportunity to fulfil their individual needs as a family, while still maintaining a high level of effective academic education. We see many children who compete in athletics on a global basis, or take part in the arts, such as ballet, for instance. Their schedules do not allow them to follow a normal schooling routine. With our programme, they are able to do their daily learning anywhere and at any time. They have access to every possible additional resource that they may need and their parents can easily stay in touch with what is happening in their academic cycle.”

Rosa-Marie Cronje Brainline
Rosa-Marie Cronje, Financial Manager.

Cronje’s daughter, Rosa-Marie, is officially Brainline’s financial manager, however she wears many hats. “I am also very involved in many other aspects of Brainline such as marketing, sales and driving innovation in our products and platforms to the strategic vision of the company.

I believe that a family-owned business is the most powerful kind. The vision and success of the company becomes part of your being from a young age. The most valued part for me is having the opportunity to craft and pursue the dream daily with my family, Mom (CEO), and aunt, Mornet de Jager (General Manager).”

General Manager and HR driver, Coleen’s sister, Mornet de Jager, says working together as a family unit is one of the biggest success pillars of the company.

Mornet de Jager, General and HR Manager

“This is not just a day job for us, this is a family legacy for the next generation. We are all entrenched in the daily operations of the company to ensure that we offer our clients the best service possible.”

Rosa-Marie says that, as the younger generation, she is tasked with ensuring that the company stays on top of the latest developments.

“It is a continuous goal for Brainline to be at the forefront of new technologies and innovation, going where no company in the home education space has gone before, to provide our parents and learners with the most enjoyable and successful academic journey. Brainline is enabling access to education through online technologies, but also by communicating with learners via platforms that they are most accustomed to. We also look at introducing new concepts such as virtual reality.”

According to Coleen, Brainline offers a complete and comprehensive solution for children and parents alike. “Our live lectures via the Brainline Cloud School are set up so that learners can ask questions in real time and have these covered in the lecture. For all intents and purposes, this is the same as class being presented by a teacher. Your child can interact with the teacher and even collaborate with classmates on group assignments.”

Coleen explains that the lectures are recorded and the learners can go back and watch them again, or quickly brush up on something that they may have missed. All resources are easily and instantly accessible, thus giving learners access to every resource they may need at the touch of a button.

“For parents, it has never been easier to keep abreast of what their children are learning. Our system is set up to make sure that parents stay informed at all times. Public schools are generally filled to capacity, with some schools accommodating as many as 45 or more children per class. It is impossible for a teacher in that situation to give individual attention to your child, let alone to you as the parent.”

Mornet says the system is set up to ensure that parents are in touch with their child’s academic progress. “Online home education, while certainly more convenient for a lot of families, is by no means any easier than conventional schooling. In some ways it may be daunting, as it requires not only time, but also dedication on the part of the parent. We strive to support families at every level to ensure that they achieve success and remain recurring clients on an annual basis.”

Coleen says that the IEB exams are well known for their rigour when compared to the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams, offered by the Department of Basic Education. The difference lies in the enhancement of critical thinking and the application of knowledge for problem solving. This leads to a learner who is better prepared not only for tertiary studies, but also for the working life to follow.

But what are the costs involved?

“Let’s face it, as a parent, I do not know anyone who would not love to have their child attend a top private school. However, the one inhibiting factor is cost,” says Coleen. With some former Model C schools charging as much as R2 800 per month per child, the cost of education in South Africa has been skyrocketing, to the extent that some government schools are now in a position to compete with private schools in terms of cost. According to Coleen, it is one of the focus areas of Brainline to ensure that they offer the best academic education to learners at an affordable and competitive price.

“A good education in South Africa does not come cheap,” she says. “But we pride ourselves on the fact that we can effectively compete in the market where quality education is considered to be of great value to both current and future generations”.

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