The mobile app responding to a silent education crisis


Listen up. You may have a hearing problem. But it takes less than two minutes to figure that out thanks to De Wet Swanepoel. He’s the inventor of a nifty phone application that detects difficulty hearing. It’s changing lives, particularly for the younger generation. “Children who don’t hear well can’t learn well and as a result, can’t perform in a school environment,” Swanepoel says. Without affordable healthcare, something as common as a slight hearing problem can go undetected and become a barrier to education. “It costs a fortune to have your hearing checked and I knew I had to do something,” Swanepoel says.

A Professor of Audiology at the University of Pretoria, Swanepoel spent years researching how technology can improve healthcare. His work culminated in the launch of HearZA. The app is the local version of HearScreen, a group of technology developed by Swanepoel and his colleague, Herman Myburgh. It allows you to check your ability to recognise speech over increasing background noise by typing the corresponding prompts. If a teacher downloads the app, it can be used to test students in their classroom. “Once a problem is identified in children, immediate action can be taken to improve their hearing and life,” Swanepoel says. Before, learners with slight hearing loss would be misunderstood as inattentive or undisciplined. With the app, they have the chance to get to the root of the problem.

Medical attention goes beyond just receiving a hearing aid – it begins by raising awareness and improving communication. “I created HearScreen to ensure people are connected to hearing care, especially the underprivileged,” Swanepoel says. To date, the local version of the app has tested over 35 000 people. “I never knew that we’d be able to touch the lives of so many people,” Swanepoel says. Everyone deserves access to healthcare. Now, it’s at their fingertips.