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Is online learning the answer to inequality in South Africa?

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Just as we thought that things might be looking up after a very challenging 2021 and obstacles that the Coronavirus pandemic brought with it, another mutation of the virus surprises us just before the festive season. One of the biggest challenges that South Africa’s education system faced these past months, was making the switch to online learning. As we are all very well aware, there is currently a massive gap in the education system when it comes to schools – infrastructure, resources, skilled teachers, technology – and the list goes on. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in his 2019 state of the nation address that tablets would be rolled out to all South African schools as part of the drive to gear schools up for the 4th Industrial Revolution and all areas of technology and innovation that comes with it. We are 30 days away from entering 2022 and that has not yet materialised…

Unfortunately, online learning cannot be labelled as the solution to the inequality in the South African education system. Going back to what was mentioned before – infrastructure, ongoing teacher training and development, appropriate localised content, technical support and safety and security must all be prioritised first and foremost, so that educational technology actually does what it’s supposed to: enhances teaching and learning.

Before online learning can even be considered as the way of the future, schools need to be equipped to support both online and offline access to digital resources. Along with this, there needs to be maintenance on these structures and it needs to be managed properly, but before this can even be considered, funding needs to be made available to schools that are nowhere near ready for a technological overhaul. We haven’t even spoken about data costs and the implication that this will have on families who are struggling financially or even without jobs or a steady income.

Teacher training and development is already a major obstacle in underprivileged communities and without proper training, teachers won’t be able to assist students to function optimally using an online platform. Technology is definitely the way of the future, but before we can run, we must first learn to walk Mr President. South Africa’s existing technology in education policies needs to urgently be reviewed and we need to get the basics right. A sustainable plan has to be put in place to ensure that no child is deprived of a skill that is no longer a luxury.

Is online learning the answer to inequality in South Africa?

AUTHOR

Inge Liebenberg

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