Strategies to bridge online gap in South Africa

Strategies to bridge online gap in South Africa

Creating policies to complement the existing system of education.

Covid-19 has presented new challenges and demands on the education system.

It has shown that technology is no longer a luxury but an essential component of the education process.

According to Keith Michael, CEO of Lebone Litho Printers in Selby, StatsSA states South Africa has more than 58 million people, but only 31 million have access to the internet.

“Mobile phones are the most popular and basic form of access to the internet that most South Africans have. While South Africa has the largest number of active connections, less than three per cent of all households have fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connections and only 10 per cent have home internet access,” explained Michael.

Keith Michael

Lack of access has certainly contributed to learners who were not able to learn from home, creating a major gap in their academics.

“E-learning provides access which many children, under normal circumstances would not be afforded. Rural areas are highly affected as they continue to lag in internet quality.”

First strategy: creating policies to complement the existing system of education

“At least 9 000 schools in South Africa do not have access to the internet and more than 11 000 schools do not have internet labs,” said Michael.

Keith Michael

He added that with the right support and training, digital teaching and learning can become ubiquitous even in resource-trapped environments.

“Poorer schools should not be disadvantaged because of connectivity and lack of funding in the information and communications technology (ICT) space,” he said.

“Few countries in the world have started to implement the strategy of creating platforms for learners to access education while at home. These countries have adopted effective digital programmes and are finding ways to deliver digital educational materials and learning resources to the homes of learners.”

Second strategy: the intentional and proactive raising of funds

“The Department of Education has a long way in creating access for all learners. It has previously attempted to bridge the digital divide by providing learners with tablets; however, many challenges arose, including lack of funding in the ICT space and the lack of security of the tablets and devices among other things.”

He said Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi previously expressed a commitment to provide every child in the region access to education via a tablet or computer, which proves to be a complex task.

He also added that the plan was not just to allow children access to tablets in schools, but that learners would be able to take their tablets home to continue with learning.

“Some of the funds should still go towards the nutrition of the learners by giving them food parcels. However, a small portion can be invested in strategies towards online learning access. Many learners in disadvantaged communities understand the importance of education and as such would opt for a chance to be able to continue with their studies uninterrupted,” said Michael.

Keith Michael

Third strategy: creating an integrated public-private partnership approach aided by the telecom sector

“South African children cannot be starved and deprived of getting access to online learning when we have a healthy telecoms sector. Our government should seek the buy-in of parents and private companies to invest heavily in the online learning space.

“It will take enormous collaboration and energy from all sectors of society to engage the government and the private sector to change the future of our learners with mentorship programmes, sponsorships, job shadowing and guidance on skill shortage starting with Grade R to matric,” he said.

Keith Michael

According to Michael, a solution will be if school management services, education boards, ICT companies and education entrepreneurs can pull together and work to solve the issue of access.

“Identifying gaps and filling them is how every company with resources should conduct itself. “At Lebone, one of the main priorities for each year is to find schools in need and look at ways to solve their problems. In the past year, Lebone invested more R100 000 towards assisting schools in disadvantaged areas to continue to assist learners by providing stationery and other requirements. We will be going to any school in the country but for 2021 our focus will be schools in the south.

“Teachers also require guidance on e-learning teaching methodologies and there should be an effort to strengthen online security. To reinforce the foundational imperative of online learning and create an effective outcome, excellent retired teachers must be part of the strategy.

“By uniting towards the same goal, funds can be available to ensure our learners enjoy learning effectively and can focus solely on gaining the skill sets needed to grow and compete in the South African job market,” concluded Michael.

Keith Michael

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