Virtual learning has been a great way to ensure this academic year is not lost during the lockdown. However, what provisions have been made for learners without access to the internet, computers, smart phones and textbooks to take home?
With the world in dire straits to grapple with our new reality, for at least the foreseeable future, various industries are scrambling to find solutions to problems presented by the Coronavirus. As a consequence of the government’s call social distancing, technology has, in some respects, been catapulted as a convenient and problem-solving tool. In the South African context, this might fast-tracking of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Education is among the sectors that are heavily relying on technological tools, in demographics where this is possible, to ensure that learners complete their academic year.
The Department of Basic Education has emphasised its determination to make sure that this year does not fall through for learners. After President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national lockdown announcement last month, schools closed and the learners’ first academic term was cut short. The department says it will use this time to intensify programmes that don’t need physical contact and prepare online and broadcast (TV and radio) support resources, with a focus on Grade 12 pupils. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga says the department is preparing recovery materials which would intensify teaching at the end of the lockdown – adding that should the lockdown be extended, they will also be prepared for it.
In line with the department’s resolve, some teachers have made an effort to also lend a helping hand by using social media platforms to reach out to children. Thabang Motsitsi, a teacher at Boaramelo Combined School in Jagersfontein, in the Free State, says he uses WhatsApp as an educational tool. “I’m currently using the group chat to answer and emphasise certain content using voice notes. Otherwise, they do self-study via the exam-based study guide.” Nelisa Makina, a teacher at Hector Petersen High School in the Eastern Cape, says she and her Grade 12 learners have a daily schedule where they discuss the material via WhatsApp. Another teacher at Central Primary School in Bloemfontein has sent parents daily learning material, via the app, along with corrections for them to mark in their children’s prescribed textbooks.
However, Nomathamsanqa Vezi, a teacher at Olien Secondary School, in Fauresmith, in the Free State, says while social media platforms are a great convenience, resources at her school and the area she teaches at are very scarce. “You’ll find parents who say they don’t use phones that can’t install WhatsApp, others don’t have phones, or data is a problem.”
Vezi says she, instead, gave the learners their March test question papers for them to practice while at home. “We don’t have enough textbooks for learners to take home and do some exercises. The question papers are all they can use and they’ll have to use their classwork books, corrections and notes to answer,” Vezi adds. She says there needs to be a more controlled method when it comes to the issuing of textbooks because the previous year’s learners have not returned them, which affects this year’s class.
Maths tutor in Bloemfontein, Ntswaki Matati, also agrees that WhatsApp is a great tool but some learners don’t have cellphones or data. Matati says added to this are domestic challenges, “things are different at the location because they are under lockdown so parents take advantage and give them a lot of chores, so they don’t have enough time to catch up on their school work”.
For those who don’t have access to these tools, Makina and Vezi both say they will organise extra classes for the learners as soon as schools start so they can adequately catch up for exams. It’s obvious that the department’s solutions, as effective as they may arguably be in some areas, are very exclusionary. In addition to this, learners who don’t have the resources to help them catch up in the meantime, are going to be under extreme pressure to grasp the term’s work on time for exams. Should the lockdown be extended, the department will have to come up with more inclusive solutions that cover a wide scope of backgrounds and accessibility to resources.