Bridging the digital divide in public education is a collective effort
28 Apr 2021
In March 2020 SA faced an unprecedented challenge as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic. With the imposition of a nationwide lockdown, almost every human endeavour switched from being physical to virtual. For many the conversion was effortless. For others, however, the switch to a predominantly digital world only served to further deepen prevailing divides.
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Notwithstanding the grave socioeconomic implications of certain Covid-19 decisions, the pandemic provides an opportunity for meaningful engagement around innovative options to bring about much-needed, broader societal transformation.
The effect of Covid-19 measures on the public education sector was particularly acute. We encountered a litany of challenges when transitioning Investec’s maths and science tuition programme, Promaths, from a high-touch, face-to-face intervention to an exclusively online experience. Obstacles ranged from access to suitable devices to the high cost of data, to serious connectivity issues (further worsened by frequent spells of load-shedding)
While proud that 90% of the matriculants on the programme achieved a university pass, we cannot ignore that there is so much more to be done.
As teaching and learning moved online, the degree of inequality between the “haves” and the “have-nots” was exposed for all to see and the country was found wanting.
Sadly, the most impoverished and disadvantaged among us had to withstand the worst of the Covid-induced educational challenges and disruptions.
It’s vital that the skills required to educate pupils digitally form part of the training curriculum of our teachers, as well as part of their ongoing professional development.
Setlogane Manchidi, CSI head
The challenges faced by a digitally handicapped education system in 2020 should present the nation with an opportunity. Ignoring the dire need to bridge the digital divide will only compound the problems faced by our public education system.
Presently, the sad reality is many young South Africans may never achieve their full education and career potential. The uneven access to internet connectivity stands in the way of meaningful engagement among citizens, broad-based societal development, and global competitiveness.
What is required is a definitive shift in policy, strategy and programme implementation nationally to narrow the digital divide. Without it, the country and its people, as a whole, will continue to struggle. As we come to terms with the so-called new “normal” we should all feel compelled to find solutions to assist our public education sector to navigate across the digital divide.
This article originally appeared on Business Day