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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Rural Learners Offline as COVID-19 Lockdown Stretches

Xalati Nkhwashu

Grade 11 learner Vutlharhi Nkhwashu is worried she might not be able to catch up on her studies following the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Cata Secondary School learner lives in Mafarana, a rural village near Tzaneen in Limpop province.

She is among hundreds of thousands of learners trapped in rural areas with erratic cellphone network and limited resources to connect to the outside world.

Minister of basic education Angie Motshekga announced last month that the Council of Education Ministers had agreed to focus on catch up programmes through the Promotion of Learning and Teaching in homes.

Motshekga said together with provinces the department had prepared online and broadcast support resources comprising subject content and a focus on Grade 12 learners and the promotion of reading for all the grades. She said some of the programmes would be available from April 1.  

However most learners in rural areas such as Nkhwashu are finding it difficult to access online programmes due to connectivity issues, lack of funds to purchase data and a general lack of resources such as laptops, tablets and smartphones.

“Well, since I am used to having a teacher teaching and helping me with questions that I battled to understand, this lockdown has really changed everything. No traditional classes, extra or weekend classes anymore,” said the 15-year-old.

“I find it hard to study forward because of that one section that I don’t understand.  And these TV programmes are mainly focused on the Grade 12,” she explained.

She said the programmes she can access have a short time slot for grade 11s. Her grade subjects include Mathematics, Physical sciences, Geography and Life science.

“I do own a smartphone but buying data is really hard. It’s useless owning a smart phone with zero data because you can’t participate on online or WhatsApp classes that everyone is talking about,” she said.

Her mother is a volunteer at a local school and only gets paid when the learners contribute R50 each. And since schools are closed that means she will not receive her salary for April.

“And my father is in the security department, but he has to cover his rent, grocery and transport. So the money that he sends this side only contributes to our groceries and electricity bill,” said Nkhwashu.

“But the fact of having a mother who works a job of no work no pay sometimes I can’t buy data and if the lockdown is extended again it will mean that our DSTV account will be suspended and this will mean I can’t watch the programmes offered by the mindset channel,” she said.

Motshekga said the department was working closely with key partners to coordinate and make available content tailored to support learners’ educational and health needs during the lockdown. She said they would make available among others broadcast lessons working with the SABC TV and Radio, DSTV channel 180, e-tv, community radio stations and that electronic readers would be available via all platforms in partnership with Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and Cell-C.

Orphaned grade 12 learner Vutivi Mhlarhi plans to save enough money for data to be able to download more online learning materials during the lockdown because he can’t afford daily online classes without data.

“With these expensive data and without attending everyday classes and regular access to our teacher, its not easy,” said Mhlarhi also from Cata Secondary school in Mafarana.

Mhlarhi (19) said having teachers assisted them stay  up to date but now , without teachers, they are on their own and must make sure they update themselves until there’s possibility to lift our national lockdown.

“I’m an orphan, both my parents passed away. My grandmother is looking after me but she can’t afford to spend her money for groceries on data,” he said.

“I can’t afford a proper functioning smartphone. I don’t have data and no laptop. It’s tough for me,” he said.

“The lockdown has caused destruction in my life. I don’t know if I will pass my exams because everything has come to a standstill,” he said.

Mhlarhi’s matric subjects are Economics, Geography, Life Sciences, Maths Literacy, English, and Life Orientation and Xitsonga.

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