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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

South Africa must close the digital divide prevalent in public schools

The effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly acute on the public education sector. However, some say the pandemic also provides an opportunity for meaningful engagement around innovative options to bring about much-needed, broader societal transformation. 

Setlogane Manchidi, Head of Corporate Social Investment (CSI) at Investec said the pandemic has made it even more vital for educators and pupils to equip themselves with digital skills.

He said digital skills should form part of the training curriculum for teachers. Adding that educators should be comfortable to embrace technology and take full advantage of it to facilitate teaching and learning.

“Teachers need to be afforded time on these new learning platforms to build and boost their own ability and confidence.

“It is essential that teachers are both proficient and comfortable in teaching via various technological devices that serve to enhance their teaching and the pupils’ experience,” said Manchidi.

Manchidi said this is not only for classroom teaching but digital skills should also form a part of teachers’ ongoing professional development.

However, there are some obstacles that stand in the way of the smooth transition from paper to digital. These include the lack of access to suitable devices, the high cost of data in South Africa, as well as serious connectivity issues further worsened by frequent spells of load-shedding.

Manchidi said as teaching and learning moved online, the level of inequality between the “haves” and the “have-nots” was exposed for all to see.

“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,” said Manchidi.

He added that South Africa needs to explore new and innovative ways to not only bridge, but leapfrog, the digital divide.

Saying that it is unacceptable that so many years after the advent of democracy the cost of data, poor connectivity and other related challenges remain real barriers to widespread digital adoption.

The present reality in South Africa is that many young people 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. Experts and policy makers have said that South Africa needs a definitive shift in policy, strategy and programme implementation nationally to narrow the digital divide.

Saying that without it, the country and its people, as a whole, will continue to struggle.

Manchidi said the pandemic has introduced “a new normal” and as such, the government and private sector should feel compelled to find solutions to assist the public education sector to navigate across the digital divide.

“In March 2020, the country 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. But for others, the switch to a predominantly digital was impossible. 

“Sadly, the most impoverished and disadvantaged among us had to withstand the worst of the Covid-induced educational challenges and disruptions,” he said.

Manchidi said South Africa cannot allow last years’ experience to be lost to the passing of time.

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