While e-learning has been gradually introduced into South Africa’s public education system over the years, the transition from the traditional ways of learning was fast-tracked by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic that brought classrooms across SA to a halt.
Teachers and learners had no choice but to adapt to the virtual classroom at a faster rate than expected. From introducing e-learning platforms and submitting tasks online to communicating through social media platforms such as WhatsApp.
To enable this transition, the Department of Education (DoE) has partnered with the business sector to ensure that the most vulnerable learners have access to digital tools that will allow them to access their basic right to education.
Challenges with online learning
The rapid shift to online learning on the back of the pandemic meant that schools had to introduce digital tools to learners that may have not been previously exposed to such tools. One of the biggest challenges that South Africa faces in terms of introducing digital resources is the lack of connectivity infrastructure. Connectivity is the most essential tool that enables e-learning for teachers and learners in the urban and rural areas of SA.
The lack of access to the internet has been a great hindrance for many learners. Without connectivity, learners cannot access learning material, use their devices to participate in virtual classrooms or collaborate with other learners while learning remotely. To enable connectivity for learners in vulnerable communities, the public sector has collaborated with telecommunications companies such as Telkom to bring connectivity services at no cost to the learners.
Telkom recently teamed up with the Mpumalanga Department of Education as a connectivity partner providing data connectivity solutions to 6 700 teachers and 55 000 Grade 12 learners in the province. This partnership is part of the Mpumalanga DoE e-learning programme that will digitally equip Grade 12 learners and teachers by making it easier for them to access online learning material.
Creating accessibility through zero-rating
As South Africa adapted to the changes brought about by the pandemic, the ability to access learning material anytime and anywhere, therefore minimizing physical contact, become an essential need. Through partnering with businesses such as Telkom, the DoE has been able to introduce digital solutions that not only enhance accessibility but also help learners and educators save on costs.
Since 2020, Telkom has worked with the DoE to provide zero-rated services to allow learners and teachers to work remotely without incurring data costs. Through zero-rating, learners who are Telkom Mobile users can access government e-learning websites as well as platforms such as Wikipedia, Everything Science, Everything Maths and DBE Cloud for free.
Every child has the right to access education and the pandemic has made it difficult for learners and teachers to interact and collaborate within the physical classroom. The rapid transition to virtual learning has exposed the massive digital divide that exists within the public education system. That is why it is crucial for businesses to partner with the public sector to bridge this divide and help learners to access e-learning platforms no matter where they are in South Africa.
Exposing learners to digital solutions not only allows them to access learning material but also helps them to tap into digital skills and expand their career prospects, especially in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Between 2021 and 2026, Telkom will have trained 1500 unemployed youth and 10 000 teachers to enable them to train other educators on how to use digital tools for remote learning.
By Desiree Letshabo, Executive: Business – Mobile Sales Telkom