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Distance Educator, Brainline, says it is unlikely that the basic education landscape will remain the same in light of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent countrywide lockdown. This comes as Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga is expected to table proposals before Cabinet today, 15 April 2020, that could drastically change the academic calendar. Brainline CEO, Coleen Cronje, says it can never be business as usual.
‘The coronavirus pandemic has changed how millions around the globe are educated and it is unlikely that South Africa will return to the status-quo post-lockdown. We have already seen a rise in online educational platforms where traditional classroom and its “talk-and-chalk” way of teaching have been radically changed. This is a true indication of what can be expected in the future and both parents and learners are getting more comfortable with this method of learning,’ she says.
It has been reported that the Department of Basic Education is looking at a few possible scenarios. Options include that schools only open on July 7, that the June and September holidays be scrapped, moving the exams scheduled for November to December or phasing in various grades such as Gr 7 and Gr12 first. (https://city-press.news24.com/News/angie-motshekga-ponders-academic-calendar-20200412) Cronje says both parents and learners are currently very anxious about what the future holds.
‘It is a very uncertain time for families and Grade 12’s are particularly concerned about their future and how any of these scenarios will affect their final exams and studies. It is important that the Minister communicate as soon as possible about the decisions to buffer students against the impact of the lockdown.’
Cronje says, however, the inevitable changes in the educational landscape should not be viewed as negative. She says new solutions for education could bring much needed innovation and given the digital divide, new shifts in education approaches could widen equality gaps.
‘It is estimated that over 421 million children around the world are affected due to school closures. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has changed how these students are educated. Risk-control decisions have led millions of students into temporary ‘home-schooling’ situations, especially in some of the most heavily impacted countries, like China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran. These changes have certainly caused a degree of inconvenience, but they have also prompted new examples of educational innovation,’ Cronje explains.
Cronje says the slow pace of change in academic institutions globally is lamentable, with centuries-old, lecture-based approaches to teaching, entrenched institutional biases, and outmoded classrooms. However, she says, COVID-19 has become a catalyst for educational institutions worldwide to search for innovative solutions in a relatively short period of time.
‘In China, 120 million Chinese got access to learning material through live television broadcasts. Other simpler – yet no less creative – solutions were implemented around the globe. In one Nigerian school, standard asynchronous online learning tools, such as reading material via Google Classroom, were augmented with synchronous face-to-face video instruction, to help pre-empt school closures.’
Cronje says it is not inconceivable that there will be a rise in public-private educational partnerships.
‘Just in the past few weeks we have seen learning consortiums and coalitions taking shape, with diverse stakeholders, including government, publishers, education professionals, technology providers and telecom network operators, coming together to utilize digital platforms as a temporary solution to the crisis. It is safe to say that this could become a prevalent and consequential trend to future education.’
About 60% of the world’s population is online, however, Cronje says while virtual classes on personal tablets may be the norm in many households, scores students in less developed economies rely on lessons and assignments sent via WhatsApp or email. She says it will be therefore very important that when classes transition online, as it is bound to, all relevant stakeholders work together to ensure that the less fortunate don’t miss out.
‘Unless access costs decrease and quality of access increase, the gap in education quality, and thus socioeconomic equality will be further exacerbated. The digital divide could become more extreme if educational access is dictated by access to the latest technologies. We have seen network operators coming up with solutions to lower the cost of data but this is something that needs to be escalated for the benefit of education’
Cronje says the pandemic has also provided an opportunity for learning institutions and schools to incorporate skills development courses that will enable students to cope with situations currently underway.
‘The pandemic is also an opportunity to remind ourselves of the skills students need in this unpredictable world such as informed decision making, creative problem solving, and perhaps above all, adaptability. To ensure those skills remain a priority for all students, resilience must be built into our educational systems as well,’ she says.
Brainline is IEB recognised. Learners who are enrolled with us to complete their final examinations and who fulfil the requirements for this qualification will receive their National Senior Certificate (NSC), as issued by Umalusi.
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