The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the huge inequalities we have in our education system, writes Masenyane Molefe.
Covid-19 has taught us many valuable lessons spanning across all sectors – and affecting us professionally and in our personal capacities.
Resulting from the lockdown, all stakeholders in the education system were challenged to adopt innovative approaches to ensure the continuation and completion of the 2020 curriculum.
This called for a rapid change to the academic framework to integrate remote teaching while reducing the risks of Covid-19 infections among learners and students in what the United Nations (UN) describes as the largest global health crisis in its 75-year history.
The global pandemic also put into stark reality the huge inequalities we have in our education system.
Some institutions got it right as they had the facilities to continue with the curriculum and did not battle to make up for the lost days. Some were unable to do this due to factors unique to South Africa's socio-economic divide.
The lockdown held up a mirror that made South Africa reflect on the quality of education, especially the impact on vulnerable communities, and threatened to raise heightened levels of socio-economic inequality.
Students at risk
The decision by institutions to continue with the curriculum remotely placed millions of students at risk.
Affordability and accessibility of devices, reliable electricity, internet, data and nutritious meals as well as navigating the features of the programmes became a dividing concern.
Prior to the pandemic, there was a programme by the Department of Basic Education to gradually introduce technology devices with access to digitised Learning and Teaching Support Materials (LTSMs) to institutions, but a rise in the number of burglaries halted the process.
According to a paper by the Competition Commission, South Africa has an internet penetration of 62%.
Many students do not have computers at home and, those that do, tend to only have one machine per household at an average family of four.
A recent South African study conducted by Feenix, a crowdfunding platform, discovered that 46% of the 362 participants were unequipped with the necessary tools, such as data, laptops and computers, to complete their assignments or participate in online learning programmes.
Further research indicated that those who received the smart devices and were new to the technology needed to unlearn, learn and re-learn new approaches.
Separate from the challenges of technology, the issue of access to nutritious food was identified as a stumbling block in the South African context, raising the question of how a student can learn on an empty stomach.
According to the Department of Higher Education and Training's 2018-19 Annual Report, 8% or approximately 82 960 of tertiary education students worry about food.
Call to action
Improving our education system, together, should become a priority to "change South Africa for the better", by actively contributing to the development of South Africa's next wave of empowered young graduate professionals.
As a collective, corporate South Africa should be going the extra mile to give justice to future South African professionals.
Simple actions make a meaningful difference.
These could include enabling employees to have unlimited data, so that their children can benefit; sponsoring digital devices; collaborating with educational institutions to offer virtual tuition to learners who cannot afford to get extra help; partnering with organisations in a food drive to fight food insecurity on campuses around the country; offering bursary programmes to needy students and perhaps providing access to unlimited attendance at virtual work-readiness courses.
The PPS Foundation, enabled through the contributions from dedicated members, members of the public and its primary sponsor the PPS Group, operates off a mutuality model and the view that "Success is Better Shared", supports various entities and individuals.
The efforts are relentlessly dedicated to making a positive impact to the educational challenges of South Africa.
Programmes we are actively involved in is through the contribution and improvement of access to tertiary education through funding for bursaries and refurbishing learning facilities at tertiary institutions.
We are also addressing the social issues beyond the lecture room.
These include tackling food insecurities within the student community, sponsoring universities with personal protective equipment (PPE) for students at the frontline of this pandemic, digital devices and data to vulnerable students, the enhancement of teaching and learning experiences for students and educators, and the empowerment of young talent on the cusp of entering the job market after graduation through the LEAP (Learned, Engaged, Accelerated Professionals) work-readiness programme.
Digital transformation has become an imperative among educational institutions in order to remain relevant and competitive.
Now is the time for professionals to pass the baton of excellence and empowerment to those who followed in the trail they blazed.
Or the "bus will be missed" again.
- Masenyane Molefe is Executive Trustee of the PPS Foundation.