As Covid-19 swept across the world a few months ago, and life as we knew it came to an eerie halt, there was a scramble for as much continuity as possible.
Education made a mass move online, a place the many traditionalists in the sector have previously avoided.
This has worked generally to keep teachers teaching and children learning during lockdown and has provided new experiences of leveraging technology in education.
However, in countries like South Africa, where our digital divide is particularly stark and bleak, it has simply deepened the fault lines in our society and left more vulnerable children even further behind.
According to the June 2020 report Counting the Cost about Covid-19 school closures in South Africa and its impact on children, only 2% of households have a computer and 10% have an internet connection, laying bare the sheer lack of resources and capacity in South Africa's poorest communities.
Sadly, these children are bearing a disproportionate brunt of the pandemic.
They have no access to the tech and data required to participate in online learning, and schools and teachers have lacked the resources and capacity to effectively connect with their pupils.
Since the beginning of August, 13 million South African children, depending on their grade, would have lost between 25% and 57% of "normal" school days. So, it's been very positive to see how NGO after-school programmes (ASPs) have stepped in to fill the gap.
They have been creative about how to keep children learning and teachers teaching and have been helping to meet specific needs which have otherwise been overlooked by government during the lockdown.
Boosting community efforts and keeping pupils engaged, educated, safe and fed are now a community effort.
Just as charities are at the forefront of the country's food relief efforts to prevent mass starvation, it's vital that there is full and ongoing support for educational NGOs as they work to leave no child behind during the pandemic.
We've seen our Learning Trust grantees pivot during the Covid-19 crisis to help practically address immediate educational needs.
They are playing roles in monitoring sanitation and water access at schools, offering psychosocial support to pupils and teachers and reaching out to students in townships who do not have access to digital learning resources.
Unfortunately, digital solutions have had little to no impact on the communities in which these ASPs operate, so coming up with other ways to support pupils and include them in catch-up programmes are vital.
Alternative ways of learning
One after-school programme has taken to distributing physical art kits to children in marginalised communities across Cape Town.
The Butterfly Art Project (BAP) has distributed art kits to almost 5 000 children since the start of lockdown to help reduce stress and promote development.
Keeping busy with creative art during lockdown can really help keep pupils engaged, especially the younger ones, and help ease tensions in stressful or abusive family environments.
An Eastern Cape after-school programme Masifunde has been equally innovative with a self-produced TV show quaranTV, which airs educational content on the local Port Elizabeth TV station Bay TV. Pupils can watch with a normal TV aerial in the region or nationwide via DStv.
They are also producing quaranTimes, a bi-weekly newspaper packed with life skills and academic content for pre-school, primary, high school and post-school pupils.
Further to this, there are drives from ASPs to get funding and donations of digital devices to pupils.
And for those who can access a device, we have made learning materials available for download and printing from the Covid-19 ASP Treasure Box on our TLT website.
Empowering the forgotten sector
The after-school sector has often been forgotten or left behind in terms of support of its initiatives.
The significant yet underestimated impact of these various programmes is especially highlighted by their capacity to reduce school absenteeism and drop-out rates.
This is no small task, considering that for every 100 pupils who start Grade 1 together, about 40 drop out of the school system before reaching Grade 12, costing the education system billions.
With so much disruption to the school year this year, we can't afford for pupils to be set back even further.
The response of ASPs to the pandemic is testimony to the important role their programmes play in the lives of children and youth in under-resourced communities.
Continued support for these non-profit organisations is essential if we are to mitigate the worst impacts of Covid-19 on South Africa's children.
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