Reshaping access to education with remote learning

A move to online learning should take into account the need for diverse local e-learning content. (zeljkosantrac/Getty Images)
A move to online learning should take into account the need for diverse local e-learning content. (zeljkosantrac/Getty Images)

Siphokuhle Mkancu is the Communications Officer at Shine Literacy. The organisation has been researching and setting up thinking partnerships with people who work in the 'literacy in technology' world. The objective is to bring 'Shine Online' and connect children to multilingual online reading resources and create a culture of reading in the home. 

With the country being on Alert Level 3, the back to school phasing-in approach will start, but most children not in Grades 7 and 12 will remain at home adhering to social distancing and the recommended remote and online learning. 

There are ongoing debates around this approach. Still, remote learning remains recommended to reduce the disruption the lockdown has had on the education system.  

The closure of schools and this alternative way of learning to what we had been accustomed to has not been without any challenges, especially for children in low-income communities and their families.  

The literacy crisis

Just before we went on lockdown the World Bank's "Learning Poverty" indicator reported that 53% of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read for meaning at age 10 - pointing out that children are not acquiring fundamental skills nor are they gaining reading proficiency by the end of primary school.  

This is due to the existing fragile education system and the present socio-economic conditions that impact educational outcomes – conditions that are just as visible now with remote learning.  

Challenges to remote and online learning

There are disparities in access to digital learning platforms, devices, data and connectivity, leading to low-income groups finding it difficult to sustain online learning strategies.

Children access less learning opportunities at home as parents take the role of home-schooling while having to juggle other aspects of family life and work. 

Most SA families do not speak the English language, yet it is the language that dominates learning in the country's classrooms.

Therefore a move to online learning should take into account the investment needed to develop diverse local e-learning content that speaks to the national curriculum and takes into account SA's unique social and cultural contexts.  

Going Forward

The lockdown has shifted the thinking and the education approach, which was dependent on physical infrastructure and physical learning materials to one that uses interactive technology, interactive technology which supports teachers in their work.

This means that digital skills training becomes a significant part of teacher training.

It is also an opportunity for teachers brought up in education systems with limited technology to engage and utilise technology. This move has to be done in ways where there is equitable access to learning resources and devices.

The biggest challenge being data which is necessary to sustain online learning activities or ensuring zero-rated access to them.

There is some infrastructure and development needed to adequately move and equally facilitate the curriculum online for all children.

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