The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of the role of teachers is not only delivering an equitable, high-quality education to South Africa’s schoolchildren but also in providing social-emotional support and critical life skills to learners, says private school network SPARK Schools.
SPARK Schools Chief of Schools, Bailey Thomson Blake said the national lockdown had effectively put teachers on the front lines of the fight to both coach scholars through a time of uncertainty while preventing existing access gaps from widening, as many students lack the access to the internet or the necessary devices to participate in online learning scenarios.
Leading in crisis
The theme of World Teachers’ Day in 2020, 'Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future' aims to focus attention on the role of teachers in a new educational landscape brought about by the pandemic.
"Moving from a regular on-campus school environment to an online learning environment was a major change for parents, teachers and scholars alike. Many parents had to adjust routines within their homes to accommodate their children’s remote learning environment, while teachers were reinventing themselves and their occupation to better serve their students."
"The upside is that many of these new teaching methods will find a permanent place in the classroom when students fully return to school post-Covid," said Blake.
A pivotal role
"Teachers also play a pivotal role in providing social-emotional support to scholars as they navigate the unknown in school closures and reopenings. Government and private institutions alike should commit to providing psychosocial support to teachers to ensure they are well supported as they serve others," she said.
And while the pandemic has underlined the potential of technology to improve the quality of education for students, particularly in a remote learning setting, it also highlighted the growing digital divide in the country, which leaves most students unable to participate in virtual learning scenarios.
“With the internet, students and teachers can use digital tools and platforms to continue learning, collaborating and communicating with each other outside the classroom."
"But what we learned during the lockdown was that it’s not just about access to the internet, but access to devices in the home. Often, smartphones, tablets and laptops are supplied by workplaces to parents, and they leave the home the moment a parent goes to work," said Blake.
This insight allowed SPARK Schools to develop offline methods of facilitating learning through a number of low-tech and offline solutions for its learners, including traditional printed packs and WhatsApp resources and videos.
However, the effectiveness of remote learning also depends on the technological literacy of parents and scholars to use online learning materials and self-direct their learning, and for younger scholars, which parents have the time to spend helping them, said Blake.
To help bridge South Africa’s digital divide, SPARK says there is a clear need for robust public-private partnerships to ensure that all educational material is made as affordable and as accessible as possible.
"During the pandemic, we have seen that we need to be able to serve scholars and their families with a high-quality education at an affordable cost, whether online or offline. All of us, whether in government or independent schools, have to commit to serving as many South African children as possible," said Blake.
The country also needs to decide whether to zero-rate online access to education portals to ensure that its young people are globally competitive.
"With the wealth of information and educational resources available online, students need access to devices at home, and the ability to access learning materials on those devices. Without the ability to access that remote learning, they're prevented from any opportunities which could greatly improve their quality of life," concludes Blake.
Submitted to Parent24 by SPARK Schools
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