BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

COVID-19 lockdowns have taught us that South Africa is not ready for online schools. The poor adoption of online school at Curro, a private school in SA, and the struggle by the unconnected shows that more needs to be done. UCT Online High School has also been silent about the adoption of its virtual school. We’ve assumed for many years that online schooling is an alternative to in-person schools and the reality is different as shown by the lockdown education experience. Parents who were expected to assist learners at home struggled to make this work. This does not mean it cannot work, but needs some form of adjustment and intervention to work for local context. What can be done to improve the adoption of online schools model?

The current forms of online schools are not engaging enough to deliver the desired results in education. The model that requires learners to watch videos is not how learners want to be taught online. Some scholars have argued that a hybrid model that includes practical work, meeting other learners and watching of online material maybe a better way to approach learning in schools. Futurists are already thinking about delivering education in the metaverse. The assumption is that it maybe more engaging for learners. The challenge is that we are far off from getting the metaverse to work. On the other hand in disadvantaged communities accessing online schools remains a dream due to cost of connectivity and poor network infrastructure in disadvantaged communities.

The education community has been concerned about how learners from disadvantaged communities were left behind during lockdown as they could not access online learning resources.

Now that we’ve realised that online learning is not what we envisaged, what is being done to improve its adoption. Now that everything’s back to normal there’s little that is done to enable online learning adoption. Ideally this period of calm should be used to do everything possible to ensure that online learning experience is equivalent to in-person learning in terms of quality and accessibility. This challenge needs to be tackled at the level of the following areas: user experience and accessibility.

There’s a need for projects that are aimed at improving the user experience of learning online. Part of this may include gaming and human interaction. On another level there’s a need to address the accessibility issue in disadvantaged areas. Part of that will have to include improvement of network infrastructure and enabling access to offline learning material in the short run.

All of these things need to addressed now before another disaster strikes. Covid-19 has tested some of our theories and proved some of them wrong. Our knowledge of what works and what does not should inspire us to correct and improve now. This will enable better access to education when another disaster strikes again. We are living in an uncertain world that keeps changing all the time. To cope and survive we need to build resiliency by improving systems that were thought to work but in reality are not working. Online education is one of those that needs a reboot in South Africa for all to access education.

The current situation that has only enabled the haves and the connected to access schooling should not be repeated. South African education system needs a plan that outlines how everyone will be taught during a time of disaster. Online learning should not just be seen as a solution without added interventions designed for local context.

When tech solutions are designed for South Africa there’s a need to take into account socio-economic circumstances. At the same, there’s a need to understand that technology can be customised for local conditions. So far there’s little that has been done to tailor online learning offering for the local environment. Such a solution does not need to be a high tech solution. It can be a low tech solution that may include learning material in a box and deployed in households and communities. Whatever the solution it needs to be tested now until it can be proven to work. If this is not addressed now we may end up with another situation where some have an appearance of a solution and some with no solution at all. At the end of the day such a scenario is a lose-lose scenario. Someone needs to design and build a win-win solution now.