By Asanda Sosibo, Tarsus Distribution portal sales manager and Sanele Majola, Executive head at Vuleka Schools

Never has the role of technology in the evolution of education been more important than in the year of the pandemic. When the COVID-19 outbreak forced schools to close, private schooling moved from classrooms to homes overnight. In the public-school system however, the scenario was very different.

As part of its Engaged Series, Tarsus Technology Group hosted a webinar on 12 November to look at organisational and technology-related aspects of learning in a country where there are huge variations in income and access to resources.

The discussion was hosted by Asanda Sosibo, portal sales manager at Tarsus Distribution. “The role of technology in providing access to all learners in South Africa is our concern as tech industry leaders, as employers of parents with school going children and as a corporate that contributes to the tech sector,” Sosibo said. “All stakeholders in education have a duty to ensure that no child is left behind.”

Guest speaker Sanele Majola, executive head of Vuleka Schools, an independent, non-profit group of Anglican Diocesan schools, explored the role of his self-devised acronym H.O.P.E in revolutionising South African education, a concept that focuses on the following:

Hybrid Instruction: Also known as blended learning, a combination of face-to-face and web-based teaching (using platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Google Classroom and more), has been proven to yield positive results around the world.

“In the hybrid model, class time is reserved for learners to collaborate and apply their learning, while lessons are delivered via video for them to watch at home,” Majola said. “This means that learning and assessment can and should be taking place anywhere.”

Opportunities: Partnerships can make it easier to create more opportunities for learners, and to provide access to affordable devices and other learning tools.

“Sharing information and online events between private and public schools, enabling online teacher-parent meetings, creating opportunities for teachers to engage in national and international online learning and development and for educators to attend online conferences, are just some of the opportunities that technology can make available to all,” Majola added. “There is also an opportunity for the corporate sector to become involved in providing mobile technology labs to support rural and township schools.”

 As a country, Majola said, we need to deal with inequalities by creating partnerships between private and public organisations. “During the lockdown, many parents proved to be trusted partners in education, interacting with schools and teachers, and overseeing their children’s lessons,” said Majola. “That experience has highlighted the value of partnerships; now we need IT companies to come on board and play a role in making digital learning happen for all.”

He added that digital citizenship can only exist when every learner has access to the data connectivity and affordable devices that are required to have access to information which, in turn, creates a more equitable digital society in which digital citizens use the internet regularly and effectively.

Equality: COVID-19 exposed serious inequalities in education in South Africa. While well-resourced schools, especially private institutions, were able to provide online learning, public schools struggled. Access to the Internet continues to be a serious challenge.

“Research shows that while most children received educational material from their schools via WhatsApp, email and other platforms, millions were not able to receive anything from March to August 2020,” Majola noted. “The Department of Basic Education struggled to set up an online learning system and relied on television and radio to broadcast lessons. Unfortunately, the numbers show that most children in the public-school system did not access this material. Those with access to smartphones during the pandemic did not have sufficient data to complete their work, while only 45% had access to the Internet for educational purposes.”

Poverty and inequality are preventing many children in the country from having access to the Internet and digital devices, effectively locking them out of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “In addition to looking at what our current situation, we have to start planning for the decade ahead if we want to prepare our children for a digital future,” Majola added.

He concluded by quoting Benjamin Franklin: “An investment in education always pays the best interest.”

Incase you missed it, you can watch the webinar recording below: