Wesley Diphoko, the Editor of Fast Company, says the education sector must embrace digital resources rapidly as schools are closed during the covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)
Wesley Diphoko, the Editor of Fast Company, says the education sector must embrace digital resources rapidly as schools are closed during the covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

OPINION: Education sector must embrace digital resources rapidly

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Apr 17, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Online learning and teaching has emerged as the weapon of choice by education institutions to ensure continuity of the 2020 academic programme. 

The challenge, however, is that access to the internet and other digital tools is only for the privileged few.

Wits University in announcing their plans to ensure continuity of the academic programme they found out that  between 10 percent and 15 percent of students do not have access to appropriate computing devices, adequate access to data or conducive learning environments.

The University of the Western Cape  has indicated that 30 percent of its 24 000 strong student body has no access to devices like laptops, or even data. The institution has, therefore, appealed for support. 

The institution has also indicated that they do not have resources that some of the well resourced institutions may have at their disposal.

At the same time, schools are faced with similar challenges as a result some with better resources opted for online learning solutions.

The current situation with education institutions reveals the extent of the digital divide in South Africa. 

It also highlights the importance of enabling internet access to all citizens. Internet is no longer a luxury, it should now be considered a basic need.

This challenge has prompted telecoms companies to zero rate educational websites to enable students to access education without the need to pay for expensive data. 

The SABC has  partnered with the Department of Basic Education to enable access to education via television and radio. 

More can be done to ensure that there’s better access to education.

The world is experiencing a watershed moment for education systems. 

It tragically illustrates the need for educational institutions to build a technological backbone and digital competency to weather this crisis and to enter a new era of teaching and learning in a digital world.

The South African context, however, requires a central approach. 

The technological backbone is needed at a national level and rolled out to various institutions and schools, addressing the issue of the digital divide.

Sadly, preparedness in this case goes beyond just technological readiness. People also have to change their mindset. Teachers and academics will have to adapt to the new normal. This won’t be easy in the early stages, but will get better over time. 

The education ecosystem has historically been  slow to adapt. But educators, faced with unprecedented urgency, now have the ability to deliver high-quality teaching and learning online. 

Virtually every institution in the world is now exploring how they will offer online learning as a stop-gap measure. Fortunately, technology and content are available to help them do this quickly and with quality. 

In cases where such content does not exist locally, global online resources are available. 

And as institutions develop their own digital competencies, what has started as a short-term response to a crisis will likely become an enduring digital transformation of education as we know it.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company magazine. You can reach out to him via email: [email protected] or Twitter: @WesleyDiphoko

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