There has been so much talk about how the pandemic has catapulted this world and everyone in it into a digital future, but is that really true for everyone? In Africa, we love to campaign the Fourth Industrial Revolution as if it is some kind of watershed transition into a prosperous tomorrow, but the reality is different for the majority of South Africans.
Of course, this is most devastating for our young learners, who mostly fall into the category of underprivileged, underachieving and underprepared as a year of lockdown has left them on the side-lines while everyone else sings a digital chorus.
Those Left Behind Are Unfortunately Just Out Of Reach
At the Pearson Marang Education Trust, we are deeply committed to supporting 85 township and rural schools across the country – investing in leadership and management development as well as curriculum delivery focussing on maths, reading and diversity in the classroom.
If you are reading this article on a tablet, you should know that the majority of children in these schools have never held one of those. While we all laud many schools’ ability to adapt to their curricula and classrooms to a digital interface, have you ever wondered about the number of children and schools that are being left behind – destined to be stuck in the past for some time, unable to feast on the fruits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Having visited many of these schools, I can tell you that most of them are struggling to cope with what has largely been expected of them by way of digital teaching and learning. Not only do they lack the equipment and the data, most of them struggle with connectivity. When you live in a region with little to no signal, you have little to no hope of ever joining any kind of digital revolution.
Robotics and coding have become the new buzzwords of the school curriculum, but how can we implement this properly if access to technology is not a reality for so many learners and even teachers in township and rural schools.
Sadly, although there has been a strong emphasis on how COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for fourth industrial revolutionary progress, my experience is that it has been an obstacle to the provision of quality, comprehensive, holistic education for too many South African learners… and teachers.
Are We Equipping Our Children For A Digital Future?
When we enter a digital future, we need to start thinking about the way we educate our children smartly. We cannot be thinking about digitisation above all things. I understand the excitement about every facet of our lives catching onto a digital wave, but that is not an equitable way forward for those who do not have access, especially in the schools that we work in.
There is however an argument beyond that of access. We need to focus on how we can help young South Africans and teachers develop the interpersonal skills that will help them embrace a digital way of life. If we just throw technology at a problem, not everyone will make it to the other side unscathed. There are varied skills required to navigate a digital world, skills that go far beyond just knowing how to operate a device or connect to the internet. It is far more than just knowing where to ‘click’.
Another facet of this conversation lies in digitisation’s ability to help learners engage in online virtual schooling, to understand what it means to be an effective learner, and an effective teacher. When South African schools reopened with the option of a rotational time table, this meant many children had to develop personal skills and characteristics which were often facilitated by the ever present teacher in the classroom. Young people had to quickly learn how to self-mange, to be self-motivated and self-disciplined on the days they didn’t physically go to school. This was a huge challenge for many learners, which left parents struggling too, as they navigated the barriers of poor infrastructure, poverty and societal disruption as well.
For themore privileged and techno savvy learners, it may have been easier to adapt to the use of technology, but many struggled with the same personal and interpersonal challenges that ‘remote learning’ poses. . Knowing how to be present and engaged in a virtual classroom is no less complex than it is in a physical classroom. Communication, conflict, group dynamics, issues of diversity, discipline, learner’s attitudes to the subject and/or teacher – these issues do not “leave the room” when the classroom is virtual, and teachers and learners need to learn how to navigate these with sensitivity and intelligence.
We need to let humanity drive equitable education
As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, we need to remember that we are bringing human beings into this digital world. They need to be thoughtful, insightful, sensitive and able to engage with others, to collaborate in teams as they progress in their digital-led futures.
They need to have a strong sense of self as they deliver something meaningful into this world. The humanity behind education needs to be a driving force behind its digitisation.
My plea to the Department of Basic Education is to remember what they claim is the essence of what they do – ‘Care and Support for Teaching and Learning’ is about caringfor and teaching the WHOLE child. I have found this often lacking when it comes to the implementation on the ground. Let’s not leave so many children behind, as we continue to talk big but struggle to to follow through with action.
To those teachers and learners out there who are trying to find their way, to navigate a new path into a new digistal world, remember that there are plenty of resources online available to help you find a way forward. Marang Education Trust, a partner with Pearson, is a good place to start.
About the Author
Dr Nadeen Moolla, the Research and Development Manager, leads the research aspect of Marang Education Trust’s work and is also responsible for the continuous professional and personal development of staff. She is a registered Educational Psychologist with specialist expertise in school development, teacher development and inclusion.