Online learning environment for the masses

Although there is still no clear plan for the Skills Development sector as lockdown restrictions begin to lift from Friday, there have been some very clear and fundamental learnings for the education sector amidst this abnormal normality.

At the onset of what was positioned as a ‘potential’ global crisis, The SDC (Skills Development Corporation) had to make major adjustments to how they facilitated and managed their learnerships based on the accessibility and restrictions. Around two weeks later, President Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would join a significant amount of other countries in implementing a nationwide lockdown. Although the news came with a significant amount of uncertainty for learners living out of rural or informal locations given the opportunity – or lack thereof, to access their course material, SDC learners embraced the journey and delivered impressive attendance and assignment submission results.

But what realities has the education institution had to come to terms with to help navigate this path of uncertainty? “The fact that internet connectivity is almost a basic human right internationally, yet we are still so far away from that reality in South Africa,” says Melissa Van Aswegen, Operations ETQA Manager at SDC.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have internet connectivity at home and have children have no doubt had to explore some form of online learning in the past few weeks. In addition to this, pupils or students, especially the younger ones have had to very quickly learn some advanced computer skills to be able to interact on systems like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. The reality for others however, is that the process is being managed through applications like WhatsApp and Telegram (a cloud-based instant messaging and voice over IP service) to keep learners engaged and involved in their learnership programs and even these channels come with their own challenges with things like power outages or lack of digital literacy skills. 

“We have students that struggle to find signal or cannot charge their phones due to power outages, which puts a significant amount of additional pressure on students already dealing with the worst case scenario for people under lockdown, ” says Melissa.

Although the circumstantial reality for so many South Africans has been a way of life up until this point, SDC believe government will need to prioritise the lack of internet connectivity for the masses and place significant more effort on improving digital literacy skills at school level post this lockdown period.   

“What’s been so encouraging and at the same time, so humbling for us is that these students are STILL managing to find a way to attend to their online coursework and engage with their facilitators and peers via the group learning sessions we’ve also introduced,” Melissa notes.

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