With the South African government’s recent closure of public schools to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, many educational institutions are having to radically rethink their approach in the ever-changing local schooling environment. For the nation’s K-12 learners (Grade 1 to Grade 12) in particular, the health crisis has been highly disruptive, and teachers have scrambled to find ways of keeping learners engaged and motivated in an atmosphere rife with anxiety and change. Already, many learners have had to adjust to home and blended learning models, relying on virtual platforms and mobile devices to carry on with their studies.
According to a wide reaching social survey conducted by Stats SA, 72.9 percent of respondents with children in their households report that they have had to move to home schooling during lockdown. This has applied to learners in both private schools (83.5 percent) and public schools (67.1 percent). Notably, only 34.6 percent reported using special online learning tools, while the majority (51.3 percent) instead received educational material from the schools on platforms such as WhatsApp and email.
With this context in mind, we recommend that South African educators consider the following key steps, and create a strategic roadmap to proactively direct the duration of the 2020 school year…
1 – Reflect on school response to date
There can be no doubt that local schools and teachers have thus far fought a heroic battle to continue the school year despite the monumental impact of the novel coronavirus on daily lives. We can see this in the way in which teachers have turned to email and WhatsApp to remain in touch with learners. To date, however, many of the ad hoc strategies that schools have turned to in the crisis have been used with the assumption that a return to ‘traditional’ schooling would be both imminent and permanent. Now that it has become clear that this is no longer the case, schools need to reflect on where they are on the virtual learning journey, and plot a path forward in the knowledge that virtual learning will likely play an integral role in K-12 curriculums in both the short and long term. This holds true around the world.
2 – Invest in advanced virtual learning platforms & tools
Even prior to the global pandemic, many forward-thinking educators were exploring the emerging benefits of virtual classrooms and optimised virtual learning environments. Coupled with the increasing ability to gather and harness key data and data analytics, these virtual learning environments can radically boost learner engagement by optimising content according to learner behaviour and data. Indeed, tools such as sophisticated Learner Management Systems (LMS) can monitor learners (for example, when they click onto a video or download material) to enable teachers to better understand the strengths, weaknesses, and individual preferences of each student. Moreover, this type of data-driven feedback can be shared with parents and caregivers (in real-time), to further support learners and provide them with the most optimised virtual learning environment possible.
3 – Empower teachers with dynamic training courses & certifications
Even with the best and most advanced virtual learning technology, schools will not achieve improved outcomes and boosted learner engagement unless they proactively invest in training and courses that help teachers to get the most out of these tools. Today, this is arguably one of the gaping flaws in the local school environment, despite the best efforts and commitment of the nation’s teachers. Fortunately, with the global shift towards e-learning and development in virtual learning technology, there are now many accessible and engaging courses, certifications and programmes available that will both empower teachers and ensure that technology investments are optimised.
Looking ahead, South Africa is a nation well-known for innovation and its ability to adapt and adjust to changing circumstances. The local education sector is no different, and it now has the opportunity to seize the moment and uplift both learners and teachers with a strategic roadmap for long term success.
By Robert Speed, Vice President Middle East & Africa, Blackboard