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Coronavirus Unmasks The Conundrum Around Equal Education

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The end of Apartheid in 1994 saw new legislation to eradicate racist education and offered opportunities to reconstruct and establish a unified national education system underpinned by democracy, equity, and transparency.

Despite changes in curriculum policy intended to facilitate change and transformation of education, the glaring contrast between rural and urban education; lack of institutional change; poverty; lack of access to information and communications technology (ICT); and fee-paying schools, remain.

While the Department of Education tries to mitigate the rural-urban dichotomy, the disparity still exists. The majority of learners in rural schools, still either do not have access to basic education or depend on institutions that lack the teaching and learning resources needed for effective teaching and learning, particularly in ICT education.

Recently, curriculum transformation introduced the use of ICT in education together with the thrust in e-learning as a 21st century imperative. This required teachers to be professionally developed in both pedagogical terms and in the acquisition of ICT skills.

Many rural schools desire to catch up with their urban school counterparts in the areas of ICT and basic infrastructural development.

However, these rural schools which serve mostly poverty-stricken communities, lack basic infrastructure such as electricity, water, sanitation, roads and facilities needed for classroom practices in ICT and connectivity. These challenges restrict the schools’ effectiveness in learner performance and progression; and teaching and learning resources.

The Constitution requires that education be transformed and democratised in accordance with the values of “human dignity”. How can learners maintain their human dignity if they are exposed to the use of pit latrines? South Africa still has 4000 schools with pit latrines.

In contrast, urban schools are primarily based on fee-paying models and, therefore, have the financial resources to invest in school infrastructure; human resources; and teaching and learning resources, including ICT infrastructure resources.

These schools have a continuous supply of water, sanitation, electricity, road and communication networks, thereby safeguarding the basic human dignity of learners.

Infrastructural investment in urban schools guarantees that the classroom and learning environments are well-equipped with technologically-advanced devices to create an effective teaching and learning environment.

Due to its very nature, urban schools have a professional parent body that is able to share professional skills, competencies and knowledge. These parent bodies invest in professional development to ensure that the learners are exposed to teachers who are at the “cutting-edge” of their roles.

With the existence of a professional and functional parent body and ICT-skilled educators, learning platforms beyond the classroom are created.

Never before has this rural-urban dichotomy been more evident than during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst many rural schools have been non-functional, urban schools were able to switch from classroom-based teaching to online teaching and learning. This ensured teaching was continuous and curriculum delivery was ongoing.

After 26 years of democracy in South Africa, how is it still possible that a large proportion of the population is still denied access to equal and quality education?

It is clear that South African education pivots on two faces of education; one that fits the poor society and the other that’s fits the rich society. These extremes of poor and rich demonstrate the inequality still found in our education system and society as such.

During the Apartheid era, access to good schools was determined by race – now it is determined by class and the ability to pay school fees.

Poor learners are, therefore, excluded from attending fee-paying schools because of affordability. Sadly, despite a desire for equal non-discriminating education in South Africa, learners are still discriminated against based on financial income.

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