For the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has placed communications technology in the epicenter of modern human activity.
Education and information dissemination has also assumed new form. Prompting a massive uptake on new mediums of teaching since millions of learners and teachers were unable to physically attend school. This gave rise to what is now known as the great digital divide. A situation whereby high levels of technological illiteracy and other issues of computer proficiency are causing further disparities between urban and rural schools.
The problem with bridging the digital divide in many townships schools in South Africa is not for a lack of devices, nor is it for a lack of connectivity (yes some might argue that this is a problem but let us consider another very real scenario). Government and the private sector alike have rolled out the provision of devices such as laptops, tablets and have even installed smart boards in classrooms in many of the schools in these areas. The real issue therefore becomes usage and adoption of the devices for both students and teachers. In many instances devices are often underutilised once handed over to the schools. Therefore, this reveals that the main problem is not only the lack of devices or resources but equally adoption and integration in teaching and learning is also a contributing factor to the slow pace of the digital transformation of our classrooms.
Digital transformation of the education sector, especially in peri urban and rural areas is very much a plausible conversation, the hardware is there and installed with the relevant software, and internet connection is available, so how do we increase adoption and integration in efforts to speed up bridging the digital divide in South Africa while increasing potential for skills development and competency and knowledge to learners and teachers alike? With that question in mind, we start to realise that digital transformation in the education sector is an absolute necessity, and we can then start to unpack what it really means for the education sector. Digital transformation for the education sector like most sectors is about realising that we have arrived at a place where the acceleration and progression of technology in business, healthcare, mining, and in (developed countries) education, is moving exponentially. Not having a national discussion with solutions about this means we run the risk of teachers and learners especially in lower quintile schools getting left behind in developing skills for the future economy.
In this instance we are not debating aggressive solutions but merely simple ones that once streamlined or implemented effectively could yield the change required to get learners and teachers digitally savvy and competing on the same level as their well-resourced school counterparts and even global school communities. This discussion is not without solutions to the challenges presented. Government’s introduction of coding and robotics from primary school level will be a challenge for the said schools however the upside is that there is a realisation by Government to introduce and partner with third parties to upskill schools with the required training for this outcome. Placing our educators at the centre of the digital transformation of our classrooms is the best initial step to ensure the success of this endeavour.
Educators need to be trained to integrate digital technology into their teaching practice. Digitally empowered teachers are better equipped to prepare learners for the transition into a fully digital learning experience. Additionally, one of the opportunities that Covid-19 has presented us with is knowledge sharing opportunities where teachers and learners across different environments can come together using technology to collaborate, share knowledge and skills beyond the classroom. This new normal has presented opportunities for teachers to connect with each other, have peer reviews, peer development and fortification of skills required to navigate the rapid switch to online learning and information sharing. The Covid-19 pandemic has hastened the shift to digital learning with forecasts and research predicting that the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred on the migration to digital learning permanently. It is for this reason that we need to focus on the ICT skills development of teachers so that they can deliver lessons to learners in line with the advancements in technology and changing education environment.
Online learning opportunities are allowing learners from anywhere in the world to access to foundational, intermediate, and even higher education and training programmes to achieve their career goals and dreams. These new learning platforms have not only increased access to educational opportunities, but they have also created a new ecosystem for people seeking careers in the education and training economy. Just as learners are now able to learn from anywhere in the world, teachers and support staff are also able to deliver lessons from anywhere in the world through the digitisation of the classroom. By digitalising the experience of learning, both students and teachers improve their skills to order to create an active educational process. Digital transformation in education can therefore be applied in many respects, from online learning to intelligent schooling, student assessments, customised learning experiences, and online examinations.
Digitization of education assists with the personalisation of learning programmes which means learning approaches will become an important component of the digital education revolution which should be led by educators. Rather than trying to fit everyone into the same metaphorical box, many educators through this process must realise the value of offering adaptable solutions for students based on their own strengths and weaknesses and engage them appropriately. When students feel engaged, it helps keep them motivated.
Schools that can genuinely meet the needs of their students and keep them moving forward with the coursework will also improve their retention rates. This, in turn, will enhance educators’ ability to prepare their students for the next step in their education or job training. The shift towards a digital, modern world has had a measurable impact on the inner workings of education. School leaders, most especially of lower quintile categorisation, with the help of key players must realise that technology can offer them several benefits and new strategies for educating teachers and learners.