Oh how we have praised digital solutions for education during lockdown. The shift to schooling on digital platforms was rapid and seemingly massive but information from the Department of Basic Education shows that perhaps it isn’t as effective as we might think.
On Sunday, Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga presented a statement about the readiness of schools which are set to reopen for Grade R, 6 and 11 pupils today.
Within that statement is mention of a survey of South African households called the Corona Virus Rapid Mobile Survey. This survey collects information about child care activities, access to educational content and when children are kept home from school.
While the data is seemingly still being collected, Motshekga has apparently seen preliminary results and they are worrying.
“Preliminary (unpublished) results from the first wave of data collection, indicate an alarming increase in child hunger, since the national lockdown began,” said the minister.
“The survey is also confirming that less than a third of children, have accessed educational content through the internet; with larger proportions accessing such content through books, television and radio,” Motshekga added.
The minister says that while books, television and radio cater to a large portion of the population, the effectiveness of these mediums compared to being in class is unclear.
While the news above is shocking it’s not especially surprising.
Data from the 2018 General Household Survey published by Statistics South Africa [pdf] revealed that in 2018 just 10.4 percent of South Africans had internet access at home. While 64.7 percent said they have access from anywhere, one can’t exactly move to a WiFi hotspot during lockdown.
While moves have been made to zero-rate educational websites, we have to speak frankly and say it is clearly not enough if only a third of South African school children can continue to learn away from school.
The Minister of Basic Education went on to say that books and printed material are a viable means to keep school children learning from home, but is it really when in some areas the biggest stress a student has is whether they’ve muted themselves on Zoom.
We are curious to see what results the survey mentioned by Motshekga reveals to us but for now we are gravely concerned about the education sector, even with many grades returning today.