3 steps South Africa needs to take in fighting digital inequalities in e-learning

It is known that South Africa still has a long way to go in building a strong economy. But one thing that can help create a better South Africa is schooling, and currently, it isn’t made a priority.  Proper schooling - which can be defined as access to quality infrastructure, a conducive learning environment and reliable staff - can play a fundamental role in society. It equips the youth with the necessary skills to become a part of the labour market, and inevitably boost the economy.  Schooling in South Africa has suffered from historical inequalities due to the Apartheid regime. A large population doesn’t have the adequate skill set to grow in the South African market due to language barriers and lack of school infrastructure. As the COVID-19 pandemic plagues South Africa, students all through the country have been forced to stay at home and look into online learning opportunities. Although e-learning in South Africa can bring about a lot of advantages such as; bridging the digital divide in education, equipping the youth with digital literacy, and offers convenience and flexibility, a large number of students won’t be able to have access to digital education. The reason being, they come from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and do not have the freedom of modern luxuries. South Africa is known for having one of the highest data prices in the continent, and this continues to widen the gap and create digital inequality in South Africa.  To tackle and address digital inequalities in e-learning, here are three steps that need to be taken.  

Equip teaches with digital skills 

One of the challenges of e-learning is that teachers and parents do not have the necessary skill set to help learners online. To overcome this challenge, teachers need to be equipped with the necessary digital tools and skills to help their students work on tasks and complete the curriculum.  Teachers need to know the following: 
  • Basic computer literacy. 
  • Teachers should be able to evaluate sources of information and determine reputable websites from dangerous, biased and untrustworthy sites. 
  • They should be able to guide students on how to evaluate sources. 
  • Teachers should know how to critically find tools that will be beneficial to the learning experience for their pupils. 
Until teachers are equipped with the fundamentals, it will be difficult to push digital transformation, which ultimately will affect students who need their teacher’s assistance. Digital literacy and technology should also be made part of a student teacher's curriculum in university or college. 

Policies need to be put in place 

As mentioned before, data is expensive and to grow e-learning in South Africa; there needs to be a way learners can access data. Development finance institutions, private sector and schools need to work together to create policies and offer project funding that helps students attain devices for learning, tackle data cost, connectivity, skills development as well as finding a way for learners who have language barriers a way for them to understand what is being taught in digital learning content. This will ensure online education is sustainable and promotes equality for all students regardless of their background. 

Adding digital skills into the curriculum

Digital transformation strategies won’t work if it is an afterthought in schools. Many schools don’t or have little technology facilities which hinder growth. Children need to be surrounded by computers and digital tools for them to familiarise themselves. Children are curious beings, and when surrounded by objects that can help them improve, they will be able to learn and figure out how to use them in a way that is comfortable for them. It is, therefore, important that digital literacy be part of the curriculum for all schools; public and private to ensure children are equipped with the knowledge and skills, as well as being familiar with digital devices from a young age. 

Final thoughts 

Online education in South Africa still has a long way to go, but we cannot ignore the benefits it will have on young people. Not only does it offer flexibility, but it will help bridge the gap and grow a youth that has equal potential as those who come from privileged backgrounds. It is also accessible, has a wide range of programs children can use to help in their schooling career. Helping improve the lives of the poor in South Africa. The coronavirus pandemic has shown the need for growth of e-learning in South Africa, and digital transformation initiatives must be made a priority. Children are hungry to learn, and with digital technology that can be made possible.