Today, more and more private schools in affluent communities can afford to do away with traditional teaching tools such as printed textbooks, chalkboards and even stationary by investing in technology to enhance and broaden learners’ education. But how have independent schools in underprivileged communities adopted technology into their education strategy; and how has Covid-19 impacted that strategy?
Silas Pillay, the Director of Academics at The Love Trust, believes “that technology on its own already adds value and the challenges brought about by Covid accentuate that.” To understand the full value of technology on education it’s important to see how it was used pre-Covid-19 lockdown, during, and going forward post-lockdown, in The Love Trust’s Nokuphila Pre-Primary and Primary School, their ECD Teacher Training Academy and their ECD Centre Support Programme.
Pillay clarifies that Nokuphila already has an amazing tech infrastructure thanks to the foresight of the leadership team and the wonderful support of their donors because “our learners cannot lag behind in a global type of education system that is driving ICT in education. So what we had was working well enough.” The school is currently equipped with wi-fi throughout the grounds, an IT lab, offers a robotics course as an introduction to coding, and classrooms have Smartboards. All this has enhanced the pupils’ learning experience.
But, when the nationwide lockdowns were implemented and schools had to close, teachers and students lost access to these learning tools and infrastructure the school provided. Teachers needed to take into account the available resources that the children learners and student teachers had readily available and apply innovative strategies on how to leverage those resources effectively. Through the use of cell phones and the popular chat app WhatsApp, teachers created group classes and courses where they shared content to the students, learners or family members’ smartphones (if the learners didn’t have their own device). “So,” says Pillay, “even given the constraints our students and learners had to face due to their socio-economic situations, we’ve had to revert to a technological solution.”
When asked how their teaching strategy will change as South Africa moves out of lockdown and slowly starts opening again Pillay advocates a hybrid solution. “We’ll be looking at a hybrid model for the situation that we have currently,” says Pillay. “What we want to do here is provide teachers with functional learning devices and get them onto an eLearning platform where they’re able to share more intentionally and formally. What we did until now was very incidental and crisis management, now we want to make that part of our strategy.”
Despite the many challenges that this hybrid solution may pose, Pillay and his team are confident they’ll find a way to make a plan, as South Africans always seem to do, and encourage donors and corporate partners to assist them. Because, Pillay warns, otherwise “we will run a risk of lagging behind; the divide being even further between the haves and the have nots… and that these learners will always be at a disadvantage from primary to secondary to tertiary,” which will have a lasting effect on finding employment later in life.