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Where to go online for digital learning in SA

Read time 5min 20sec

With no clear time frame as to when the coronavirus schools shutdown will be lifted, South African pupils are becoming accustomed to the online learning space, as more e-learning firms offer a variety of e-resources to suit their curriculum needs.

Governments around the world have closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The school closures have reportedly led to an estimated half of the world’s youth not attending schools or universities, resulting in education institutions looking at virtual teaching tools, such as automated development platforms, learning management systems and virtual classrooms as alternatives.

Durban-based online education company Advantage Learn is offering its Maths Online platform free of charge, to help learners affected by the shutdown of schools to continue learning online, from home.

The platform delivers pre-recorded mathematics lessons via video format, featuring the full National Senior Certificate/Independent Examinations Board syllabus from Grade 8 to Grade 12, including Advanced Programme Mathematics.

Advantage Learn CEO James Lees explains: “Our Maths Online offering provides maths videos taught by subject-matter experts for Grades 8 to 12. Parents, teachers and learners can get free access by simply going onto our Web site and using the code EducateDontContaminate to log in. They will find the full mathematics curriculum and be able to study the full syllabus on their own.”

In South African schools, classes have been suspended since 18 March.

On 24 March, Unesco stated that over the past 10 days, the number of students affected by school and university closures in 138 countries had nearly quadrupled to 1.37 billion, representing more than three out of four children and youth worldwide. In addition, nearly 60.2 million teachers were no longer in the classroom, it said.

With lockdown periods expected to be extended in various parts of the globe, education experts believe the pandemic may lead to advances in technology that will allow more school pupils and tertiary students to rely entirely on virtual learning in future, transforming the education sector across the globe.

This week, SPARK Schools, a network of private schools offering globally competitive education, introduced its SPARK Schools Home Learning Portal, offering online lessons for foundation phase (Grades R-3), intermediate phase (Grades 4-6) and senior phase (Grades 7-9).

“To prepare our young people for the future, we must give them the skills and tools they will need to thrive in an ever-changing world,” notes Oliver Dick, blended learning lead at SPARK Schools.

“Using technology in our learning model gives our learners the opportunity to engage with learning material at their own pace, and in a way that is fun and engaging. At the same time, it gives teachers and parents direct feedback on how their students are progressing.”

E-learning firm Adapted Mind is offering English literacy and maths lessons for Grades 1 to Grade 8 on its platform, while Extramarks provides learners of all grades with extra lessons across various subjectson its app.

Other local online learning platforms that offer virtual classes to school pupils and university students include E-Classroom, Educ8 SA, eLearnSA, IT Academy, Microsoftand SAP.

For years, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has emphasised the importance of making online educational content accessible, so that learners can enhance their education while at home.

Last week, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies announced a partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to ensure virtual learning is a reality during the nation-wide lockdown.

Virtual classrooms have been set up, where pupils have access to online and broadcast support resources.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation has offered several TV and radio channels that will be dedicated to education. Electronic readers have also been made available for pupils via online platforms in partnership with Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and Cell C.

Pupils will also gain free access to Siyavula Maths and Science support in partnership with MTN, according to the DBE.

In her media briefing last week, basic education minister Angie Motshekga noted that if the lockdown is extended, the 2020 education curriculum will have to be re-arranged to ensure the year is not wasted.

The DBE Web site has been updated with current and relevant content inclusive of reading resources and e-learning portals.

Oliver Dick, blended learning lead at SPARK Schools.
Oliver Dick, blended learning lead at SPARK Schools.

Will virtual live up to reality?

Some experts have raised concerns around the implementation of e-learning programmes, saying that while the initiatives hold great promise, they may struggle to deliver on the expected value.

A research report by education organisation Varkey Foundation’s international advisory company Atlantis Group, titled: “System failure: Why edtech policy needs a critical update”, highlights edtech’s failure to meet standards and expectations.

Moira de Roche, IITPSA non-executive director and IFIP International Professional Practice Partnership chairperson, says well-structured e-learning is at least as effective as classroom learning.

“If the learning is designed in such a way that it maximises the advantages of e-learning – self-paced, anywhere, anytime, easy to repeat for refresher or remedial learning – it can even be better than classroom education.

“Unfortunately, e-learning is often just the classroom material which has been digitised, or a video of a teacher lecturing. It must be properly chunked into ‘digestible’ lessons, and a variety of delivery techniques should be used. Quizzes should be used as a tool to check understanding, or for discovery learning.”

In terms of the long-term impact of e-learning programmes in a country where data costs and connectivity could be considered hindrances, De Rocheis of the view that online learning programmes have the potential to be sustainable and effective in the long run, now that data prices are coming down.

“Too often we dismiss a strategy because we think of the connectivity issues, whereas if learning in this way became the norm, solutions would be found. Travel costs might be reduced, and the savings used for data.”

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