It is unarguable that education in this country has, for the most part, largely been stuck in a rut. Until now. There are signs suggesting that Covid-19’s disruption of the education sector could have a lasting impact on the way we teach and learn. Our current education model is very much top-down in its approach, where a teacher instructs and provides information, usually only utilising one teaching modality. Yet Educational Psychologists have always contended that children learned best when they constructed their own knowledge, and learnt tasks that are culturally relevant.
It has been estimated that globally 50% of jobs currently in existence will not exist by 2030 and our children are not immune to this. The global transformation currently underway, called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, entails the convergence of all digital, physical and biological technologies. It is predicted, that by 2020, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have brought us advances in robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, genetic engineering and virtual reality.
The school placement chaos at the beginning of this year highlighted a very scary reality – we simply do not have enough good schools in Gauteng. A number of schools faced a very high enrolment demand as parents clamoured to ensure their children have a place in a school of excellence, while many schools, particularly in townships, were virtually empty. The result is that oversubscribed schools are forced to make use of mobile classrooms which are barely conducive to quality teaching and learning. These schools’ resources become constrained, with the average number of learners reaching 60 per class. This puts additional pressure on our teachers, and makes it a near impossibility that our learners will be provided with the strong foothold they so desperately need if they are to succeed in high school and beyond. It has been predicted that by 2020, Gauteng will still be short of 1373 classrooms at existing schools. This means that even at the accepted ration of 40 pupils per class‚ almost 55 000 pupils will be in over-crowded classrooms in three years.
The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant closure of schools, has led to a new educational crisis. While school closures are important to contain the coronavirus in South Africa, a comprehensive catch-up plan for learners has yet to be devised by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga. The Minister on the other hand, is leaving it up to each province, district, circuit and school to develop their own comprehensive catch-up plan. Currently only ten schooling days will be lost, which will be caught up by shortening the mid-year break, but the length, and extent, of the disruption to schooling is hard to predict at this stage with some experts forecasting that schools will only reopen at the end of April, or even May. The reality is, that very few schools in our country are able to administer e-learning, and critically, to ensure that learning material is adapted to alternative platforms such as tablets.
For generations, we have grown up in classrooms where we learnt the same information at the same pace, regardless of our interests or needs – the ‘one size fits all’ approach. But the dawn of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and more recently the Coronavirus pandemic, has shone a light on the need to take a different approach to learning and teaching. For example, E-learning, which refers to the use of information and communication technologies to enable the access to online learning/teaching resources, has the benefit of flexibility; convenience; cost effectiveness and immediacy. In addition, a dynamic e-learning platform not only meets the needs of different students, but it also enriches learning in classroom settings. The Western Cape government, for example, has committed to spending R1.2-billion to implement e-learning in 1 250 local schools, which is a significant step toward bridging the education gap in South Africa.
Parents play a critical role in providing learning opportunities at home and in linking what children learn at school with what happens elsewhere. The term ‘academic socialisation’ refers to certain kinds of parental behaviours which have a positive impact on learning and academic outcomes. When parents reinforce learning at home by incorporating learned skills into everyday routines and activities, they become a critical factor in their child’s overall learning and education. Research has found that learning becomes more meaningful when the lessons are applied to real-life situations; it has been suggested that the influence of parents on learner achievement is 60-80%, while school accounts for 20-40% per cent.