Teaching without technology

I’m writing this on day 47 of the lockdown.

My alcohol supply is nearing its end. A trip to the Woolworths up the road is exciting. Schloomping around in my tracksuit pants and slippers around the house is not the worst thing in the world. I have become used to many things during this global pandemic.

I have also become used to teaching online. It’s been a fascinating experiment, one which has become the new norm. Herzlia was really on top of online teaching from the get-go. All the systems were in place for this to happen. I am lucky enough to sit on the Ed-Tech committee for the school and the feedback from every principal and teacher so far has been incredibly positive. From Seesaw to Meets, Zooms to video tutorials, and everything in between, we really have been able to keep the standard of teaching at the same level as before. Yes, it has taken staff hours to put material together (I think that we have worked harder than ever to achieve these results!) but it has paid off.

Technology, once seen as a luxury, is now a necessity. Teacher training in basic computer literacy is also not acceptable. The teacher today has to become adaptable to change. The basics of being able to use Word and PowerPoint and being able to turn on a projector, is not enough. Teachers must be lifelong learners who can access key skills to enable their learners to engage with adequate learning tools.

But the acquisition of tablets and other devices is not available to most. Wifi is not free, and even though learners and teachers can use data, South Africa has some of the highest data costs in the world. The universities have made deals with network providers for their sites to be zero-rated (meaning access of these sites and their data are free to access). However, similar deals have not been made with schools.

So, what is to become of 2020 and the school year? Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga has held numerous press briefings, and as I write this there is no formal guideline of when learners are going back to school. If schools have been closed for this long, and perhaps will be for even longer, what kind of education can the majority of South African children be receiving?

The Bua-Lit Collective has pointed out that this is a time where actual learning can take place. Instead of schools having to cover the curriculum set out by the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), they can focus on the development of a child’s learning and the potential of that child. One example they give is that of young girls, who are often burdened by domestic work, being offered self-paced learning.

Other things that children can focus on now are the arts. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education has been a priority area for many years. Perhaps now we can develop children’s linguistic skills, such as listening, reading, writing, and performing other activities that the school day does not have time for. A creative child is often left behind if they do not excel in the structure of the curriculum as set out by the Department. Schools now have an opportunity to support children who have different ways of learning. Another critical issue is that of language in education.

Language is key in children’s understanding of a concept. If the children of 2020 cannot access education via electronic means, perhaps it is an opportunity for the children to learn in their mother tongue. Now that there are no longer ties to the formal curriculum, there is the potential that they will be able to learn with their families in a language that they understand. This will give African languages a priority. No child should be forced to learn in a language they do not understand, which is an unfortunate by-product of the South African school system in post-apartheid South Africa.

These ideas might seem idealistic. In reality, parents and grandparents are being called on to teach their own children and access to devices and technology seems crucial. Also, formal assessment is still understood as necessary, even though children are not at school. However, none of these are possible. We cannot expect something to be done in an impoverished community which is not even possible in many middle-class communities.

Lockdown may look like it has damaged the 2020 school year beyond repair. However, it might be the perfect opportunity to rebuild the South African education system; for children and their parents to reclaim something which to date has not catered to them. This is the moment for the State to ask for advice, for grassroots organisations to formulate ways for the South African education system to advance the education of all its children and begin a system which is sustainable for future generations.

By Craig Nudelman

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