On 22 February 2021, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that the 2020 matric class achieved a 76.2% pas rate, which is a 5.1% decline from the 81.3% rate of 2019.
Though the pass rate declined, the results are commendable considering the difficult year 2020 was, with Covid-19 arriving on our shores, forcing the government to implement lockdown measures to curb its spread.
This saw many pupils in the public schooling system losing out on a lot of learning time, as they did not have the resources to continue learning remotely. For those learners that had access to internet services had to to contend with teachers nd parents who are digitally challenged, leaving them to rely on themselves for any semblance of learning.
In contrast, the 2020 independent Examinations Board (IEB) pass rate was 98.07%. As Anne Oberholzer, chief executive of the IEB stated, this is due to the schools being able to make smooth transition to online teaching and learning as they had the resources available ad in fact, had already been using them in the normal course of events.
While IEB learners had access to electronic devices and stable internet connectivity, public school learners, especially those in rural areas were left twiddling their thumbs at home.
This apparent inequality exposed the work that still lies ahead for government in bridging the digital divide between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural school learners. Access to e-learning has long been identified as an important step towards a fairer education system.
However, this has largely been neglected as a priority for government and is threatening to widen the levels of inequality in education we are already experiencing in the country.
for a while, government has relief n contact learning as its sole method of teaching and Covid-19has exposed the folly of government dragging its feet in ensuring public schools incorporate e-learning into their curricula.
In 2003, the Department of Education released a draft white paper on e-learning correctly recognising that “advances in ICT have dramatically changed the learning and teaching process and have have expanded new learning opportunities and access to educational resources beyond those traditionally available”.
Seventeen years later and no significant advances have been made towards adopting e-learning in out public schools.
This is tantamount to a serious dereliction of duty and neglect of the educational needs of learners. It has now become paramount that not only should government prioritise the access of e-learning for learners, but also the training and equipping of teachers to incorporate e-learning as part of their teaching methods, as they remain central part of the learning process.
Government may argue that it has a number of challenges it still has to address such as lack of classrooms, toilets, much less electricity and ICT equipment, before focusing on access to internet. It can also be said that the high cost of data is an issues that must be addressed first.
However, a lack of immediate focus on ensuring learners in less developed areas and public schools have access to ongoing learning in times like this will carry long term consequences and a larger burden on the country, already faced with a myriad of socio-economic challenges.
ICT resource access should be a right
Currently, pupils in public schools are not attending classes on a fulltime basis and, due to lack of access to ICT resources, they lose out on valuable learning experiences sitting at home, whilst their IEB counterparts continue to have support from their teachers and access to learning materials from the comfort of their homes.
Covid-19 has shown all of us that equitable access to ICT services for all South Africans should be considered a right and not a luxury.
With new Covid-19 variants emerging on a regular basis, the virus will most likely be with us for a while and access to vaccines is not the end of the virus.
Any resurgence in Covid-19 infections in the country will prompt the government to implement stricter lockdown measures, which may very well include a temporary of closure of schools as it has happened in the recent past, and that will be to the disadvantages of public-school learners who will experience disruptions to learning , as they do not have access to e-learning resources.
This in turn will affect their ability to further their studies in universities as they risk not obtaining bachelor passes. Granted that access to e-learning is not the silver bullet to the challenges facing the South African education system, but it does provide a significant step towards ensuring equitable access to education to all children.
Written by Calvin Matlou_Published on News24