“Many teachers have been vaccinated as part of the education sector vaccination drive but this protective measure against the Covid-19 virus has not been extended to pupils, and some parents,” explains Malcolm Mooi, founder and vision bearer of online professional learning community Zibuza.net.
Mooi and many of his peers in the educational sector argue that while there will always be a place for in-person learning, the pandemic has made it clear that digital learning is critical to the future of education.
“The pandemic widened the existing gaps in the country’s education system, between the resourced and the under-resourced schools, as well as the sector’s vulnerability in the face of disruption. Technology appears to be the most effective way to bridge those gaps,” explains Mooi.
While South Africa faces significant obstacles, some progress has been made since the onset of the pandemic.
The Department of Basic Education coordinated with the Department of Communications to set up and support virtual classrooms and zero-rate certain online learning sites to allow learners to access educational resources without using data.
South Africa has some of the highest data costs on the continent and with free Wi-Fi limited mostly to metro areas, accessing educational resources online is prohibitively expensive for many. “Zero-rating educational websites could be the solution to this challenge, but there is still a way to go,” says Mooi.
“Unfortunately, statistics from the DBE indicate that despite efforts to ramp up access to e-learning, only 30% of the country’s pupils were able to access these resources during the pandemic.”
Through the online educational resources hosted on Zibuza.net – which was recently zero-rated by Mweb, MTN, Rain and Telkom – Mooi hopes to increase the uptake of digital learning among teachers and pupils.
Mooi is a firm advocate for potential for digital learning as a means to democratise access to quality education in South Africa, but acknowledges that there are “significant obstacles that must first be addressed.”
Zibuza.net plans to join the ranks of online learning environments like Think Digital Academy and the recently introduced UCT Online High School with the launch of its Virtual Classroom and Lab in August 2021, with plans to introduce a library to the virtual learning environment in 2022.
This digital offering will provide pupils with a personalised learning experience that is based on the individual’s cognitive ability and learning modality.
Realising that many prospective pupils are unable to offer the fixed monthly costs of other online schooling options, they have introduced a flexible purchasing model that offers transactional (per lesson) options, subscription-based options and sponsorship.
“Ultimately, the benefits of increasing access to digital learning and having more digital learning offerings on the market for every need and price-point outweigh the potential drawbacks,” says Mooi. “No one is suggesting that we do away with traditional in-person learning entirely, as it will always play an important role, both in South Africa and in the rest of the world.”
“What we are instead advocating for is a more resilient, inclusive and equitable education ecosystem so that the youth of this country are never again forced to go months without any learning if schools have to close,” he concludes.