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Online Learning – New Zealand experience can help South Africa

A new article by Terry Bell, featured in the Daily Maverick today, speaks of experience that South Africans can use, to cope with educating our children from home. The current state of our children’s future is being impacted by the lockdown and it’s revealing effect on the shortcomings of the education system.

What the COVID-19 pandemic has done, is spiralled everything we used to know out of whack, and we are forced to start over. As our director, Ian Pierce expressed his view that “this is like coming back from a war, where everything you used to know has gone.” As an innovative and forward thinking initiative, RAiN (https://b.rain.org.za/solutions/schools-management/) has begun an online learning project at public schools in the Southern District of the Western Cape in Mitchells Plain. Notwithstanding the lack of infrastructure, and solving each challenge as it arises, our business partners Pick ‘n Pay and MySchools have helped make it possible to bring the solution to the community.

The Solution

The online learning platform brings teachers into the homes of learners, enabling parents to have direct access to teachers with a systematic process in place where daily lessons are continued with homework and assessment details available for parents to monitor and support their children at different grade levels. This is a structured environment where parents are not left to scour through a multitude of digital material dumped on a website, and not knowing which are relevant for which learning. Not to mention the fact that parents have severe time constraints, seeing that they are working and having to double up as tutor support for the children. Parents don’t have the time to rummage through irrelevant educational material. Parents need structure with focus and direction from the teacher for each of their children’s needs. Through Edsby, RAiN has provided an online CAPS curriculum material-aligned platform, for teachers to educate children and support parents remotely in a structured and meaningful manner. This way the relevant assessments and examinable material can be covered effectively and within a planned period.

RAiN has selected Edsby as the online Learner Management Systems (LMS) to introduce to South Africa and currently implementing through the SchoolTree project in conjunction with support from the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). One of the reasons RAiN has selected this LMS is that Edsby has been rolled out and successfully implemented in New Zealand as an online LMS and fully supported by the New Zealand education authorities.

The Edsby platform has low bandwidth demands and has been identified as an optimal solution for the current environment in South Africa. Edsby has English and Afrikaans language capabilities suitable to our market and the platform allows teachers to collaborate and build their assessments and materials banks with best possible input capabilities.

Experience and Success

Looking at the experience that New Zealand had in their schooling system prior to online capabilities, since we have serious time constraints to save the 2020 school year, this may be a good reference for hindsight to springboard our education process and leapfrog into the new online learning in an effective manner, without having to go through all the learning and growing pains.

In order to make online learning a success, the referenced article also highlights the importance of government support with qualified teachers to support such an online learning system. With the pandemic posing limitations such as social distancing the remote learning capabilities are becoming more important. And with our children’s future and quality of their education being impacted, this is an urgent consideration that needs to be made and implemented in a structured and meaningful manner.

““With 30 or more children in a class, I can perhaps spend a couple of minutes at a time with any one student; through correspondence I can spend time — hours if necessary — on individual students, assessing their needs,” was a common refrain.

In some rural areas, groups of students, often studying at different levels, would come together each day to work collectively, helped by a parent or, in some cases, a qualified teacher living in their area. The ethos of the school then was — and is still — that it operates in partnership with te whanau (the families), students, schools and communities.

During holidays, groups of these distance-learning students and their families would sometimes come together of their own accord and the school also organised twice-yearly camps around the country that drew in families from a wide area. Being on the road, we were able to call in, from time to time, on rural schools and fellow distance learners, providing our children with needed social interaction with their peers that camps and visits were— and are still — set up to provide.

With much of South Africa’s education system in a shambles, the examples provided by New Zealand’s distance learning experience could provide some answers. But leaping hopefully into the digital age with tablets may not be any solution. 

Although most of the courses today are online, the school stresses that students should not “just sit in front of a screen”; that they should get out and “explore the world”. But it might be largely meaningless to do so without guidance and advice being available — and without the ability to think critically, an attribute that good education should encourage. “

If you would like more detail regarding our online learning project, please reach out to Jackie Steinschaden at jacquelines@b.rain.org.za