Governments around the world have closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, with over a billion students worldwide unable to go to school or university, according to the World Economic Forum. Initiatives to help students and learners to cope during the lockdown are being set up throughout the globe. One such plan is one partnership by the United Nations (UN) in South Africa which has partnered with Funzi, a mobile learning service based in Finland, to introduce an online education initiative aimed at teaching adults and children how to cope with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The new course, titled “COVID-19: Adapt and thrive”, is supported by the governments of Finland and SA, and aims to deliver hope in a time of crisis by empowering people with access to essential and accurate information in an interactive and engaging way. According to Funzi’s research, mobile information technology is the most effective mechanism to reach the majority of the population and disseminate information on critical issues.
This initiative was created in collaboration with Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, supported by the Solidarity Fund, and is rolled out as part of the national initiative to reach three million young people during the lockdown. The UN is encouraging local entities, civil society groups, community organisations and the private sector to join this campaign.
The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Lockdown Digital School has expanded into community television, as the Department of Basic Education (DBE) revises its National Recovery Plan, after postponing the mid-year rewrite of matric examinations, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The online learning school, which has gained 70 000 active online learners since inception three weeks ago, is an initiative by coding non-profit organisation Africa Teen Geeks, in partnership with the DBE and the Sasol Foundation, and offers online classes for grade R to grade 12 learners in SA. The initiative has embarked on an expansion plan to reach an even bigger audience, partnering with two DStv channels 1KZN (261) and Soweto TV (251) to make the Lockdown Digital School available to young TV viewers. This service adds to the classes hosted via the Africa Teen Geeks social media pages, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and its Web site, under the supervision of Amanda Calitz, lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Department of Occupational Therapy. The community TV expansion comes as government urges parents and teachers to continue supporting pupils in utilising various educational platforms, with no clear time frame as to when the coronavirus schools shutdown will be lifted.
Media reports based on a leaked National COVID-19 Recovery Plan drafted by the DBE state that if the lockdown is lifted, pupils in grades 12 and seven could be the first to return to school on 6 May, while Grades 11 and 6 are planned to return on 20 May. All the other grades are expected to return in June and July. However, in an interview with Newzroom Afrika, DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga explained the proposed dates were part of a draft framework for a curriculum recovery plan and no dates have been finalised as yet. The STEM Lockdown Digital School says it has witnessed growth in demand from learners and parents, recording the biggest one-day growth rate of 11 522 users: 7 176 on Zoom and 4 346 on YouTube, with the most popular subjects being Grade 8 Mathematics which had 496 participants and Science with 485. The initiative has added 20 more teachers, now with a total of 54 qualified teachers assisting learners free of charge.
The Lockdown Digital School has also introduced a digital literacy programme, which has celebrity ambassadors, such as DJ S’bu Leope, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, Pearl Modiadie, Penny Lebyane, Tumi Sole, Bonginkosi ‘Zola' Dlamini and Germandt Geldenhuys, who have contributed their time and resources to read to the learners.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation has offered several TV and radio channels that will be dedicated to education. Electronic readers have been made available for pupils via online platforms in partnership with Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and Cell C.
Where to go online for digital learning in SA
The school closures have reportedly led to an estimated half of the world’s youth not attending schools or universities, resulting in education institutions looking at virtual teaching tools, such as automated development platforms, learning management systems and virtual classrooms as alternatives.
Durban-based online education company Advantage Learn is offering its Maths Online platform free of charge, to help learners affected by the shutdown of schools to continue learning online, from home.
SPARK Schools, a network of private schools offering globally competitive education, introduced its SPARK Schools Home Learning Portal, offering online lessons for foundation phase (Grades R-3), intermediate phase (Grades 4-6) and senior phase (Grades 7-9).
E-learning firm Adapted Mind is offering English literacy and maths lessons for Grades 1 to Grade 8 on its platform, while Extramarks provides learners of all grades with extra lessons across various subjectson its app.
Other local online learning platforms that offer virtual classes to school pupils and university students include E-Classroom, Educ8 SA, eLearnSA, IT Academy, Microsoft and SAP.
Pupils will also gain free access to Siyavula Maths and Science support in partnership with MTN, according to the DBE. In her media briefing last week, basic education minister Angie Motshekga noted that if the lockdown is extended, the 2020 education curriculum will have to be re-arranged to ensure the year is not wasted.
The DBE Web site has been updated with current and relevant content inclusive of reading resources and e-learning portals.
Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Staff Writer: IT WEB