Words:Jonathan D Jansen
Clare has high-speed internet at home. She has any number of digital platforms from which to continue her learning during the lockdown period, but her school prefers Google Classrooms and they do virtual assemblies via Webcast. Most teaching is live or in real time (synchronous) and the teachers are highly trained in the technology so they can make lessons highly interactive and engaging. In her own room with her own television (TV), Clare puts on her headphones and disappears into the school day, learning from home.
Siphokazi lives in a crowded informal settlement. There are obviously no fibre-optic cables in her neighbourhood and the only possible way of accessing lessons is from the sporadic broadcasting of education programmes on TV. The problem is that the illegally connected TV is the one source of entertainment for all 12 people in the two-bedroomed shack.
As a young girl, Siphokazi has to wait till uncles and aunts have watched their favourite programmes, and then has to hope she can find an education topic for her grade level at the right time. Sometimes her mother shares the cellphone and Siphokazi can download what her teacher sends via WhatsApp.
The problem is that her mother needs the phone for her informal business and most times there is no data. Siphokazi then watches her mother make that difficult decision: do I buy data for my child to learn or do I buy bread for my family to eat?
The Coronavirus did not create this inequality in South African education and society. It merely exposed it. What we knew from the statistics on inequality was now so visible and in our faces that we could no longer look away. About roughly 20% of our children would have reliable access to online learning while the rest would struggle to enjoy any form of education during the pandemic lockdown because of a lack of devices or data or both.
Even when things were “normal” there was already a significant gap in learning achievements that depended on which school you attended, which in turn depended on how much money your parents earned (class), where you lived, and what you looked like (race). Those things we know from an abundance of research on race, inequality and education.