#ZAedu Community - COVID19 School Closures Response

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The Impact of COVID19 School Closures on South African Children - Strategies for Mitigation 

Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful tool one can use to change the world. If this global pandemic has brought one thing to the fore, it is the reality that we’re living in a world desperate for change. Circumstantially, education - for the first time since the industrial revolution - is being forced to change. This change is long overdue and will serve the learners of today in a way that has been long-awaited. Mandela was not only a believer in the power of education, but he also had a vision for equality - access to quality education for each child. 


The #ZAedu community has many differences. It represents many teachers from schools all across the nation, companies in education and a number of other stakeholders, but, as a community, we have one thing in common - we are deeply concerned about our children. Every day we ask ourselves this question: What can we do to help the whole child? What can we do to help the child holistically?


In these unprecedented times, we are greatly concerned about the well-being of South Africa’s most vulnerable children. As a community of educationalists, we have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share but are limited in our capacity to provide that which our children most need now.


Children in a state of fight-or-flight cannot learn. South Africa has more than 55000 children in child-headed households and multitudes of children without the support of adults who are equipped to help them through the fear and uncertainty which school closures exacerbate. In this time of crisis, we are in dire need of emotional and trauma support and structures that would provide normalcy in vulnerable areas. This would help education efforts greatly in bringing enough stability  to feel connected and to be able to keep up their education. These are our future leaders and innovators and we have to support them in all the ways we can.


Beyond our children living in child-headed households, are millions of children who, unlike South Africa’s privileged children, will likely not benefit from this educational revolution, unless we can bridge the digital divide and level that playing field. 


Hundreds of international edtech companies have offered free access to their educational apps and tools during this time and many local companies have come to the party. However, without devices, data and connectivity, these tools cannot be accessed by our children who need it most. We are therefore challenging all South African cell phone and fibre internet providers to assist in drastically reducing data costs and increasing access for learners who have devices for remote learning but restricted connectivity or data. We are also requesting the zero-rating of certain educational tools commonly used by the #ZAedu community - specifically the Microsoft and G Suite for Education platforms, in order to enhance access to quality learning. We are also challenging TV networks and channels to screen quality lessons and learning activities during school closures and to equip teachers with skills to effectively engage in remote learning design, where they have relevant resources at their disposal. 


We acknowledge that effective use of technology for quality teaching and learning relies on teachers to be empowered to use these tools as more than simply ‘worksheet machines.’ We believe in relevant, meaningful, interactive and differentiated student-centered learning. To achieve this, we need to equip teachers in order to empower them to facilitate a truly future-focussed education - both online and back in the classroom. This goes beyond access to data and devices: it begins with adequate pedagogical and technical support for our teachers. To this end we have begun developing a database of edtech leaders who are willing to support other schools, who don't have that expertise in-house, free of charge. EdTech Coaches can sign up to offer their services here and the database of our incredible community-members offering technological and pedagogical support can be found here.  


To further support educators and parents at this time, the #ZAedu community has created a shared resource folder for teachers to share grade-specific resources suitable for remote learning, mapped to the South African curriculum. We have also created a database of low-tech / no-tech ideas for remote learning, including ideas for Special Education support. In addition, our community is sharing tips and ideas in the form of videos which are viewable on our #ZAedu community site


The #ZAedu community is looking to move forward with our mission to get quality remote learning access to every child in South Africa. We have an army of teachers ready to fight for this and we are already mobilising all our resources but we need some weapons which are beyond our reach. We are appealing to industry and media to request anyone able to assist with spreading our message or reaching our resource goals outlined in this letter to do so. Kindly contact the undersigned should you be interested in assisting in any way. 


The future of our nation and the future of the world lies in the hands of our children - it is time to serve them as best we can. 


Yours in innovative education, 

Lindsay Wesner  and The #ZAedu Community 

#ZAedu co-founder 

lindsay@teachlearninnovate.com

083 246 3217