By Reon Janse van Rensburg
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in schools all over the world adopting a new method of teaching overnight. Teachers learned in record time how various online platforms work, and they began to prepare lessons that could be presented over the internet. It is innovation such as this that promotes education, and despite the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there are still reasons to feel excited about the future.
In 2020, more than 1,2 billion children worldwide could not attend school in a traditional classroom. However, this does not mean that these children did not receive any education at all during the year. It only means that education as we know it has changed dramatically and that the large-scale increase in e-learning, through which distance learning is offered on digital platforms, has been established and that it is here to stay.
Without realising it, teachers have already become part of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Teachers have acquired new skills that enable them to use technology for the application of online teaching methods. Therefore, they took the opportunity to expand their skills and to apply the skills they already had in a different way, and without a machine taking over their work. The core of the 4IR, therefore, is that technology can assist people to expand their skills in order to make their work easier and without them having to sacrifice their jobs in the process.
However, the question is whether education and its role players will seize this opportunity and take advantage of it, especially with regard to the value of this innovation for education as a whole, and also since the current school curriculum does not equip learners with the skills necessary for the 4IR.
Research by the World Economic Forum suggests that e-learning takes up less time (the average school day is almost seven hours long, while e-learning takes only half that time) and that learners retain much more information with e-learning than with traditional teaching methods.
Although this teaching method poses certain challenges, for example access to the internet or to the necessary technology such as a computer, or supervision at home by a parent or guardian, and also the necessary funds for schools to fully implement this method, some experts believe that the shift to e-learning will lead to the emergence of a new education model that can offer significant benefits to learners.
Some South African schools are ready to seize the future in this way. Rhenish Girls’ High School in Stellenbosch has already decided to follow an e-learning approach next year, and from 2021 the school will provide an innovative online learning environment for learners who cannot be part of the current teaching system.
According to the school, they do not want to replace the existing school model, but they have realised that the current model may not work for everyone. The online model can give learners who find a classroom physically challenging because the classes are too large or because they might want to work at their own pace, the opportunity to approach school in this way. It also gives pupils who cannot attend school every day, the opportunity to continue with their schoolwork at their own pace.
Major world events such as the Covid-19 pandemic are often the driving force for rapid innovation applied on a large scale. It is important to exploit the full potential of such innovation.