The speed and ferocity with which the Covid-19 pandemic has struck, creating havoc across private sector and government entities, has been felt across all sectors, none more so than in the education field.
The urgent need to lockdown and practice social distancing has meant that schools, colleges and universities have closed, leading to a mad scramble to try enable remote learning for students.
While this has been achieved relatively well in the more affluent areas, explains Annelee Le Grange, General Manager for HP Inc at Axiz, it must be remembered that not everyone has the advantage of being able to be schooled remotely.
She points out that in the suburbs there may be fibre or LTE, but in the country’s less privileged areas, there are precious few devices and virtually no connectivity.
“The sudden demand for remote learning has placed a strong focus on some of the key foundational issues that still need to be overcome. While technology is a wonderful enabler, it is only as effective as the foundations it is built on, and when you think some of the areas we are talking about don’t necessarily even have electricity, let alone connectivity, you begin to understand the vast gap between the ‘haves’ and the have-nots’, in the device enable world.” she says.
“I believe that the best approach is for government and the private sector to partner to expedite access to fibre and community hubs that will enable children in these areas to undertake distance learning initiatives. Private organisations must also get involved to help create these hubs and to get the technology and devices needed into the hands of the people who need it. By making such an approach a key part of their CSI projects, businesses can play a major role in ensuring that when SA is ready to return to a semblance of normality, children in these areas will not have been left behind.”
She adds that this will be beneficial to all parties, as the businesses will focus on social initiatives that will change lives, government will get more infrastructure into underprivileged and remote areas, and the children of South Africa will be given a better opportunity to build a quality future.
“If we can get the necessary infrastructure and equipment into these areas, not only will remote learning become more accepted, but it should ultimately mean government can begin moving some of the education budget away from physical school structures and channelling it into further developing this principle.”
“There are, after all, many benefits to such an approach. For one thing, most classes in government schools today consist of 30-50 or more children, meaning teachers struggle to give enough attention to those who most need it. If more kids are learning remotely, both they and those still attending a physical school will have greater access to learning resources. Furthermore, remote learning will introduce children, who may otherwise not have worked on a computer before leaving school, to the basics of how to use a laptop.
Le Grange adds that such an approach should offer multiple benefits to the entire community. Not only will these children leave school computer literate enough to be able to hit the ground running in the workplace, but it will also create opportunities for stay-at-home moms to earn extra money.
They can do this by operating micro-schools where they can potentially host six or eight remote learners in a venue and assist them with their learning. Moreover, once the right infrastructure is in place, it can be used for more than just remote learning, and should open up new avenues for unemployed youth to launch small digital businesses.
So, where does Axiz and HP fit into this picture?
In line with the most recent government directives related to distance learning, HP’s BeOnline programme aims to support schools and universities in establishing a fully-fledged virtual learning environment, by providing expertise and tools at no cost.
BeOnline is part of HP’s commitment to enable better learning outcomes for 100 million people globally by 2025, and runs focused pedagogy-oriented programmes to deliver on its education and sustainability goals.
In essence, the programme is designed to give schools access to the full ecosystem needed for a comprehensive remote learning environment – pedagogical consultancy for online education provided by Mirai; a robust learning management solution from Classera; and HP’s IT consultancy on the required infrastructure.
“From an Axiz perspective, as South Africa has geared up for remote learning, we have witnessed a surprising number of requests, from those in this space, for printers. Remember that many aspects of education still require paper, and Axiz in partnership with some of its resellers, is therefore continuing to bundle HP’s hardware, including printers with software solutions to provide a full technology package, designed for remote schooling. This will be a package which will not only provide better economies of scale and be more cost-effective, but which – because everything comes from one vendor – means the different solutions can be guaranteed to work perfectly together.”
“As remote schooling finds a foothold, whatever changes are ultimately wrought by this, it is clear that government and the private sector need to work more closely together, and that whatever they do moving forward will have to be done with the learners – not profit – foremost in mind. Bridging the digital divide can only happen if both public and private sectors partner for purpose, and not just for profit. After all, the children of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, so it is in the national interest to ensure they are all digitally ready for the workplace,” she concludes.