Making schools count

Education cannot wait. Education is relevant to improved livelihoods. It is a potent weapon against poverty. Former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Basic Education, Collie Monkge once declared that teaching is about life saving.

This means education is an essential service that should go uninterrupted.

Even in circumstances of war, sanity must be allowed to prevail. Efforts should be made by all parties to the conflict to insulate learning institutions from the war theatre in order to safeguard the rights of children to education. It is unfortunate, however, that during the two world wars the rights of children to education were trampled upon. This was a grave mistake and should not be allowed to recur. Since World War II there has not been any serious threat to education on a global scale until COVID-19 pandemic made a sudden and unexpected appearance in 2019.

COVID-19 caught education systems napping across the globe. Though affected in varying degrees, both poor and rich countries were least prepared for the pandemic. COVID-19 challenged conventional methods of curriculum delivery. But the world was ill prepared for the costly alternatives. Traditionally, teaching is about student-teacher contact. It is believed that increasing student-teacher contact time can maximise learning and therefore raise learning outcomes. Before COVID-19 it was inconceivable to think of teaching and learning in the absence of a physical classroom. But COVID-19 dictated otherwise and literally insulated the teacher from his student and by so doing dealt a big blow on an entrenched vehicle of curriculum delivery. Overnight, teaching was supposed to make the transition from being a contact sport to distance learning.

In the face of the new unfavourable climate the system choked and experienced stomach indigestion. Distance learning became almost impossible not only on account of students ‘over reliance’ on teachers but also due to limited or no access to technology. In our jurisdiction, attempts have been made over the years to infuse ICT into the teaching and learning environments but hitherto such efforts have not yielded desirable results. Professor Jaap Kuiper in his instructive study on declining learning outcomes in secondary schools lamented the minimal impact of ICT in schools. He noted, “in conclusion, it appears that the Computer Lab provides only a very limited enrichment to the Learning Environment.

It is quite clear that IT in general, and the Internet specifically, plays quite a minor role in the Learning Environment. On balance, therefore, IT is severely under-represented in the Learning Environment.

This is a serious weakness in Secondary Education.”The use of IT in the COVID-19 climate is not a luxury but it is essential. Unfortunately schools are ill equipped. More than ever before there is an urgent need to fast track the much talked about digitisation. This is for the simple reason that learning cannot wait or be postponed. Students also found adapting to unsupervised home schooling a big challenge. It will be recalled that a good number of students are pushed into classrooms. It takes a bit effort by stick wielding teachers to get students into their classrooms. Not so much accustomed to learning on their own, learners struggled at home. There is need to address the issue of students over-dependence on teachers. With or without COVID-19, learners should become active participants in their learning.

There should be no free passengers in the classroom , heavily dependent teacher spoon feeding. Independent study skills should be one of the elementary courses that learners must undergo. On the social front COVID-19 laid bare existing social inequalities. Panic, fear and plus giving safety measures priority forced countries rich or poor to resort to lockdowns. Botswana was no exception. One very unfortunate consequence of the lockdown was the closure of schools. Children from affluent backgrounds with internet access and educated parents benefitted from home schooling while those less well resourced fell behind their peers.

This might also widen gaps separating the achievement of students based on location: urban and rural. Underachieving students equally bore the brunt of COVID-19. Without real classroom stimulation underachievers ran the risk of unlearning most of the stuff acquired at school and this could have slowed down learning progress. Digitisation can ensure that all eligible children access quality education even when sitting at the comfort of their homes.

Editor's Comment
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