Western Cape Education Department’s Covid-19 survey highlights digital divide

Western Cape Education Department’s Covid-19 survey highlights digital divide

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Cape Town – Despite millions spent on e-learning, the digital divide is still a challenge across the province, particularly in the quintile 1 to 3 or no-fee schools, according to the results of a Covid-19 survey by the provincial education department.

The department’s business intelligence management chief director Ian de Vega told the education standing committee that the purpose of the survey was to understand the impact of the pandemic on teaching, learning and parenting during the full lockdown and the phased reopening of the education sector.

Vega admitted that the technologically driven survey, which targeted learners from Grade 7 to 12, their parents and all educators faced major limitations in the way of poor access to smart devices and data for those surveyed.

The survey required the use of Microsoft forms, a smart device, an email account and internet connectivity, and out of 926 000 prospective participants, only 18 358 managed to take part.

The survey also highlighted grievances by parents who said that they felt excluded from decision making and recommended that in times of crisis, the role of school governing bodies (SGBs) needed clarification.

Committee member Ferlon Christians (ACDP) said that the fact that parents felt excluded when it came to psychosocial support of learners was extremely worrisome.

Christians also said that the department urgently needs to ensure that school connectivity works at all times especially when it comes to quintile 1 to 3 schools.

“These are our most vulnerable schools and in the poorest communities, and in order for the education department to move forward, this digital divide must be addressed urgently.”

For the ANC’s provincial education spokesperson Khalid Sayed, the low number of respondents to the survey was problematic.

“The ANC believes that if the net was cast wider to include more respondents, the department would understand that the majority of challenges exposed by the pandemic are historical and remain largely unaddressed.

“While schools in affluent areas continued learning and teaching with ease, the previously disadvantaged schools struggled, mainly due to libraries that were not fully equipped with computers and other necessary digital equipment.”

Committee chairperson Lorraine Botha (DA) congratulated the department for its provision of learning materials which allowed for the continuation of learning despite the closure of schools.

“We will submit parliamentary questions to the department as an oversight measure on its recommendations in the survey to allow for greater integration of digital technologies to enhance learning.

“A national benchmark by SA Connect in 2020 said that 50% of schools should have access at 100mbps (megabits per second) and 90% at a rate of 5mbps.

“While this has not been achieved across all provinces, I am encouraged that over 85% of schools in the Western Cape are covered in terms of broadband connectivity at 100mbps.”

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Cape Argus

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