How Covid-19 transformed the education sector for the better

Learning via the internet has exposed the digital divide between students who have access to hardware and stable internet connections and those who struggle with both. Picture: Sakhile Ndlazi/African News Agency/ANA

Learning via the internet has exposed the digital divide between students who have access to hardware and stable internet connections and those who struggle with both. Picture: Sakhile Ndlazi/African News Agency/ANA

Published Oct 25, 2022



Johannesburg - Although it was always bound to happen, the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic expedited the world into mass digitisation, especially in the field of education.

Both students and teachers were forced to adhere to physical distancing and depended on online spaces for communication. Until then, this was a total rarity. This new reality was of course not without challenges. The migration to digitisation outrightly shone a light on a lot of hidden issues of inequality.

Many people had no access to computers, phones, or data that was pertinent to accessing digital spaces and participation. Others who were unfamiliar with digital devices and spaces struggled to access and participate in this new digital world order. Parents and students alike were left feeling frustrated and disempowered by this new form of schooling and working.

Our governments, particularly in the developing world, were now being called on to minimise this gap between those familiar with digital ways, and those who were not. Data bundles were dispersed by universities, libraries resources and laptops were dispatched to students who were disadvantaged in this sense.

The world itself was forced into a new type of communicative paradigm, a new dependence on the internet. Things were changing pretty fast amid a rapid reconfiguration of the general philosophy of life. Almost three years later, the majority of global societies have returned to their pre-pandemic traditions and culture of teaching and learning.

The pandemic, although devastating, nonetheless brought about a new appreciation for the advantages inherent in technological development. People far and near are now, more than ever, familiar with the use of digital technologies, especially where access to resources is concerned.

Across the globe, nowadays, students can apply, attend and participate in classes anywhere in the world. Those who were once unfamiliar with the internet utilise it to its fullest extent, allowing them to educate and empower themselves, to access resources and information that they were previously unable to, and to access and participate in public discourses that directly, and indirectly, affect them.

It is a new internet age. To many, an age of miracles! People all over the globe are coming together within digital spaces, to facilitate their ideas and discourses, and affect change from the comfort of their own homes. Teachers, students, organisations, and communities are not only able to traverse across the boundaries that once hindered them from collaboration, but have also gained a lifetime of immeasurable skills that they will carry into the future, and that will allow for a level of communication that knows no bounds.

Zuandre Coetzee assisting learners at I CAN the digital Access centre in Elsies River which consist of open Space for learning, innovation and knowledge production. It also space for community and local entrepreneurs to grow their business ideas. Picture: Bheki Radebe

Professor Mpine Makoe at Unisa has underscored the importance of digitisation in education, as a process that enables communities “to form connections that enhance collaboration amongst groups of students, researchers, instructors and academics, as well as other learning communities”.

Digitisation, especially in the African context, must never be limited to phone calls and WhatsApp messages. We must utilise digital spaces to build and empower our communities through technology and ultimately shape the societies and the futures that we want to see. In other words, technology is a tool that we must use in the construction of our ideal Utopia.

Too many challenges that were faced before the Covid-19 pandemic were alleviated, if not entirely resolved, through the digitisation of education. The first notable thing that was dealt with admirably was the overcrowding in classes and lecture halls. This was a near-permanent challenge across educational institutions all over the developing world and resulted in many students standing outside of classes, unable to access these pertinent spaces.

Another challenge was the exorbitant cost of resources used to access educational spaces, for example, the cost of uniforms, lunch boxes, transport, and avoiding dangerous routes to school, particularly for basic education learners. Furthermore, still on challenges, were dilapidated school buildings and grounds, and poor sanitation, especially in underprivileged areas.

One huge perk of the digitisation of education is the increased engagement and involvement of parents and guardians in the education of their children, and the accessibility of educative materials to entire households.

The ability to learn from home is more so advantageous for young females, many of whom often miss school when they’re on their menstruation cycles and cannot afford to buy pads or other feminine hygiene products for that matter.

The social sciences teach us that there are two kinds of change in life: Bad change and good change. It is my conclusion that technology has already proven itself to be the latter. Long may it last.

* Tswelopele Makoe is an MA (Ethics) student at the University of Western Cape and a gender activist