As South Africans have slowly come to terms with the physical terror that the COVID-19 pandemic has had to offer, a new, more unforgiving, threat has emerged from the midst of chaos. This threat being the economic spillover effects that we, as South Africans, are going to have to deal with in the near future. Microsoft, Google, and various learning institutions have launched initiatives to combat some of these effects by providing free ‘educational courses’ on highly sought after skills, diplomas, and degrees. This has also proposed a new and innovative solution to the impediments that hinder access to education in our country.
Some background information:
There was a complete stagnation of the economy as a result of the commencement, and subsequent continuation thereafter, of the National Lockdown announced on the 26th of March 2020. The economic effects of this would, arguably, be more detrimental than the actual pandemic itself. It is popular economic opinion that the economic hardships ahead are going to be of an unforgiving nature and this is especially true in the South African context. The massive demand shock which occurred as a result of the pandemic will set off a recession that will be far worse than that of the financial crises. This was elaborated on by Gopinath when she said, “the Great Lockdown is the worst recession since the Great Depression”. This coupled with the current economic state of our country implies that one thing is fairly certain in these economically uncertain times, that being that there is a tough road ahead for our country that will create widespread economic difficulties for our people.
As with most atrocities in life, the detriments thereof are bestowed more fiercely upon the uneducated, women, and people of colour. Smith captures this reality when he said:
As is often the case, the biggest brunt of this downturn is being borne by those with lower educational attainment, people with disabilities, people of color, women, younger workers, and individuals who have less formal education.
It should be noted, however, that the above was written from an American perspective. Through the South African lens, this would merely be the tip of the iceberg. Factors such as mass poverty, alarming unemployment rates, disproportionate opportunity dictated along socio-economic lines, and concerning illiteracy levels (to name a few) highlight the foundations that will result in heightened negative economic effects in our developing country.
With this in mind, it has never been more crucial for South Africa to be focusing our attention and resources on discovering measures to mitigate and, where possible, eradicate these negative economic effects.
Remote learning: An innovative solution
In the process of dealing with the complete stagnation of universities and schools nationwide, an interesting and innovative solution has come to light which proposes an opportunity to lift some of the economic burdens that are still to come. This aforementioned solution being remote learning. Remote learning is a mode of learning that universities and other institutions worldwide have adopted to deal with ‘distanced learning’ as required by COVID-19 restrictions. From a university perspective, the current model adopted by the majority of universities consists of an online portal whereby students, quite literally, attend an online university. From live lectures to online tests and assessments, the portal system has taken university in its entirety online.
Remote learning is especially interesting in the South African context. South Africa is plagued with widespread poverty and low-income households who simply cannot carry the financial and logistical burdens associated with putting a scholar through tertiary education. Remote learning provides relief to these burdens, thereby providing these households with an opportunity to access tertiary education.
From an administration point of view, the structure of this ‘online university’ provides an opportunity for the State to drop costs and widen access to tertiary education. With the online portal systems, the online lectures have no limits in terms of attendance. This means that a single online lecture can reach the eyes and ears of thousands of students at the same administrative burden and cost as hosting a single lecture. The best thing about this model, which differentiates it from other distance learning institutions currently in place, is that large parts of the online tests can be marked electronically. This also circumvents a large administrative responsibility that is often at the core of error and inefficiency in the current institutions similar to this model in place.
A promising initiative by Microsoft:
Microsoft is certainly on the forefront of taking advantage of remote learning. Microsoft has launched an initiative offering free courses on ‘job skills’ that they have assessed to have plentiful job opportunity at the moment. This initiative is expected to help 25 million people worldwide to acquire digital skills needed in a COVID-19 economy.
The courses currently being offered by Microsoft include:
- Project Management
- Digital Marketing
- Data Analyst
- Graphics Design
- Financial Analyst
- Customer Service
- Sales Representative
- Software Development
- I.T Administrator
- I.T Support
You can access these courses with a more detailed elaboration on this initiative here.
With education being as fundamental as it is, initiatives such as these provide a great opportunity to improve access to education for people who are ‘financially burdened’ like the majority of the South African population. This will also, consequently, provide increased chances for these individuals to break the chains of poverty.
Theoretically, this mode of learning could be extended and adapted to accommodate for the specific skills that are in high demand in South Africa. Thereby addressing the problems of the supply and demand imbalances in a job market that is ever-changing while simultaneously dealing with our concerning employment rates.
Remote learning and online learning initiatives present a new opportunity. This opportunity, as brought forward by this mode of learning, has the potential to mitigate the current economic and restrictive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, remote learning has provided a promising and innovative solution to South Africa’s problems pertaining to access to education.
Given that we are still in the early stages of discovering and exploring these new modes of learning, it is exciting to think what the future may hold. With the right attention, this mode of learning has the potential to address serious shortfalls that exist in society today.