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Use free, accredited online high school learning to catch up on lost time, urge experts

School learning deficits from two years of pandemic-interrupted teaching make it clear why high school goers should not waste time in using what has become entirely free access to accredited online study. This is the view of Zainab Suliman of Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Learning Technologies.

As the deputy director of the centre’s operations, telematic services and projects, she manages the Telematic Schools Project (TSP), a not-for-profit initiative developed jointly by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) and Stellenbosch University.

Now that it is not costing them a cent in data or anything else, grade 10 to 12 students are being urged by Suliman to use the TSP system to support their classroom learning. It will allow them to catch up on lost teaching and learning time, and enhance their chances of academic success.

Part of TSP’s mandate is to work alongside the Basic Education Department in narrowing the digital divide between differently resourced high schools. Its user-friendly online teaching resources for grades 10 to 12 cover 18 of the most widely studied subjects that form part of the national (CAPS) school curriculum. Subject content is presented in both English and Afrikaans and is quality assured by WCED senior curriculum planners. Subjects targeted include the Sciences, Mathematics, History, Geography, Accounting, Business Studies, Economics, Technical Mathematics and Technical Science, and English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa.

Don Haripersad, the WCED’s director of Further Education and Training/Curriculum, stresses that the project uses some of the most accomplished teachers in the Western Cape and trains them to become expert presenters who are adept at formatting content for broadcast and easy online use. He says: “The TSP is in the influential position of being able to offer best practice to all South African teachers. We are enormously grateful to the participating teachers, who are contributing to quality teaching in this way.”

Responding to a recent WCED study that found that children in grades 3, 6 and 9 had fallen up to 70% behind their previous cohorts in language, and up to 106% behind in Mathematics, Suliman says: “Although the study doesn’t cover high school learners, we know that by virtue of their being closer to the end of their school careers, they have been rendered amongst the most vulnerable. Quite simply, there is less time for them to recover lost ground. If they leave school without matriculating, they significantly reduce their prospects for employment. We want to avoid this scenario by providing students with the necessary academic and life skills. That is why, apart from curriculum course content, learners can make use of the workshops, videos and other information we offer on presentation skills, work readiness, preparing for job interviews, how to write a curriculum vitae, and even how to enhance personal mental health.”

She adds that, in recent years, online registrations start rising significantly from April/May as learners begin preparing for their mid-year exams, and then again from August as they focus on the year-end exams.

“TSP is being used nationwide but there is still scope for more individual learners to register. We are encouraging high schoolers to access the system by registering free on the zero-rated TSP website. They can also find access via Facebook, but then they need their own data.

“Even if learners are exposed to the content at school in the classroom with their teachers present, learning and consolidation do not have to end there. If they register individually on the website they can return as and when they need to, and at no cost whatsoever. All the lessons are presented as videos and are supplemented by subject workbooks and additional learning aids. We want to make it easier for learners to continue to study and revise at their own pace, in their own time and as often as they need to.”

When courses are live-streamed, she says, they offer the added benefit of interactive features, including asking questions via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger or using email to pose questions to the presenters in the studio.

“In addition to the full curriculum content, users can access the comprehensive revision programme for grades 10 to 12. The revision programme summarises each term’s work to help learners further familiarise themselves with the syllabus. We understand the many life pressures learners face. We want them to be able to integrate the use of this condensed content into their daily realities as effectively as possible.”

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