Despite the fact that the University of South Africa (UNISA) has the largest open distance e-learning (ODeL) in of Africa, with more than 300,000 students, the country still faces challenges with e-learning. The inequalities in South Africa can be date back to the apartheid regime which affects race, class, gender and socio-economic status.

Most of the South African pupils come from a poor background with most pupils not speaking English which dominates classroom as their mother tongue. Since the Coronavirus has kept students and teachers at home, a move to the e-learning is the best option theoretically but achieving this will be very hard not only for South Africa but Africa at large.

E-learning in South Africa

True, you will all agree that learning is a process where learners’ interaction with materials, peers and instructors results in a change in behaviour and thinking. Learning is the concept of delivering educational activities using web tools which create a new kind of a participatory medium to encourage multiple learning types, including social learning. It’s evident that today learning utilises web tools, social networking, collaboration and self-directed learning. Effective learning should improve on the quality of learning experience, be learner-centred, be active, lead to knowledge construction and change learners’ knowledge, attitudes, perceptions and skills. Educators need to prepare learners for future employment by putting theory into practice. Some researches noted that the quality of teaching and learning depends on methods, content, learner and educator, and, therefore, technology cannot correct these factors if they are poor.

E-learning also dubbed as online learning was defined by Moll 2007 definition as an ICT-enhanced practice in universities ranging from e-mail provision, online journals, and networked libraries, to development of creative software solutions for information management tasks in teaching, research and administrative systems. Seemingly another study defined e-Learning as ‘flexible learning using ICT resources, tools and applications, focusing on accessing information, interaction among teachers and learners.

Here, to talk about the progress of online learning in South Africa, one needs to trace into its history. Hence, A 2013 study unfurled that after independency, South Africa explicitly formulated education policies for promoting access to educational opportunities for previously disadvantaged. Consequently, since 1994, education reformation has been a priority to promote equality among all races. Progress has been made in education legislation, policy development, curriculum reform and the implementation of new modes of education delivery; however, challenges like student outcomes and labour market relevance exist. The new National Curriculum Statement (NCS) emphasizes a learner-centred, outcomes-based education approach. In the GET band (grades 1-9), “subjects” have been replaced with “learning areas” integrated across traditional disciplinary boundaries. The curriculum was subsequently rewritten in plainer language, with more emphasis given to basic skills, content knowledge and logical grade progression. The inception of Curriculum 2005 introduced changes in the SA school system and therefore retraining teachers are needed to prepare them for the newly introduced technology subject.

In the further study of the 2013 study, it averred that the aim of reformed policies was to teach curricula based on learners’ own socio-economic environment and equip them with skills that can be applied in real-life situations. Moreover, other policies included the Revised National Curricula Statements and Curricula Assessment and Policy Statements, which indicate a period of rapid transformation and democratization. New education policies in South Africa include indigenous knowledge in the curricula but are not prescriptive. The national Department of Education published its White Paper on  E-Education in 2004 and called together a ‘think-tank’ in 2006 based on an overview of research and delivery needs related to the ‘roll-out’ of online learning in schools. Therefore teachers should explicitly provide opportunities for learners to learn effectively and this can be done by the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) like online learning.

Again, the use of e-learning has grown considerably in the past three decades, which has prompted a great deal of interest in using technology thereby transforming the very nature of higher education. While the new technologies are supplementing conventional course delivery, they have become a protagonist for change in higher education. However, a study of Garrison and Anderson (2003) argue that there needs to be a clear purpose and reason for introducing e-learning interventions. Over the last 3 years the University of the Western Cape (UWC), as part of its institutional operational plan, has encouraged the use of e-pedagogy. Consequently, there is a big hype across the institution using the e-learning platform. This is not only the case at UWC as in most South African Universities the use of technology, particularly e-learning, is becoming increasingly popular. While there are ongoing debates, criticisms and cautions on using e-learning, much of the literature on e-learning both locally and internationally has shown the positive impact of e-learning in educational contexts. For example, Cunningham (2000) found that students felt the use of e-learning was nonthreatening and challenging, that it benefited their writing, and that their grades had improved as a result of its use. Warschauer (2003), who argues the need for technology in developing countries as a means of social inclusion, found that a computer-mediated communication environment promotes participation and encourages social presence. In light of this, and the fact that information literacy is a vital necessity for today’s modern information-intensive world, there is the need to integrate it into the curriculum.

Today, using ICTs for education has led to social transformation and improves the skills needs of the country. Universities in South Africa can remain competitive by using innovative technologies in teaching and learning to improve the quality of activities and attract new learners. The South Africa National Plan for Higher Education emphasizes that University activities develop an information society, through technology use, for knowledge advancement to improve education and support the new education system. Therefore, there was the need for integration of ICTs in South Africa Universities to compete globally, be innovative and address the learning styles and preferences of digital natives longing to learn in an active, authentic learning environment.

As regular studies will claim this, In 2001 Prensky invented the term ‘digital natives’ to refer to the new generation of learners who have grown up surrounded by technology and views them as ‘‘native speakers of technology, fluent in the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet”. Hoijtink in 2015 opened that digital natives are people between 18 and 24 years who were born into a digital world and find their way easily with computers, internet, video games, smartphones, tablets and interact via social media more than anyone else and rapidly adapt to new technologies. The author further predicts 48.4 million smartphone users, 35.3 million mobile internet subscriptions and 5. million activated tablet devices, while 2.1 million households would have fixed internet subscriptions in South Africa in 2018. South Africa had traditionally copied western trends, but the influence of Asian countries is seen in the relationship between online shopping and social media.

Online learning in South Africa had helped promote learner-centred learning and enhances activities that promote collaboration, communication and interaction, and gives learners better experience and education effect. It has also helped the South Africa students community to apply knowledge in novel situations through case studies, role-playing and simulations. True, digital natives may be quite resistant to traditional teaching and learning methods because they are engrossed with technology and, therefore, online learning is the way forward for today’s universities. Brown & Czerniewicz carried out a study on how and to what extent ICTs were used in teaching and learning in HEIs in Western Cape Province of SA and only 2.15% learners never or rarely used a computer to undertake any of the 18 computerbased learning activities; therefore learners in SA Africa may have similar studies experience at university to other learners around the world.

Conclusively, South Africa might have many students entering higher education come from disadvantaged schooling and poor socio-economic backgrounds. In many cases, students from disadvantaged backgrounds have no access to school or community libraries and computers, and in some cases, there is a lack of basic facilities such as running water, electricity, ablution services, desks and chairs in schools, etc. South Africa is also currently grappling with its low literacy levels. Many students who enter higher education do not have adequate literacy levels to cope with the demands of their disciplines. In addition, within the South African higher education context itself, there exist huge disparities between institutions arising from the discrimination during the apartheid era, for example, the historically advantaged and the historically disadvantaged institutions. Howbeit despite all these hindrances, the South African government is pulling all weights, making sure online learning is balanced in the country.

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