Digital Divide More Acute in Access to Education

Student works from a The Answer Series study guide.

Photo: Student works from a The Answer Series study guide.

Pupils across the country have been hard hit by the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has thrown the school calendar into disarray. To assist learners with their preparations for upcoming examinations, a number of very welcome efforts have been put in place to help schools and teachers harness technology, including making several educational sites free. However, for scholars affected by the digital divide, printed textbooks remain critical. For these learners, limited internet access and high data prices make online resources difficult to come by. In addition, multiple studies over the past decade have shown that when it comes to information retention, print remains the better medium.[i]

In Mpumalanga, where the latest General Household Survey by Statistics South Africa found that just 4.4% of households have direct access to the internet, the Mpumalanga Department of Education is assisting students studying at home by providing take-home hardcopy study guide books from The Answer Series for high school students across the province.[ii]

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With more than 44-years of contributing to learner success, The Answer Series is South Africa’s leading provider of up-to-date, comprehensive paper study guides for all major subjects from Grade 8 to Matric, giving learners a range of study notes, graded questions and solutions to ensure they are adequately prepared for any assessment.

“We live in an age of information, where education, opportunity and prosperity are defined by one’s ability to access, create and share information via technologies such as mobile phones and the Internet. However, historical factors and widespread inequality mean that many non-metropolitan communities are unable to capitalise on these innovations – instead these individuals live at the far end of a digital divide, propelled by high data costs and low connectivity,” says Elijah Nkosi, the Director of the Mpumalanga Education Department. “A modern education is key to overcoming these socio-economic barriers; however, this requires access to modern learning materials. As such, the Department recognises the need for comprehensive paper study guides, which are key to bridging this digital divide and ensuring afflicted learners are able to develop the skills they need to thrive in their examination and future work environment.”

Photo: Student works from a The Answer Series study guide.

Apart from being a pragmatic and immediate solution to Mpumalanga’s educational challenges, multiple studies have shown that students actually prefer to learn using paper text and workbooks. Furthermore, these studies found that learners of all ages, from primary school to university, tend to absorb and retain more information better when reading from paper than on electronic screens; in addition, students reading from paper may be more aware and understanding of their own thought processes.[iii]

“The only disadvantage of paper resources for learning is that hardcopy educational material tends to be more expensive for students to acquire. This is a critical factor to consider for pupils in Mpumalanga who live in a historically poor province, but who at the same time are in need of modern learning materials. By championing this obstacle on their behalf, the Mpumalanga Department of Education is actively empowering the province’s schooling system and ensuring that their students receive a competitive education,“ says Monwabisi Mfobo, Government Relations at The Answer Series.

George Eadie, CEO of The Answer Series, says, “It has been more important than ever to ensure books get into the hands of learners without the means to procure them. A lack of access to books and learning material, and a lack of financial reserves to pay for them, are the second and third most important issues affecting students in Mpumalanga after large class sizes.[iv] We have undertaken a significant project to create additional guides to support independent learning in response to the adjusted teaching and learning plans. Our resources will support these excluded learners, particularly now during the current uncertainty around COVID-19, while at the same time encouraging them to learn independently.”

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