Resetting education priorities during COVID-19: Towards equitable learning opportunities through inclusion and equity
Keywords:COVID-19, Flexible learning theory, Inclusion and equity, Inclusive learning culture, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), Virtual learning approaches
Worldwide, COVID-19 has affected the most deprived communities the hardest and exposed many systemic inequalities, leaving nations vulnerable and destitute. The need for quality education, while heeding to international mandates, including enacting the sustainable development goals (SDG), has become more apparent in promoting equitable and inclusive education for all, which remains a challenge in South Africa with its inherited inequalities. The purpose of this study was to understand how the COVID-19 challenge refocused the commitment of five principals from rural schools in two education districts of the Northern Cape province of South Africa to address resurfaced historic inequalities, including digital access and fluency to attain an equitable learning environment. Semi-structured emailed interviews were conducted with the participants. A thematic analysis of their experiences of the pandemic through the lens of flexible learning theory, revealed that teachers and learners often experienced discrimination-related stress, especially with virtual learning approaches, as schools often cannot offer remote services to advance learning. Furthermore, the participants voiced their uncompromising commitment to inclusion while engaging teachers and learners in identifying possible problems and proposing solutions post-COVID-19. Though the current crisis seems to have perpetuated and deepened existing inequalities in disadvantaged rural South African schools, some school principals are hopeful that as the reality has now been laid bare, it may prompt more urgent action. The paper recommends that school principals and teachers will have to refocus teaching practices towards flexible, inclusively delivered teaching through working collaboratively across disciplines so that they build their personal resilience and advance their technological skills to meet the demands of remote and online learning during a pandemic and beyond.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Dr E.D. de Klerk, Dr J.M. Palmer
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