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Back to School: A Challenging Reality for Vulnerable South African Learners

Students and younger generations in South Africa have faced challenges when it comes to education, especially since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. Existing hurdles in the education space continued to pose a problem and were amplified by the pandemic. These include infrastructure, limited service delivery of learning material and stationery, poverty resulting in a lower ability to receive satisfactory education levels, and a major digital divide amongst the population.

Like any other country around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic also introduced new challenges to the education system in South Africa which added a burden on students and teachers alike. Sporadic school closures, the introduction of online learning, and rotational school attendance are factors that have affected communities. The pandemic caused a loss of 54 percent of learning time and resulted in students falling behind in terms of school curriculum across the country.

Only 10% of households in South Africa have an internet connection while only 22% have access to a computer. This meant that remote learning was not an option for most of the South African population. Many students were unable to access data and online resources due to the lack of technological resources available to them, resulting in limited school attendance, and minimal attention to schoolwork and projects.

The minimal supply of resources supporting students’ learning and education including printed material and stationery has impacted students as it stopped them from being able to complete their schoolwork. South Africa saw an increase in school dropout rates over the past 16 months. According to UNICEF, between 40,000 and 50,000 students dropped out of public schools between the months of February 2020 and July 2021.

The challenges in South Africa’s education system are intertwined with the larger economic landscape and require a concerted effort from the public and private sectors to be resolved. Whilst COVID-19 has had negative implications, it has helped surface challenges in the country’s education system which call for stronger public-private partnerships to mobilize the necessary resources and better serve the students. The issues faced across the country require collaboration where each player in the private and public realms will need to evaluate how they can contribute to the nationwide challenge and play their part.

Businesses need to leverage their core products and bring their purpose to life to approach the challenges at hand. For instance, at BIC, we are committed to improving the learning conditions of 25 million children by the year 2025 and for the past 9 years we have managed to donate 13 million pens and pencils through the Buy a Pen, Donate a Pen initiative. We continue to empower youth and contribute towards being part of the solution. Through product donations, research projects that help identify challenges faced in the sector, on ground activities in selected schools, and forums that allow teachers, psychologists, and experts in the field to talk through challenges and opportunities that they face, we remain committed to contributing to the nationwide problem.

The support of the private sector would certainly help in resolving the issue but will not be the main driver. To do that, the public and private sectors need to work closely and regularly together. This is inevitable as the lack of resources and the inadequate school system today will certainly affect the nation as a whole tomorrow. Our children need to receive the right level of education to build and sustain a better future for our country. They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and this is very true to the situation we are facing today.

By Kutlwano Tshetlhane, Marketing Manager BIC Stationery, Southern Africa

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