Student Mohammad Ibrahim, 5, attends an online class at his home in Islamabad. Picure: Aamir QURESHI / AFP
Student Mohammad Ibrahim, 5, attends an online class at his home in Islamabad. Picure: Aamir QURESHI / AFP

Since President Cyril Ramaphosa extended the government-enforced shutdown to the end of April, you are stuck at home, like it or not. But just because you are in lockdown it doesn’t mean you have to dumb down.

It’s up to you how you use this time. You could choose to stew in your own juices for the duration, gain weight and develop grotesque personal hygiene habits. Or you can emerge on the other side of this thing with a new skill, whether it be wall-papering, magic tricks or the smattering of a new language. If not now, when?

C ovid-19 poses the single biggest threat to traditional education delivery mechanisms since the Industrial Revolution. It turns out “old school” really is old and will have to adapt fast to avoid being rendered obsolete, at least when it comes to how those with means will educate their children in future. The fourth industrial revolution, until now largely a theoretical construct, is about to drag private school behind the digital bicycle shed and take its lunch money.

But first, it might not be a bad idea for parents to really understand the environment.

For adults there is a plethora of options, from formally structured online education to digital language courses to millions of YouTube videos of varying quality. Leading global institutions are using the fact that around half of the world’s population is currently in some form of lockdown as an opportunity to reach a captive market. You are unlikely to have the time to begin a master’s or PhD, but there are plenty of globally relevant short courses available online that can equip you better for a future jobs market.

Everyone’s offering them: content from Stellenbosch University, the London Business School, Harvard and Cambridge is being packaged into modules.

Cape Town start-up GetSmarter runs global courses out of its Woodstock hub from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge and Harvard. They come at a price – but they’re designed to fit into the lives of busy people. The UCT Graduate School of Business has courses on digital transformation strategies – rather useful right now – and for R11,900, you can devote 10 hours a week of your time over six weeks.

Fancy bragging that you studied at MIT? Well, there are courses on artificial intelligence, blockchain and the internet of things – with prices ranging from $2,200 to $3,500 for six weeks of part-time study, led by some of the world’s greatest minds.

Whether you’re an insomniac or striving to be a member of the 5am club, it doesn’t really matter. Perhaps you want to brag that you and Sir Isaac Newton, who did some of his best thinking on critical subjects like gravity while “studying from home” during a plague-enforced break from Cambridge, studied at the same institution? Well, Cambridge’s “Communicating for influence and impact” online short course can help you tell the story for £2,100.

Looking at all this, it’s hardly surprising that Naspers is investigating further investment into online education. Naspers said this week it’s still on an expansion drive despite the global uncertainties (or maybe because of them), and it has up to $8bn in cash and debt to do deals. Online education, it says, is an area of big opportunity.

“People are forced to be at home in many instances at the moment, and online education platforms are doing very well,” Naspers CEO Bob van Dijk told Bloomberg. “There is a lot of activity going on, and we are seeing initial opportunities. You could see us grab some of them, but we will continue to be diligent to make sure we catch the right ones.”

As it is, Naspers already has investments in online education, with stakes in Brainly and Udemy in the US, and, two years ago, it took a $540m stake in India’s Byju’s.

For SA’s costly private school network, this is bad news. For the first time parents are getting an insight into what it is their children do all day, and precisely what it is they are paying for.

Some parents will decide that once the health crisis is over, the overpriced daycare which generates the same matric certificate as everyone else may just as well be replaced with an international qualification, delivered on a flexible schedule, at home, either by tutors or relatives.

Got a retired teacher in the family? You may want to direct your fees at supplementing their income instead.

As it stands, about 5% of SA children are privately educated, suggesting a small cohort of parents are able to afford tuition, or at least will prioritise their family budgets towards learning.

But with private schools currently reluctant to discount their offerings, and increasingly putting the burden on parents via e-learning programmes of significantly differing quality, many parents who can afford it might see home-schooling as an option. This will be particularly so if, in the inevitable global recession, some lose their jobs.

Of course, you might not be ready for such a radical overhaul. But even if you don’t go all in, there’s still a huge amount of potential for extra learning.

There are tons of free stuff available for kids from leading global institutions. One of the best is the programme designed by Nasa and the ISS National Lab that provide a training programme for kids to become a home astronaut. It’s a massive PR stunt by the space industry, but it’s also designed to evoke not only the wonders of the universe, but also to promote science, robotics, maths and physics at levels from preschool to matric. The programme allows students to observe and emulate experiments carried out on the International Space Station and to compare their results with those in space.

That just has to be more interesting than Ms Witherigham-Boredum rabbiting on about life orientation.

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