Acclaimed violinist and music teacher Elena Zlatkova on the digital divide

I hail from the capital city of Bulgaria, Sofia, where I started playing the violin from the age of 5 and completed my musical studies with an MMus in performance. I have been based in Johannesburg since 2003 and have a busy and successful freelance music career performing regularly with the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, in theatre productions and shows as a recording artist and as a corporate entertainer for some of South Africa’s most prominent corporate companies and financial institutions.

However, my life as a musician has been put on hold as a result of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions implemented on social gatherings. Fortunately, in addition to the above, I have a bustling academic career as a music teacher which fosters my passion for teaching and learning. I tutor learners of various ages and from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. I am currently a teacher at Jeppe High School for Girls.

My few words below are inspired by some less fortunate learners.

The current situation certainly has commanded a change in the way education is delivered. Online classes have become the norm replacing crowded classrooms, not only in South Africa but all over the world as a result of social distancing measures. Despite not having taught virtually before I was ready for the challenge of online teaching in the new term and I felt very positive about the possibilities that technology could offer. Enthusiastically, I began inviting my learners to connect on WhatsApp, Zoom and Google Classroom, expecting a shared excitement; however, my invitation did not bring many responses. I started questioning the connection. Is there a signal out there? Why didn’t my learners want to connect? My enthusiasm began to wane. Don’t they have data? What was happening? I want to connect and share the joy of music!

Now, I consider myself to be quite astute and aware, especially during these times, of the impact of socioeconomic factors on learners. I thought I understood until reality stared me harshly in the face – the digital divide. The digital ‘haves’ and the digital ‘have nots’. The access to technology and resources so crucial for the continuation of learning in these current circumstances was only accessible by a privileged few! At school, learners had similar playing fields, however, the current pandemic highlighted that at home all was not equal. This also brought to mind many of my learners of Vuleka School, a Church School of the Anglican Church where I previously taught junior class music. My learners relied on the food provided, daily standing in long lines in front of the church door. Now, with the school closed, do they have enough to eat? Are they starving? My thoughts and prayers are with them and their families during this time.

My job as a teacher has taught me to seek solutions to problems in the areas of learning and whilst I know we are all dealing with unprecedented times and trying to create our own coping mechanisms, here are some practical suggestions for those in position to help. The list is long but ” little by little, a little becomes a lot”  (Tanzanian proverb).

Schools and learners are in need of resources right now.  How about lending a device or donating that old cell phone tucked away after the last upgrade? Let your choice be enabling smart learners over smart devices.

Send some data as a gift to a school for distribution among learners, even 20 minutes of data a day will go a long way so that learning materials can be accessed.

How about assisting in the upgrade of a school’s website or assisting in the development of learning portals and so on.

How about making an extra sandwich or two when making lunch for your family or dishing an extra plate of food at dinner time into a container to give to a hungry child?

These few small suggestions will certainly assist in ensuring the continuation of learning as well as keeping hunger at bay.

If you would like to make direct bank donations, please use the banking details below. A donor would have to reference the donations clearly. Thank you!

Despite the current uncertainty, there is hope in overcoming the difficulties. Stay safe!

Want to help?
Jeppe High School for Girls
Bedford Gardens
620 0680 7252

*Reference for donations: your name & music appeal (one word)




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