Deputy Minister criticizes Wits for Starting Online Classes

Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Buti Manamela has taken to his Twitter page to criticise Wits for continuing online learning. However, Wits’ Vice Chancellor was ready with a response to these criticisms.

Due to Covid-19, many higher education institutions have moved their learning online as a solution to the lockdown and effects of a pandemic. Universities’ decisions to go online has received a lot of backlash and many questions on how to make it accessible to all students has been posed. Wits starts their online academic programme 20 April.

One of these criticisms came from the Deputy Minister, Buti Manamela, on 19 April. He took to his Twitter page and called Wits ‘irresponsible’ and ‘inconsiderate’ in their decision to pursue online learning during this period of time. His criticisms match those of many others who are asking about accessibility of resources to students who are disadvantaged.

He stated that Wits was going against an agreement that was reached between all stakeholders which said that they would work towards commencing at a later date when everyone was ready. To this, Wits’ Vice Chancelllor, Adam Habib, responded that Manamela’s statements were false.

Habib refutes by saying that other universities are set to start online on 20 April as well and that this was agreed upon between stakeholders. The decision to take learning online was agreed upon as well as the decision to give students an opportunity to finish the year.

Manamela has also stated, “Universities have autonomy, but this does not legitimise turning them into fiefdoms that disregard national consensus so as to serve the interest of few”.

As a response to Manamela’s statement, Habib called him ‘irresponsible’ and that the statement “does not accord with the facts and is based on political gossip. He says Wits is aware of the inequalities and have provided the following:

  • 5000 laptops are being loaned to disadvantaged students and will be delivered before the week ends
  • No tests or assignments are due until 4 May
  • Students will receive 30GB of data every month on all four networks
  • Lectures are recorded and students can access them anytime they want
  • Academics are on standby and the next two weeks are set out for students to become more comfortable with online learning
  • Library and learning sites are zero-rated
  • Students who find themselves not managing with online learning will have additional measures put into place for them when contact teaching resumes, such as boot camps, a restructured academic calender, etc.

Students stand by the fact that Wits is trying to solve inequalities. One student has said, about Manamela’s statement, that it’s as if people are “too lazy to think positively but criticises solutions”.

To criticise Wits Manamela echoes, “No institution should be left behind. No student should be left behind”, which is in actual fact, exactly what Wits is following. Wits has “an awareness of inequalities and an active intervention to mitigate it’s consequences”, as said by their Vice Chancellor.

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