Lockdown Sheds Light On Inequalities In Higher Education

How much catch up will students with a lack of resources have to do and will they be able to catch up and finish in time? Also, what level will rushed education give them? South Africa's National Lockdown has drastically changed the face of education, with many South African students on the suffering end due to lack of resources. 

Many students have made the decision to continue an online learning programme even if they are allowed to return to campuses. On the other side are the students who have little to no access to resources to have participated in an online learning programme in the first place.

Professor Rob Midgely, Vice-Chancellor of Walter Sisulu University, said universities would have to reconfigure service delivery methods which will entail having to develop different infrastructure.

“In a sense, the changes were going to happen anyway, but these expenditures have now been brought forward. Examples are that students will have to be provided with electronic devices to participate in flexible remote learning methods, and we would need to fast-track ubiquitous connectivity. There will be cost recovery to some extent, but it is unlikely to be 100%," said the Professor.

Seithati Semenokane, spokesperson for the Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein has said, "Our greatest challenge is how to reach out to students in remote areas with limited access to e-technology, as not all of them are in the position to migrate to online learning seamlessly.”

Disadvantaged institutions might not have the funds required to support students with laptops and tablets to make sure an online learning programme can be continuous and cohesive. Many have said that the lockdown and the emergency teaching plans put in place have revealed a two-tier system existing in Higher Education between the more advantaged Universities and disadvantaged historically black Universities.

The Department categorised Universities at different risk levels with the high risk Universities being put there partly due to their inability to properly implement an online teaching and learning programme and the level of resources available. 

In efforts to close the gap of students who do not have access to laptops, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) promised students laptops on April but have now estimated that students will only receive them in January of next year. This then begs the question of how much catch up will students with a lack of resources have to do and will they be able to catch up and finish in time? Also, what level will rushed education give them?

Laptops aren't even the only problem. Students also have issues concerning data, conducive learning environments, electricity as well as connectivity quality. 

The Daily Maverick reported, "we find that more than 50% of students reside in municipalities where less than 10% of households have access to all three of these resources".

It was found that between 10% and 20% of the majority of University students have access to internet with the TVET student percentage being even lower. Percentages below 50% are also seen when mapping out how many households have access to devices with The Daily Maverick stating, "On average, just under half of university students reside in municipalities where between 30% and 47% of households (at the upper end) have access to a device (computer or tablet, which may or may not be shared)". 

With Higher Education institutions predicting that learning might still not go back to normal in 2021, students are then having to deal with the pressures and struggles of online learning for a longer time. 

While Universities have made efforts to have the move to online learning not impact students too much and catch up programmes are in place, one still has to wonder about the student who has no laptop or tablet living in a house with many others. 

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