Universities Pressured to Assist Disadvantaged Students During Online Learning

Article by Lindiwe Karosa

The extended nationwide lockdown has forced South African tertiary institutions to implement an online learning system that has received great criticism. 

The outcries by students shone a light on the major inequality gap amongst South African households; as online learning requires students to have access to data and electronic devices – luxuries unknown to students residing in remote areas or from low-income households. 

This has put pressure on institutions to make online learning accessible for all students, so take a look at what some of the big universities have done.

Wits University

The University of Witwatersrand kick-started its online learning programme on the 20th of April 2020. The institution has taken into consideration the issues of access to learning devices, resources and data, therefore introducing the Mobile Computing Bank (MCB) which will assist students to loan the appropriate devices they may require for efficient learning. The University has zero-rated it’s learning and information sites which may now be accessed for free through the four major telecommunications service providers.

University of Johannesburg 

The second semester officially began yesterday at the University of Johannesburg, and the institution has amended its learning calendar to accommodate any additional teaching that may be required. They have also availed 4000 laptops to qualifying NSFAS recipients and students who fall under Missing Middle. Students will also be able to access 30GB of data per month.

University of Cape Town

Online learning is set to start on the 28th of April 2020. The institution conducted a survey to assess the levels of access amongst students to enable the varsity to assist those who would be disadvantaged by this new way of learning. 

Students who do not have access to a laptop/desktop will receive a laptop delivered from the institution and those who do not have internet access will now be able to use university sites that are now zero-rated.

University of Free State

The University of the Free State started it’s online learning orientation programme yesterday and will run it until the 30th of April 2020. The purpose of this orientation is not only to enable students to familiarise themselves with the learning platforms but for staff to also know how to use these tools in the most effective ways for teaching. The institution also will provide students with 10GB data bundles to bridge any access gaps students may be experiencing.

University of Pretoria

Tuks will soon begin an online learning programme and has also finalised an agreement with telecommunication service providers to zero-rate its sites that are important for this season. The institution will also purchase devices that will be loaned to students who do not have any, to support the learning process. The University is reported to be in talks with Multichoice to provide lessons through a TV channel.

One could argue that the lockdown has pressured tertiary institutions to finally acknowledge the great need to invest in Information Communications & Technology (ICT) and make online learning accessible to students on and off campuses. 

Could the end of this pandemic see a real integration of online learning into universities’ learning programmes? Let us know in the comments below. 

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