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'No student will be left behind' by e-learning: Universities SA

The South African Union of Students (SAUS) has called for clearer guidelines on e-learning.
The South African Union of Students (SAUS) has called for clearer guidelines on e-learning.

Several universities on Monday instituted online remote learning, while others await a directive from the department of higher education, science and technology.

Though academic assessments are only due to start on May 4, orientation about the use of these online platforms has begun.

Head of Universities SA Prof Ahmed Bawa told TimesLIVE that the underlying principle is that not a single student in the system should be left behind.

“This means that every university will restructure the academic year so as to ensure that every student has a fair and equal opportunity to complete the academic year, even if it means going into the first part of 2021,” said Bawa.

South African Union of Students (SAUS) NEC member Bongani Mahlangu said university managers have limited the debate about remote online learning to only issues of access to compatible devices, connectivity and network coverage.

“There needs to be a re-engineering of the curriculum to complement full digital distance teaching and learning,” he said.

“The current pedagogy emphasises teach-to-the-test. Applying the same pedagogy will impair a student who has all gadgets and means to connect, but does not reside in a conducive social structure that allows for adequate participation in academic activities.”

Even if these measures were met, Mahlangu said there are still groups of students that will be at a disadvantage.

“There is no plan for fringe groups, no plan for postgraduate students, no plan for students that must be on-site to fulfil their academic duties, as well as international students,” he said.

“There are students with disabilities who are assisted by student support structures only available on campus to ensure that they navigate the demands of university, [and] students with psychological issues emanating from the demands of university or their domestic home situations, where they are now bound.”

Mahlangu said while an interim adoption of online learning is sufficient at this stage, a phased and properly managed plan to return students to campus is a better solution.

Deputy secretary-general of SAUS Sibusiso Thwala called upon the department of higher education, science and technology to provide guidelines in this regard.

“The department of higher education, science and technology must develop standard e-learning guidelines for the sector,” he said.

Bawa noted the different positions that universities were in regarding online learning and said the lockdown would be used as an opportunity to address these issues to strengthen the quality of learning and teaching.

The SAUS ministerial task team on Covid-19 is due to give further feedback on Monday.

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