Students at institutions of higher learning are still fighting inequalities

Today's youth is fighting for equality and a better education for all - the same battles as the youth of 1976. /Times Media
Today's youth is fighting for equality and a better education for all - the same battles as the youth of 1976. /Times Media

Celebrating June 16. A period filled with uncertainty, especially for students in institutions of higher learning.

Young people all over the world, particularly the youth of SA, find themselves in a time the dean of student affairs at the University of the Free State always refers to as a time where "We need to be certain with uncertainty and comfortable with discomfort" due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected the country and mostly the world in a bad way.

While the youth of 1976 in SA fought hard against the policies opposing the academic excellence of black learners and the introduction of Bantu education, the youth of SA, particularly in institutions of higher learning, face an unpleasant time of an oppressive system.

When the language of Afrikaans alongside English was made compulsory as a medium of instruction in schools in 1974, black students began mobilising themselves and stood firm against the oppression of a child of a black peasant.

Primarily, the idea of protesting in African schools began around the year 1920 when a group of students at the Kilnerton Training Institution went on a hunger strike "for more food".

One would agree that this has since been a norm as a means of showing dissatisfaction towards any action that was against young people.

The youth of 1976 were faced with a brutal response from the law enforcement of that time. Many young people lost their lives fighting for a greater cause; parents and families lost their children having sent them to school in the morning only to realise that some would never come back and for others, their lives would end up in a prison cell.

Forty-four years later, young people, particularly black and marginalised, continue to experience the very same oppression the youth of 1976 faced, where they are now fighting for their education and the inequalities evident in the unjust system in our universities to date.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced many institutions all over the world to move from contact learning as per the annual norm to online learning due to the regulations as set out by the World Health Organisation to curb the spread of the virus.

The move has exposed many institutions like the University of the Free State on their undermining and demeaning behaviour towards poor and marginalised students.

With so many universities being forced to move to online learning, universities like the University of the Free State have come out once again and distanced themselves from the realities that most students face.

The purpose of this piece is to bring the reader into the picture that shows the inequalities that exist in institutions of higher learning and what needs to be done to ensure that no one is left behind.

Of course, one can agree that many institutions were never ready for the shift and have since been following the footsteps of those who have successfully adapted since the pandemic broke in SA.

The current dynamics have made way for the realisation of the separation of luck and benefit. With many students being left out of the system, having to fend for themselves during this time of difficulty, it has proven to be a tough time for those with no means to access online learning.

While the lack of data and devices is an inventible experience that cannot be ignored, the unconducive learning environment that 90% of our students who are poor, marginalised and black are in, makes it extremely difficult for them to perform academically.

Once again, like any other time, the minority being those that are privileged have found it in themselves to participate without any nuisance. Support has not been enough to ensure that all students are well-catered for.

To date, the department of higher education has not delivered on the promised devices and data for students using the Funza Lushaka and National Student Financial Aid Scheme, meanwhile, single-sided learning perpetuated to be "online learning" is continuing and many students depending on these schemes and other third party bursaries are struggling.

It should be noted that what needs to happen is for institutions to pause the current sudden move and allow proper consultation and study to ensure that everyone is not left behind.
*Lechoo is University of Fress State SRC president

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