Thousands of students whose lives have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic have signed an online petition for the Department of Higher Education. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)
Thousands of students whose lives have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic have signed an online petition for the Department of Higher Education. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

Varsity students sign petition to return to residences amid lockdown

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published May 6, 2020

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Cape Town - Thousands of students whose lives have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic have signed an online petition for the Department of Higher Education to allow them to return to their campus residences and accommodations.

“The problem is students want to go back to their accommodations in order to continue with their online learning studies,” the petition read.

“It’s an effective way for students because unlike home, students will have their own space to study and will concentrate better.

“At home, students are living under different circumstances which may lead to them not being able to concentrate.

“Other students are living in areas which have bad internet service and they can’t attend any online session. Others are facing challenges in their households, for example, abuse, noise and other things which negatively affect them academically.”

SA Students’ Congress deputy president Buyile Matiwane added: “Students want to go back to residences in order to have access to wi-fi and other amenities that will enable them to participate meaningfully in the continuing academic program.”

However, Matiwane said the need to participate must not come at a risk of Covid-19 infection.

While South Africa remains in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, universities should discontinue online learning until all students have the means to fully participate, he added.

“We do not support the return of students to residences at this time, as this may place themselves and the disaster containment measures we have, at risk,” Matiwane said.

Stellenbosch University’s student representative council chairperson Lewis Mboko said that those who were allowed to remain in residences prior to the start of the lockdown did so because “they knew that the conditions won’t be great for them to study at home”.

“However, I do understand the call of the other students wanting to come back.

“If such a decision has to be taken, it is important to find methods to ensure safety for students that remained in our residences as well as the students that are arriving on campus,” Mboko added.

Rector and Vice-Chancellor Wim de Villiers said while the university has implemented online learning and teaching, as well as continued support those who remained in residences and private accommodation, various streams of its Institutional Committee for Business Continuity have been working on scenarios that may play out over the coming months as some semblance of normality returns to campus life.

“We are giving consideration to various possible options, for example how we could allow students to return to campus in a phased approach, giving priority to those degree programmes that require clinical rotations or practical assessments to successfully complete the 2020 academic year,” he added.

One possibility would have students complete the first semester online, De Villiers said, “with a phased return to campuses as from July, a return to contact teaching from October, and even a scenario of where the entire 2020 academic year would have to be completed without students returning to our campuses”.

@SISONKE_MD

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Cape Argus

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